Tibet by Rail but watch out for the Altitude

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

ChinaHighlights.com explains why. It isn’t just the distance and all those mountains. It’s the altitude. “Nearly all tourists entering Tibet experience highland altitude sickness,” China Highlights said, “For some the effect is strong, but for most it is just an inconvenience. The reaction varies from person to person, and experts cannot say who will be affected, but statistically old people are more likely to feel stronger altitude sickness than the young, the unfit/unhealthy are more likely than the fit/healthy, and males are affected more strongly than females.”

As for the distance, in 1903, the British Empire sent an army to Tibet from India 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 America’s 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.

If you plan to visit Tibet and don’t want to risk the altitude sickness, China Highlights says, “Adverse reaction to altitude is usually reduced if one acclimatizes by reaching high altitude over a period of at least a few days (3 days is usually enough).”  Instead of flying to Tibet or getting there by rail or car/bus, you could do what Tom Carter did and walk.

Discover Anna May Wong, the woman that died a thousand times.

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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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