I peered out of the window where a vast expanse of mountainous landscape stretched out to the horizon. The view from the Qinghai-Tibet Railway (the world’s highest railway) alternates between snow-capped mountains and meandering lakes against the backdrop of the blazing sun and azure blue skies; a feast for the eyes if you are a nature lover. My eyes were glued to the breathtaking scenery and despite being at an altitude of 15,000 feet, all my worries about possible altitude sickness were cast into oblivion. There was just something extraordinary about this harsh and hostile environment that I found remarkably attractive.

Majestic mountain ranges against azure blue skies
The sun rays began streaming in in the most unforgivable manner at close to 9 a.m. Even in winter, at temperatures way below freezing point, the sun in Tibet is scorching. I remember forcing my eyes open as I wanted to soak in the beauty of what laid before me. At one point, there was an announcement that we were about to pass by Namtso Lake, the second largest salt lake in China and the highest salt lake in the world. I sat up in excitement, armed with my camera, and gasped in amazement when I set my eyes on the sparkling turquoise blue waters that seemed to span across eternity.
Namtso Lake, the highest salt lake in the world
Time came to a standstill before majestic mountain ranges came back into focus, and in the blink of an eye, three long but fruitful hours had passed. All this while, my husband was sound asleep as he was experiencing mild symptoms of altitude sickness.
It is possible to suffer from altitude sickness on the train, since it reaches a highest point of over 16,000 feet above sea level. Barring that possibility and the 15-hour total travel time from Xining to Tibet (or even longer from other cities), I could still completely understand why the Qinghai-Tibet Railway remains highly popular among travelers to Tibet. Mother Nature definitely spent a little more time on the roof of the world, and the Qinghai-Tibet Railway gives you unrivaled access to its raw, untainted beauty.
Raw, untainted beauty of Northern Tibet
Northern Tibet
The train ride itself is also pretty comfortable if you are in the first class soft sleeper berth, which is frequently sold out in the peak season. The staff and fellow passengers are genuinely friendly and surprisingly polite especially if you speak Mandarin. Truth be told, I never felt more relieved to have a relatively decent command of the language. I had a long chat with a college girl traveling alone from Changsha all the way back to her hometown, Golmud, for the Chinese New Year festivities. She gave me a tip or two on places to visit in Tibet as we munched on some snacks before calling it a night. I don’t usually warm up to strangers quickly but in this situation, talking to her felt very comforting and was a much welcomed distraction from the fears of falling prey to altitude sickness.

Me in my soft sleeper berth
I have heard horror stories about the toilets on board but personally, I found the condition of the toilets rather acceptable. Although the train offers meals and the food selection isn’t too shabby, most passengers bring their own food and so did we. We stocked up on Japanese cup noodles (we were overjoyed that they came with slices of meat!), snacks and drinks for the journey. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the train ride and would highly recommend it over taking a plane.
You can take the Qinghai-Tibet Railway from many cities, including Xining (where we boarded), Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Lanzhou. It is necessary to hire a guide for your adventures in Tibet and you can easily book the tickets through your appointed guide.
For more information on battling altitude sickness in Tibet, read my previous post here:
Why is Tibet worth visiting? Read my latest post about Tibet below:Why Tibet is Worth Visiting