Taking the train to Tibet

Many know Tibet as the Roof of the World. For centuries, Tibet was isolated mostly because it was difficult and time consuming for anyone to go there—even armies.

In 1903, the British Empire sent an army to Tibet to protect its interests, and it took a year for Sir Francis Younghusband’s invasion force to reach Lhasa in August 1904.

A book was written about that invasion, The British Empire & Tibet 1900-1922. Asian Affairs says, “The great value of Dr. Palace’s study is to highlight the much neglected China angle to the Tibetan issue … [this book is] helping to indicate the very important place of the Tibetan affair in the story of Western imperialism”

Today, the journey to Tibet is not as daunting.  Besides an airport, there is the train that leaves Beijing and arrives in Lhasa forty-eight hours later. The length of the rail line is 1,215 miles (1,956 km), and it was opened for travelers July 2006.

Tourists, both foreign and Chinese, take the train to Tibet to learn more about the people while others stay—changing the demographics.

The train to Tibet sometimes reaches elevations over 5,000 meters (16,404 feet).

One Western tourist, who had been to Tibet twice, said that the ethnic groups in Tibet are not mixing together. She said there was a Chinese area and another where Tibetans lived.

Makes sense—in American cities emigrants tend to stick close to their ethnic/cultural group. In the past, there have been Irish, Jewish, and German communities, and today there are Vietnamese, Latino or Chinatowns.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.


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33 Responses to Taking the train to Tibet

  1. Nope, didn’t have it. Bought it.

    A lot of people rent “off site” storage because they are afraid in case of a fire or something, they’d lose everything. I figure if my entire life is destroyed by a calamity, I probably won’t be so worried about my pictures and writing. I did just replace a whole bunch of electrical stuff with better, newer stuff because it had the look of a fire waiting to happen. Now it looks industrial strength. I like that in electrical equipment.

    We just changed veterinarians because we discovered he was at least twice as expensive for everything than anyone else. Worse than an auto mechanic! Vets are supposed to CARE about their customers, or at least their customers’ pets.

    The high cost of replacing a water pump isn’t the price of the pump. It’s the labor — taking the whole engine apart. My son the car guy says it’s a real SOB of a job. But glad you were able to get it done, one way or another.

    We wind up putting everything on credit. Poverty is like that. You never get out from under.

    • During my long investigation into the cost of replacing that water pump, I visited YouTube and found several how To videos that went through the process step-by-step on how to replace the water pump for my car. It’s amazing what we can find on YouTube, and it was maybe a one-to-three hour job at most—if you know what you are doing—that didn’t require taking the whole engine apart, at least for this car. After the first quote from the dealer, that’s what I thought, but after watching a few of those YouTube videos and then inspecting the actual engine compartment, I think I could have done the job but feared I might mess something else up. I thought about doing it myself and then decided not to. I haven’t worked on a car since I was a teenager and cars have changed a lot since the early 1960s.


      The water pump was in a tight spot but was accessible without removing a lot of stuff to get to it. Can’t say that for every engine part the way they pack those engines into these modern, high tech cars.

      • Newer cars are not easy to work on. They are half a computer, so if you dislodge a wire, NOTHING works. My son no longer works on his own cars. They’ve finally made it impossible unless that’s your real profession.

      • That was my exact worry. The computers. I understand there is more than one in each of our modern, high tech cars and just one can cost more than a thousand to replace and that’s just for the part.

  2. Michael Brant says:

    Not much discussion of the role of this train in the accelerating destruction of Tibetan culture. This railway was not built for tourism.

    • I’m sure that the purpose of this train [and the airport] was the same purpose that explains why the United States built railroads from coast-to-coast about the same time the the U.S. was waging war against the North American natives [the Indian Wars: 1622 – 1924] that had inhabited the land for more than 10,000 years—to take their land and exploit it for farming and other resources in addition to commerce. After all, that’s what capitalism is all about. commerce and wealth.

      The Indian wars east of the Mississippi ran from 1775-1842, and west of the Mississippi from 1811 to 1924. One example would be the Trail of Tears—the forced relocation of Native American nations from southeastern parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The removal included many members of the following tribes, who did not wish to assimilate: Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, among others, from their homelands to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.

      The fact is that even the railroads in the United States didn’t totally erase many of those native American cultures. Many survive on reservations, but they aren’t the same civilizations that existed before the invasion from Europe.

