The Siberian Express across Russia to Moscow has been described as the best train ride in the world. Maybe not anymore. The Tibetan Railway from Qinghai to Lhasa has thrown its hat in the ring. It will eventually be extended to the Nepalese border, only an hour’s drive from Kathmandu.
Some things you might want to think about before boarding:
Price: Tibetan Railway tickets are CHEAP, ranging from US$49 to $180 depending on how much comfort you require and where you’re coming from. A soft sleeper from Beijing, a 48 hour journey, cost only $158 in early 2007. Although a travel agency might charge more than that, the frugal can purchase a ticket directly from the station.
Visas: A China visa is of course necessary. Contrary to some information on the Internet, though, a Tibet Permit is also required for foreigners. They are relatively inexpensive and not difficult to obtain, and can be arranged through a travel agency.
Altitude Sickness: Tibet is often called the “roof of the world”, and the Tibetan Railway is the world’s highest altitude railway. Nearly 1,000 kilometers of track have been laid at over 4,000 meters (12,000 feet) above sea level, and Tanggula Station, at 5,068 meters (over 15,000 feet) above sea level, is the highest railway station in the world at. Lhasa sits on a high desert plateau. Accordingly, altitude sickness is a very real danger. Fortunately the gradual acclimatization of going by rail rather than by air reduces this risk substantially. I flew to Lhasa from Chengdu in 1994 and got altitude sickness from my first breath of Tibetan air. I stayed that way for the rest of the trip, and then spent the next 10 years wanting to go again, because it was worth every single minute of discomfort. Be warned, however – extreme altitude sickness can be life-threatening, and the only treatment is to get to a lower altitude as soon as possible. Accordingly, a trip to Tibet may not be appropriate for the elderly, the infirm, and people with lung ailments.