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Ted & Sue Parker ‘Travels in China – Part 2’

Ted and Sue Parker entertained us today with the sequel to their talk in January. In their previous talk, Ted had described the road journey to Kashgar in the northwest of the country, where there is the largest bazaar in Asia. From there the tour backtracked across the Gobi desert to Golmud. They then caught a train to Tibet. After the stay in Lhasa, they flew to Chengdu on the return journey to Heathrow via Beijing.

The train was no ordinary train. The line climbs to 17000 ft over several hundred miles and the diesel locomotives were adapted to cope with the thin atmosphere. The train was pressurised for the same reason and it was therefore not possible to open carriage windows.

Ted explained that, although they had enjoyed most of the Chinese food they had been served on the trip, after a fortnight it was beginning to become monotonous. A Cup a Soup on the train tasted wonderful and he even looked forward to trying yak meat in Tibet.

The route crossed the Tibetan plateau which is largely flat with snow capped hills. The permafrost in the ground is maintained using a heat exchange system and in places the line is carried on low viaducts to avoid the risk of settlement. The train was modern and comfortable, but the endless Chinese music became tedious and there was little difference between lunch and the evening meal.

It was not noticeable that Lhasa is nearly 12000 feet above sea level. There is no shortage of flowers and vegetation. The very professional video showed the palace where the Dalai Lama had lived until he fled to India following the Tibetan uprising in 1959. The climb up the 301 steps was hard going, but the views were spectacular.

The group also visited the Dalai Lama’s summer palace, Norbulingka. Although this has not been used since his flight, the large gardens are maintained as a park in beautiful condition. The group enjoyed a barbecue there followed by music and dancing.

Flying out of Lhasa was an interesting experience. Because the air is so thin, the runways have to be very long to allow planes to achieve a higher takeoff speed. Once airborne, the plane has to climb slowly in a long series of curves to avoid the mountains. This gives the passengers stunning views of many peaks of 25000 to 27000 feet.

In response to questions, Ted said that the Chinese military was very evident. The Tibetans had feared that the railway line would bring many Chinese into the city and so it has proved. They have infiltrated everywhere and both secret police and armed police are ever present. The Tibetan guide only seemed relaxed when they visited a Tibetan restaurant. Within 6 months of their visit, there were riots, deaths and vehicles set on fire in the city.

The Tibetans are farmers and there were plenty of vegetables in the local market. All farming relies on manual labour and there did not appear to be tractors or other machines in use.

The standard of trains was very good even for laower fare paying passengers. The group had a carriage to themselves. They did see conditions in the standard class where a group of Tibetans attempted to light a fire in the carriage. This group also did not understand the sanitary arrangements which led to a very unpleasant state by the end of the journey.


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