      But there is a difference between what the United States did to the North American natives and what China is doing to the Tibetans. According to Ward Churchill, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, the reduction of the North American Indian population from an estimated 12 million in 1500 to barely 237,000 in 1900 represents a”vast genocide . . . , the most sustained on record.”

      By comparison, the Tibetan population has increased along with life expectancy [not counting the Han Chinese who migrated to Tibet], and the Tibetans live in an autonomous zone that excludes them from the one-child policy enforced on the urban Han Chinese. The Tibetans are even allowed to practice their religion as long as it doesn’t become political in nature, while for the past five centuries, American Indians have had their religions suppressed (sometimes brutally and violently) and denied. With the formation of the United States and the adoption of the Bill of Rights which speaks of freedom of religion, this freedom has been denied to American Indians based on the notion that they were not citizens and therefore this freedom did not apply to them. The period of time from 1870 to 1934 can be considered the Dark Ages for American Indian Religious Freedom. During this time, the active suppression of American Indian religions reached its peak.

      Didn’t Christ say, “Let he who has no guilt, cast the first stone”? I don’t think anyone who is a citizen of the West is without guilt due to the West’s Caucasian history of suppression of people of color.

      • The relocation included a lot of Natives who DID want to assimilate. No one cared … and no one wanted them.

      • U.S. history is filled with racism and segregation to this day. During the indian wars, the government and media helped make this saying popular: “The only good indian is a dead indian.”

        Who Said It: Gen. Philip Sheridan

        When: 1869

        The Story behind It: In January, 1869, General Sheridan held a conference with 50 Indian chiefs at Fort Cobb in the so-called Indian Territory (later part of Oklahoma). At that time, Sheridan, who had gained recognition as a Union officer in the Civil War, was in charge of the Dept. of the Missouri. One of his duties was to oversee the Indian Territory, making sure that the Indians remained on their reservations and did not harass the white settlers. When Comanche chief Toch-a-way was introduced to Sheridan at the conference, the Indian said, “Me Toch-a-way, me good Indian.” Sheridan reportedly smirked and replied, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” Later on, the remark became “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

        Have you ever read “The Education of Little Tree”. I used that book in the 8th and then 9th grade English classes that I taught.


      • And Andrew Jackson did his very best to make sure every Indian he ever met became a dead one. I know he’s considered “a hero” but not to me. To me, he’s a mass murderer.

      • Andrew Jackson seems to rank highly in all kinds of polls—I think that ranking comes from Hollywood films that show him winning that battle at New Orleans—but:

        “besides winning a famous battle in the War of 1812 years before his presidency—and at that, a battle that had no effect on the war’s outcome, since a treaty ending it had just been signed—just exactly what did Andrew Jackson do to deserve his eminence?

        He led the country through no wars. No foreign policy milestones like Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase or the “Doctrines” of James Monroe or Harry Truman highlighted Jackson’s presidency. He crafted no path-breaking legislative program like Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Indeed Jackson’s sole major legislative victory in eight years was an 1830 law to “remove” the eastern Indian tribes beyond the Mississippi, something more often seen today as travesty rather than triumph.

        That measure aside, the salient features of Jackson’s relations with Congress were his famous vetoes, killing a string of road and canal subsidies and the Bank of the United States, and Jackson’s official censure by the United States Senate in 1834, the only time that has yet happened. On its face, this does not look like the record of a “top ten” president.


        It would seem that whatever rating Jackson has comes from some form of ignorant political correctness thanks to those Hollywood films, which you may read about here:


        Imagine that, how could any moderate or tea party conservative Republican vote against Andrew Jackson when Charlton Heston played him in the 1958 “The Buccaneer”?

      • And we all know, if played by Charlton Heston (who was personally a really nice guy, but politcally an imbecile), you had to be iconic, right? Right. He actually killed off the entire Creek nation, by the way. Not just a few of them. The entire tribe, men, women, and children. Some icon.

      • Andrew Jackson’s ranking in the polls is a perfect example of ignorant people who don’t know all the facts having a vote.

  3. THAT is a trip I would love to take. History and the Himalayas and a long train ride up to the top of the world.

    • I agree. Imagine the beautiful sights from the window. Tom Carter, the author of “China: Portrait of a People” walked and/or hitchhiked across China to Tibet. I think I’d rather take the train. :o)

      • How many cameras do you have?

