The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which starts from Xining in Qinghai Province in the north to Lhasa in Tibet in the south, is known as the "the Heavenly Road". It is the worlds’ highest railway and covers the longest permafrost. Therefore, workers had overcome many difficulties to build this world-class railway. But seeing how the railway running through the harsh and wild Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is not the only reason for tourists to choose a Qinghai-Tibet Railway trip. The unique and charming scenery along the railway is the major reason for them to take a train to Tibet. Tourists are able to see many unique and beautiful scenery when the train runs through places such as Hoh Xil Nature Reserve and Tanglha Mountains.
Taking a train to Tibet is one of the most popular activities for tourists. And buying train tickets is especially difficult in the peak season of Tibet tourism. If you have overcome the difficulties and successfully bought a sleeper ticket of a train to Tibet, the next thing you should do is to know more about the scenery that can be seen along the Qinghai-Tibet railway.
This article will focus on introducing the unique scenery of the plateau that can be seen on the train of Xining-Lhasa section of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.
When the train sets off from Xining, the first scenery that can be seen is the Qinghai Lake, which is the largest salt water lake in China and is located in the northeast of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. After passing through the Qinghai Lake, the next scenery is the Qarhan Salt Lake, which is the largest salt lake in China and stretches more than 160 kilometers from east to west, and 20 kilometers to 40 kilometers from south to north. Northwest to Golmud is the unique Yardang Landform, which stretches a length of over 100 kilometers and a width of tens of kilometers.
When the Qinghai-Tibet train keeps running westward from Xining, the altitude also keeps increasing. And the higher the altitude is, the less the vegetation and people there will be. When the train is approaching Qinghai Lake, the scenery outside the window becomes pastures with excellent grass. It is in Xihai Town (more than 120 kilometers away from Xining) that the train begins to get close to the Qinghai Lake area - Jinyintan Grassland. The train will pass by the north shore of the Qinghai Lake for about half an hour, so tourists can have enough time to enjoy the scenery of the lake all the way. In summer, the Qinghai Lake will be surrounded by golden rapeseed fields. With blue sky and golden yellow rapeseed fields being background, the whole scenery of the Qinghai Lake becomes a beautiful landscape painting.
Recommended trains where tourists can enjoy the scenery of Qinghai Lake: Chengdu - Lhasa Train (Z323), Chongqing - Lhasa Train (Z223), Beijing - Lhasa Train (Z21), Xining - Lhasa Train (Z6801), Lanzhou - Lhasa Train (Z917).
The next station is Delingha Railway Station, which is about two hours from the Qinghai Lake. But before the train arrives in Delingha, the train will pass through another lake on the plateau - the Gahai Lake. It is the largest freshwater lake in Gannan region of Qinghai and is located in the center of grassland. Besides, Gahai Lake is also a bird sanctuary. Many kinds of waterfowl such as black swans, egrets, and geese will habitat in Gahai Lake in summer.
When the train leaves Delingha and keeps running for half an hour, tourists can see another two lakes - the Tuosu Lake and the Keluke Lake, which are totally different from each other: Tuoso Lake is 3 times larger than Keluke Lake and it is a salt water lake while Keluke Lake is a freshwater lake. But since the two lakes are adjacent to each other, they are also called "the lakes of lovers". Just like Gahai Lake, Tuosu Lake and Keluke Lake are also a good habitat for birds. However, tourists are mostly unable to enjoy the scenery of the two lakes because the train usually passes through the area at nights.
The scenery between Golmud and Nagqu is the highlight along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. You can enjoy the most gorgeous scenery on the plateau during this 11-hour journey. And you can also see the changes of four seasons on the train within 11 hours: from basins to snow-capped mountains, from Gobi to grasslands, from mountains to lakes, etc. There is just too much scenery for the eyes to see.
The scenery of Hoh Xil unpopulated area is also impressive. Hoh Xil is a wonderland for wild animals such as Tibetan Antelopes, yaks, and Equus hemionus. When the train is passing through Hoh Xil, you can possibly see the graceful figures of Tibetan antelopes in the distance . The next is the scenic belt of Yangtze River source, which is the birthplace of the Yangtze River, Yellow River and Lancang River. Therefore, the scenic belt is also reputed as “the water tower of China”. Glacial landform is the major scenery here, including ice bridges, cirques, glacier lakes, and glacier tongues, etc. The last scenic spot along the scenic belt of Yangtze River source is the Tanglha Railway Station (5072 meters) - the highest station of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.
Recommended trains where tourists can enjoy the scenery of Hoh Xil, the scenic belt of Yangtze River source, and sunrise at Tuotuo River: Shanghai - Lhasa Train (Z165), Guangzhou - Lhasa Train (Z265), and Xining - Lhasa Train (Z6811).
Parallel to the railway section from Golmud to Tanglha Mountain Pass is the 109 National Road. After crossing the mountain pass, the train keeps running through Kunlun Mountains, and the scenery around will be majestic snow-capped mountains.
