Ryan’s a man of superlatives so when we got word that Tibet was home to the ‘world’s highest train,’ I had no other choice than to jump on board. The fact that the it meant we had a 37-hour train ride ahead of us meant nothing to my better half.
In 2007 China celebrated the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the highest rail line in the world. The 1,200 miles of tracks are the result of engineering genius, traversing 342 miles of permafrost, much of it at altitudes exceeding 13,000 feet. Since Tibet was incorporated into the the People’s Republic of China in 1951, China has dreamed of uniting this mountainous province with the rest of the country. After nearly half a century, the world’s highest locomotive was achieved and now gives people from Beijing, Shanghai, and other major Chinese cities direct rail access to once remote Tibet.
Providing passengers with enough oxygen was one of the biggest technology challenges the Chinese faced. The thin air on the Tibetan plateau makes breathing a challenge and altitude sickness prevalent. To remedy the situation, the Chinese increased the amount of oxygen circulating the train cars with generators that suck in the good oxygen from outside air and release the other gases into the atmosphere. Genius.
Lucky for me, the world’s highest train turned out to be one of the world’s poshest trains. We had a 37-hour ride in order so splurged on the first class ticket. A darn good splurge it turned out to be! Although we had to share our train car with two others, it included individual TV’s for each passenger, hangers for clothes and even a lace tablecloth topped with a vase for the table. The best part was a first-class dining car where we took in the scenery, sipped on Budweisers (yes they serve Budweiser at 15,000 feet) and passed the time with our new-found Tibetan traveler cohorts. The comfort of the train was only rivaled by the breathtaking views.