      • Have or use?

        I use 3 Olympus 4/3 interchangeable lens bodies (aka – the GOOD cameras) and five lenses.

        1 point and shoot Panasonic compact with a Leica lens that lives in my purse and goes everywhere I go.

        1 big Panasonic with a huge super-zoom (20 mm to 800 mm) Leica lens that is rather like a big DSLR, but does it all with one enormous (HUGE) lens. I mostly use it for wildlife (especially birds) when I need a really long lens. It’s much cheaper to buy a camera with a super-zoom than to buy a super long lens for the good cameras.

        I also have the predecessor of my compact (which is a little broken, but sort of usable) and one big super-zoom I’m going to give to someone who doesn’t care that it’s always slightly out of focus. And others, but I don’t remember what they are or where I put them. They are all old and haven’t been used in a long time. Old cameras have a tendency to linger in the backs of closets and drawers. Like old cell phones.

      • Any digital cameras?

      • All of them are digital. Even the old ones.

      • Then all you have to do is charge up the batteries and you’re ready to go.

      • You bet. And I have spare batteries for everything. I’m a real photographic boy scout 🙂

      • Too bad I wasn’t the same way. I didn’t seriously get into taking photographs until our 2008 trip to China. Before we left, I bought my first nice digital camera.

        Of course, I did carry a camera with me to Vietnam in 1966. Big gap between 1966 and 2008 where I didn’t take many photos at all. I wonder why.

      • I stopped shooting while I lived in Israel, but it was situational. I didn’t have a camera and I had no money to buy one. Except for that gap and immediately after I came back to this country (I still didn’t have a camera), I’ve always taken a lot of pictures. It has been my avocation since I was 21 and was given my first camera.

        I love digital. I don’t have to worry about how much it will cost me to develop the pictures.

        I was very serious about photography but I discovered I could make a better living writing, so in the end, I stayed with it. Though a lot of jobs, I’ve done both — written the story and taken the pictures.

        I really started blogging because I wanted to show off my pictures, not because I wanted to write. But then I started to write about the pictures and now, of course, I do both … as I have for most of my life.

      • How much of the world have you shot?

      • Surprisingly little. New York. Arizona. Maine. Massachusetts. Connecticut.. A little bit of Florida. Ireland. And wherever the cruiseship we were on went. But I lost all my digital pictures in the to the “I Love You” virus, so I started from nothing in 2002, having lost everything I took digitially prior to that. That’s when I got serious about backups!

      • I got serious about backups—and security—after a similar virus took out everything on one of my older computers about 12 years ago.

      • Around the same time. I lost a lot on that one virus. I’ve lost hard drives since, but I’ve always had the important stuff backed up. Now I have external hard drives and I distribute everything to two different computers AND two externals.

      • Me too. I back up all my work on three thumb drives and one automatic external USB 3.0 3T hardrive. I’m obsessive.

      • You can’t have too many backups.

      • Agreed.

        I’m tempted to buy a solid state back up hardrive that Costco has advertised that is designed to survive earthquakes, solar flares and fires. Maybe I could run cables under the house and store it where thieves would have trouble finding it—if I buy it. It’s expensive and a teacher’s retirement is limited. When I left teaching, I took a 40-percent pay cut. Sometimes I take weeks to decide on a purchase like that. Sometimes months.

        For instance, the water pump went out on my car and the dealer wanted about $700 to replace it and when I looked the cost up for that water pump, the highest prices ran about seventy dollars. The labor and built in profit for the dealer was exorbitant, so I thought. I limited my driving—checking the water level every time I went out—and spent time gathering price comparisons and eventually had the job done from an independent mechanic with his own shop for about $125 less than the dealer’s quote. That job had to go on the credit card.

        I didn’t know that in California, auto report charges between $80 – $100 an hour + parts while the average teacher earns less than $30 an hour for an average teacher’s workweek that’s 56 hours a week. When I was teaching, I often worked 60 to 100 hours a week—that counts the hours outside of class correcting papers, calling parents, computing grades, doing lesson plans, etc.

        And my memoir, Crazy is Normal, a classroom expose, went on tour this morning with a sale price of 0.99 cents. I thought I’d mention it. In fact, I’ll probably be mentioning it a lot.


      • I bought Crazy Is Normal … I think I did. I better check. I know I bought Running With the Enemy. Reality check time!!

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