Saturday, September 16, 2006

Lhasa train: a personal experience

(From September 9, 2006)

Said goodbye to people at the guesthouse with mutual promises to see one another in Lhasa -- one, a RTW traveler like me but with other destinations (Hi Mirako!), another who plans to study Tibetan language for the year in support of graduate studies in Buddhism.

Boarded the train amidst the usual controled chaos at the (Chengdu) train station -- thousands of people yelling, milling about the general vacinity of the entrance, trying to summon your attention to buy a map or take a taxi. Plenty of touts (halooooow, halooooow...heuhheuhhueh). People shoving to get into the station itself (the first of 2 or 3 "funneling" processes -- squeezing a 15-people wide mob into a single file entryway for the first of two security checks. Lots of hard pushing and shoving (ouch! watch it!). Then a similar shoving process into the waiting room for the particular train number, then, finally pushing and shoving to get out the door onto the track where the train can be boarded. Oh, did I mention the pushing and shoving? Once on the platform, things are relatively calm while finding the appropriate car number and boarding.

The Lhasa trains are new -- fewer cars per train (15 or 16) -- and they have that new train smell (well for the first 3 or 4 hours of the 48 hour ride or so). Lots of train propaganda piped in autoloop over the loadspeakers in Mandarin and English!

When approaching the first (of 2 nights) nightfall, tubes (in sealed plastic packaging) are handed out in case of altitude sickness. Should that occur, one need only connect it to a metal post above ones's bunk (I took the hard sleeper, 6 bunks per compartment with 3 top to bottom -- I like the top bunk!) -- for oxygen. (No one in our compartment needed it.)

Vivid dreams about many things -- contending with boredom and increasingly and at some points severely disgusting toilets (squat style) as the time progresses. Can't take pictures because the windows are sealed.

A disappointing denouement to say the least... but it got me to Lhasa!


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