The Journey to (and from) the Roof Top of the World 

The Journey to (and from) the Roof Top of the World 

We took a train to reach Tibet, also known as “the roof top the the world”. The journey on the train to Lhasa, Tibet is truly part of the adventure. The Tibetan Train line was not completed until 2006 and it boast number world records, engineering feats and scenic views.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway includes The Tanggula Pass which is the world’s highest point of railway, at an impressive 16,640 feet above sea level. It is also the only train that services the highest train station on the world, Tanggula Station, at 16,627 feet above sea level.


In order for the train carrying passengers to climb to this height, special train cars had to be built. These cars pumped oxygen into the cabins for the passengers once they reach a certain height. Each seat/bed has an oxygen outlet for passengers in case of emergencies.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway also boast having the world’s highest tunnel at 16,093 feet above sea level, Fenghuoshan Tunnel, and the longest tunnel, Guanjiao Tunnel. The longest tunnel was particularly annoying for Megan as her kindle screen does not light up and she was at a particularly good spot in her book.

The impressive engineering came for the tracks laid on permafrost. There is 340 miles of train track on permafrost. The track on permanent permafrost is mostly over rock to which they secured the track however there is also barely permanent permafrost which thaws from the heat of the passing train, turning the ground underneath it into mud. Two solutions were to cool the tracks passively with ammonia based heat exchange and to elevate the track. In order to support an elevated track on muddy, sometimes-frozen ground, the foundation had to be sunk deep into the ground and built up into the elevated track. It is all quite impressive.

The train ride came with some stunning views of mountains, permafrost and lakes.


We also traveled by many animals of the Tibetan Plateau. We saw wild horses running on the plains and yaks everywhere we looked. There was also Tibetan antelope, deer and sheep.


There were a number of saluting train company workers.


The train ride to Lhasa for Xi’an is 32 hours. We stayed in second class, which is hard beds, stacked in an open cabin three beds high. On the way to Lhasa we met two other travelers. They were both born in China but had been working in Sweden before taking a year to travel. Their English was excellent and we enjoyed riding with them and talking about travels and life. We also met an adorable Tibetan girl whose mother asked to take a photo with us. After the photo her mom showed her the photos and she made the happiest sound we have ever heard. She continues to wander into our nook multiple times, once she even danced to the overhead music. ❤️


The bathroom facilities added to our adventure on the railway. Each second class train car held 60 beds (and we were mostly a full train) with two squat-pot bathrooms to share. It turns out, using a squat-pot on a moving train is a skill that not every has developed successfully.


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