Thursday, August 24, 2006


I'm on my way to Beijing via Hong Kong. Now I leave the familiar and go to the's exhilarating!

Here's the general plan (though I am sure this will develop/unfold / metamorph). Three days in Beijing. Board overnight train to Xi'an, spend the day sight-seeing, then train to Chengdu. After about 10 days, train to Lhasa. Spend 3 weeks or more in Lhasa. Return to Chengdu, train to Vietnam via Nanning.

While I will be touring the sites (Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, Great Wall), Beijing is also a bureaucratic stop -- to procure my visa for Vietnam as well as tickets for the train from Chengdu to Lhasa and the Tibet Travel Permit.

Yes, I will attempt to get a ticket for the new train to Lhasa, leaving from Chengdu. It's a difficult ticket to get. For a train 50+ years in the making that had its inaugural journey on July 1 of this year, demand is high! Controversy is rife!

Some people caught re-selling tickets with an extremely high commissions to foreigners who wanted to ride the train at any cost, double the price or more, were jailed. Some auger the wholesale destruction of Tibetan culture due to high tourism traffic. Others say the real Tibet is not in the TAR (Tibetan Autonomous Region) which is already overrun by Han Chinese influence, but in other Tibetan provinces around adjacent, such as Qinghai. The price of the ticket -- less than one-half the cost of flying, really does make it affordable to visit Tibet.

When the train was initially conceived, the technology did not exist to build a railway on permafrost, so it is an amazing feat of engineering. Some recent reports of mechanical problems (specifically with the railroad tracks adhering to the melting permafrost) made their way into the Herald Tribune (the international newspaper which is mainly a feed of the New York Times and the Washington Post). The elevation requires an oxygen supply for passengers, in case of emergency/high altitude sickness, included in the cost of the ticket.

Also, China is on the defensive because the Dalai Lama is speaking in Mongolia this week!

All in all, if I manage to get the ticket, it will be an amazing, historic journey!

The reason for Chengdu is, many places that pique my interest are in the vacinity, including Emeishan (which will entail climbing many, many stairs on a mountainside with monasteries/guesthouses along the way -- a 2.5-3 day journey). Wolong is also closeby, and I want to see the Panda Reserve there, possibly camp overnight (as opposed to the more highly trafficked Chengdu Panda Reserve, which is a day-trip). Jiuzhaighou, an incredible and expansive national park, is also close to Chengdu. I have mixed feelings, it's very crowded these days, so going would necessitate employment of strategies of crowd evasion (entering very early in the morning, possibly camping there, heading into to the more remote areas of the park rather than those heavily peopled by tour bus companies, etc.) Chengdu is also the most obvious departure area for the Tibet Autonomous Regions -- with planes, train and automobiles close at hand for the journey. If I had more time, I would go to Qinghai for travel in the areas which are (sparsely) populated by a handful of Tibetan minorities (including Amdo, for example.)

More on Tibet in my next entry!


Anonymous Chelsea Girl said...

Good luck with that train ride!
I think you're about to have an amazing time in China; feeling it in my bones..... certainly hope I'm right!

Looking forward to the next blog.
D xx

11:36 PM  

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