On a Dream Train

Trip Start Sep 05, 2010
Trip End Aug 21, 2011

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Where I stayed
Seat 17, Cabin 5, The Highest Train in the World (Lhasa to Chengdu)

Flag of China  , Tibet,
Friday, January 14, 2011

Today has been an incredible day but like so many times before on this trip, it could easily have swung to the other end of the spectrum. A pivotal 30 minutes set us on our way with full steam ahead but it was very nearly a disastrous situation.

We woke early excited by the fact that we were off on the bikes, albeit 5 miles down the road to Lhasa train station.  It was a rusty but familiar feeling lugging the bulging panniers down hotel stairs and clipping them onto the bikes.  Loaded up again at last, they looked splendid and itching for a good ride.  We had breakfast with the tour group and said our 'goodbyes'. It had been fun traveling in a group for a few days but we were so excited about getting back out on the road and being independent.  The ride through Lhasa town was wonderful, it was the first time we have cycled on "Chinese" soil.  The roads were slick and open.  We even enjoyed a couple of bike lanes along the way.  Polly’s irrational fear about being stranded on public transport without food meant that we had to stop along the way and stock up with fruit and crisps.  Never-the-less, the ride out to the train station was fresh and exciting and it represented the first few turns of the wheel on a 5000 mile leg through South East Asia which will take us from Southern China to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and end in Singapore.

Arriving at the train station we were greeted by a long queue for scanning luggage.  This was obviously a joke with our bikes but with some helpful policeman we got all bags through and back on the bikes.  Then stage two, find the platform.  This is when things started to go so horribly wrong.  We were refused entry with our bikes by a very officious woman guard.  She barked at us in Tibetan over and over again.  After minutes of confusion we managed to establish a route into a luggage depot. Again we were stung by the language barrier but as we filled out forms it looked as if we were getting the bikes on with a surcharge.  Then the plot swung again.  It transpired that the forms were for posting the bikes on a luggage train which would arrive at our destination of Chengdu 5 DAYS LATER.  Hair pulling out time.  There was no way they were letting our bikes on the train.  The implications of this were disastrous.  Refund of the ticket looked unlikely (this was the most expensive train ride ever at 140 a seat), we couldn’t fly soon, we couldn’t wait around for 5 days due to visa expiry.  The consequences meant we had to pull something out of the bag.  We started dismantling the bikes, wheels, saddles, racks, bags, everything which unscrewed came off to try and demonstrate that we could actually condense our bulky modes of transport.  A young station worker (who we think was a girl) started to get involved.  She could speak some English and we put our fate in her hands.   Somehow she seemed to take control of a mess which several people in smart uniforms had lost the plot with, the power of speaking a foreign language, eh?  She loaded up a trolley with all our bits and wheeled us round the back, through dense security gates and straight onto the platform.  She dropped us at the correct carriage and basically said ‘good luck, I’m not sure they will let you on with all this stuff’.  We had however out manoeuvred several lines of security and checking and looked in a much better position than 20 minutes before hand.  The cabin crew (yes, cabin crew, we are in first class and these Chinese trains are something else) opened the carriage doors and that was our cue.  Before there was any questioning Pols and I had the bike frames tucked behind a door and the other numerous bits of bike stored under our beds.  The panniers found a slot and we sat back in our luxurious cabin still quite unsure how we had blagged it.  We were on our way to Chengdu on the world’s highest railway where we would arrive 44 hours later to continue on our way.  Phew, phew, phew.

The rest of the day has been dream.  Our cabin is 4 berth but we have it to ourselves, the beds are soft and beautifully comfortable, there are televisions at the foot of each and there is even an oxygen supply vent to help passengers cope with the altitude.  With my limited writing capabilities.  it is impossible to do justice to a description of the scenery.  The Himalayan plateaux’s with their Yak herders and frozen lakes have been a privilege to enjoy.

We have just been served a delicious Chinese meal which was really the icing on the cake.  I cannot imagine ever taking a train journey to match this and we still have all of tomorrow to sit back and enjoy the ride.
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Lindy on

This is much better than listening to the Archers on a Sunday morning!!! Hope to speak to trica soon to hear more about her trip - it all is amazing and am very impressed with the photography - how do you settle down after all these experiences??
Looking forward to hearing your views on Cambodia and Vietnam - we have our 40th anniversary this year and I am hoping we can celebrate with a different holiday.
Keep the blogs coming
Love Lindy

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