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Dominic's Diary 4 -- Lhasa at Last
15:19, July 02, 2010  

The view from the dining car of the Qinghai - Tibet train. Photo taken on July 1, 2010. [Credit: Dominic Swire / CRI]

By Dominic Swire

The first of July 2010 marks the fourth anniversary of the Tibet - Qinghai railway, the highest in the world. Fitting, then, that this morning I should wake up on it. I slept reasonably well - there are worse ways to drop off than being gently rocked to sleep on a train headed for Lhasa. Having said that, this sleeping compartment suffers from the same problem all others do around the world - namely, that when you sleep in the same room as five other people, one of them is bound to snore. For me, it was my colleague, who shall remain nameless, sleeping in the bunk closest to mine.

Having said that, I was able to wake up fresh enough the next morning not to need any extra oxygen available at various points around the train. But that didn't stop me sampling the service because I was curious to find out how it worked. I found the answer after asking the guard, who passed me a long tube, one end of which fixed to the attachment on the wall of the train, the other had two nozzles that I put up each nostril. Immediately I could hear the hiss of oxygen being piped straight into my nose. I felt a strange tickling sensation as I breathed the cold air supply deeply several times. However, rather disappointingly, there was no other effect. But maybe that was because I didn't have a headache to begin with.

The only other person I saw using the oxygen supply was a guard through the door of his cabin who had his feet on his desk and an oxygen pipe in his mouth. I guess most of the other passengers must have been pretty healthy. But one wasn't as we heard an announcement to ask if there were any doctors on the train that might be able to help. Luckily this didn't turn out to be an emergency as it seemed the man was simply suffering from severe indigestion. There was also another drama I witnessed, which could have turned out much, much worse. This happened during one of the few stops where passengers are able to step off the train to stretch their legs and gulp some fresh mountain air. This is exactly what I was doing when I turned to glimpse a small child being hauled up from the gap between the station and the train. The gap was actually pretty large and the child must have taken a wrong step and slipped down. Luckily there seemed to be no lasting damage. But these two incidents must have seemed like nothing to the guards who make this trip on a regular basis. One of them told us he was on duty when one lady who gave birth on the train. When I asked if he had to act as midwife, the guard replied that it was a Tibetan lady and the Tibetans, he said, are able to give birth on their own without the aid of medical assistance.

Sometime later in the day the same guard caught our attention by frantically pointing in a downwards direction at a window in the corridor. We soon realised that was the moment we were crossing the bridge that marks the border between western China's Qinghai province and the Tibet Autonomous Region. Despite this being one of the most significant points on the trip, there is nothing to signify the location - no plaque, and no river, valley or obvious reason why there is even a bridge there in the first place. The only way of knowing you're crossing this point is from a metal bar of the bridge that you can just make out if you stand close to the window and look down. This explains why the guard was so insistent that we take a look, because it's so easy to miss.

The afternoon may have dragged a little bit were it not for the simply stunning mountains that got taller, more dramatic and even snow-capped in some places as we neared Lhasa. But as if the scenery wasn't enough, the cabin crew of the train announced that they would put on a performance of traditional Tibetan songs for the passengers. This took place in the middle of a hard seat carriage with barely enough room to walk down the aisle normally, never mind fitting half the population of the train there to listen to some people sing. But this didn't stop a large crowd forming with some standing on seats and clinging to the luggage rack to get a better view. As promised the crew gave a performance one by one, which was a big hit with the audience who demanded more - and got it as several passengers stood up to offer an additional song or two. A huge applause ended this festivity as the crowd dispersed and everyone prepared their bags for arrival.

Source: CRI online

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