Train service from Beijing to Lhasa starts tomorrow, July 01, amid concern about the changes that will come with the greater influx of people.� According to UPI, tix for the first official trip sold out in 20 minutes.� Here David Wolman wheedles his way onto the train…
To score a ride sitting shotgun in a locomotive bound for Lhasa, it helps to like beer. I’ve just ditched my guide and wandered up to an unfinished train station at the edge of a dusty town high on the Tibetan plateau. Migrant workers, mostly Tibetans and Hui Muslims, wield sledgehammers, shovels, and drills, hurrying to finish work before midsummer. On July 1, China will celebrate the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the highest rail line in the world. Its 1,200 miles of tracks traverse 342 miles of permafrost, much of it at altitudes exceeding 13,000 feet. The end of the line is Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, the restive province China has been trying to subdue for half a century.
As I pace the gravel platform next to the tracks, the locals keep looking my way and I feel awkward and conspicuous. Veiling my nerves behind sunglasses, I keep in mind that, despite their stares, the people here are somewhat familiar with foreign visitors. Western companies involved in the project – Nortel, General Electric, Quebec-based transportation giant Bombardier – sometimes send reps out here to check on progress.
A locomotive emerges from a pass between two mocha-colored mountains. For nearly two weeks, I’ve ping-ponged across China to learn about this train, and now may be my only chance to climb aboard. I find a guy on the platform who speaks half-decent English and explain my interest in hitching to Lhasa. He says the train is still off-limits – the Golmud-Lhasa line isn’t open yet – but I figure it can’t hurt to ask.
Wired 14.07: Train to the Roof of the World