No pictures will do this trip justice. At a length of 1,956 km (1,215 mi), the Qinghai – Tibet Railway, along with the Trans-Siberian Express and the Machu Pichu – Cuzco line in the Andes, is one of the planet’s most unforgettable train journeys, and something any rail fan should do before they die. Stunning views of the mysteriously enchanting Tibetan Plateau, wild yaks grazing in the sun and glittering turquoise lakes are just some of the incredible sights you’ll bear witness to on your quest to the Roof of the World, and the train’s comfortable chambers and attentive staff only make the journey that much more enjoyable.
But don’t think for a minute that taking a train through this rugged land is in some way cheating the adventure. Physically dealing with the extremely high altitude at the Tanggula Pass (5,072 m; 16,640 ft) – the highest railway pass and station in the world – and fighting extreme temperatures together present a remarkable challenge in and of themselves. In fact, before boarding the train you must pass a small health test to prove you can handle the thin air (even though oxygen is regularly pumped throughout the cabin), and the temperature gets so cold that the toilets are equipped with potty heaters to keep the water from freezing!
Another obstacle hindering one of the planet’s greatest rail journeys to Tibet is...well, Tibet. Due to the current political situation, all foreigners must obtain proper paperwork and a Tibetan permit before entering the province. Tibet is a very sensitive issue for the government, so don’t think for a minute you can sneak your way in.
The train cabins are similar to the ones found all throughout China, but the soft sleepers add a bit of luxury with TVs and starch white duvets. This railway also connects to cities all across Mainland China, from Beijing to Shanghai to Chengdu, but if you want a shorter journey to Lhasa, try boarding the train in either Xining or Golmud (around 25 hours).