The highest peak of the eastern Kunlun Mountains is the Yuzhu Peak, which is 170 kilometers southwest of Golmud and located at an altitude of 6,178 meters. There are 15 snow-capped mountains which have a height of over 5,000 meters around the Yuzhu Peak. The snows and glaciers on the mountains are always there all year round and they won’t melt. Therefore, if you want to see snow landscape in summer, you can go to the Kunlun Mountains. Opposite to the Yuzhu Peak is the Yuxu Peak, which is the “sister peak” of the former. 160 kilometers away from Golmud, Yuxu Peak (5,980 meters) is located in the middle of Kunlun Mountains and on the west of Kunlun Mountain Pass.
Shortly after the train passes through the Kunlun Mountain Pass, landscape outside the windows will change dramatically. Tourists will see totally different scenery when the snow-capped mountains are left behind and when the train keeps running forward: the scenery of Hoh Xil - a vast wilderness stretching for hundreds of miles. It is the largest unpopulated area in China and the third largest in the world. Hoh Xil is also called as "the forbidden zone of life" because of its harsh environment: high altitude(5,000 meters), low oxygen content, and litter drinking water.
However, Hoh Xil is a perfect habitat for rare wild animals such as Tibetan Antelopes, yaks, Equus hemionus, and Tibetan gazelles. Therefore, when the train passes through the Hoh Xil area (generally refers to the area from Kunlun Mountains to Tuotuo River), tourists can have a chance to closely see those rare animals from the windows.
Tuotuo River is one of the sources of the Yangtze River. The glaciers and snows in the Tanglha Mountains melt into water and flow to the Jinsha River after passing through the Tuotuo River. Then the water passes through Yunnan Province and other places, and finally flows into the Yangtze River. Tourists will be impressed a lot when they see the magnificent source of the Yangtze River. If you are lucky, you can also see the sunrise at the Tuotuo River from the train.
Tanglha Mountains are located at the junction of Qinghai Province and Tibet. It is the highest area along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, and Tanglha Railway Station is also the highest station along the railway, about 5072 meters.
As the highest station in the world, Tanglha Railway Station is also called as "the place nearest to heaven". When you look westward from the platform of the station, you can see the majestic Gradandong Peak (6621 meters), which is the main peak of Tanglha Mountains. There is no train staff in Tanglha Railway Station, so the train will not make stops at the station. But when it passes through the area, the train will be slowed down for passengers to take pictures of the beautiful scenery.
20 kilometers southwest of Ando County lies the world's highest freshwater lake - the Cuona Lake, which is located at an altitude of 4,650 meters and covers an area of about 300 square kilometers. The train is only 20 meters away from the lake when it passes by, so tourists can fully appreciate the beauty of the lake.
There are many waterfowls such as bar-headed geese, ruddy shelduck, and black-necked cranes searching for food and playing by the lake. Although there is a railway nearby, this place still remains quiet and beautiful, reminding you that you have arrived in Tibet.
If you see Cuona Lake from different places, you will find color of the water different: Sometimes it is blue and sometimes it is green. Even though you haven’t seen the Namtso Lake and Yambdrok Lake so far, the beauty of Cuona Lake is enough to surprise you a lot.
The Nagqu-Lhasa section is a part which is completely located in Tibet of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. After the train passes through Tanglha Mountains, the altitude will slowly decrease and there will be more vegetation. Scenery along the way will be the unique pastures on the north Tibetan plateau.
Once the train has passed through the Tanglha Mountains, you will see the beautiful Changtang Grassland, which is the largest pasture in Tibet. If you go there in July or August, you would be able to see the the annual Nagqu Horse Racing Festival. All of the Tibetan people in Changtan Grassland will gather in Nagqu to celebrate the festival, and the celebration will last for half a month. Beautiful scenery along the Nagqu-Lhasa section include: the Samdain Kangsang Mountain, the Eight Pagodas, the main peak of the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains, Yangpachen Geothermic Spring, and Lhasa River, etc. There are so much scenery along the Nagqu-Lhasa section, so you need you prepare enough batteries and digital memory for your camera. Besides, as this is the last section of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, please get ready to start your Tibet journey!
Tips: It is in the daytime when all the trains pass through the Nagqu-Lhasa section, so tourists can enjoy the scenery all the way. The closer to Lhasa, the more vegetation there will be and the more populated the places will be.
Changtang grassland is located between Kunlun Mountains, Tanglha Mountains and Kailash range. It is the largest natural grassland as well as an important grassland in Tibet. The Gobi, grasslands, lakes, and mountains... all of these along the way will make you feel peaceful and relaxing.
It is mostly in the late afternoon when the train runs through the Changtang Grassland, so the sunshine is not very strong during this period. Even though there are tens of herds of cattle and flocks of sheep eating grass leisurely on the grassland, you can only see black spots scattering densely in different areas because of the long distance and weak sunshine.
When you see the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains, it means that you will soon arrive in the destination of this long train journey - Lhasa. On the other side of the mountains is one of the famous scenic spots of Tibet - the Namtso Lake.
Yangpachen is a town in Damxung County in Tibet. The town is famous for its geothermal hot springs. Although you can't feel the comfort of the geothermal hot springs closely while you are on the train, you can still see giant pillars of vapors rising up and gushing into the sky. Yangpachen Hot Spring is about 100 kilometers away from Lhasa. After arriving in Lhasa, you can charter a car to Yangpachen for a hot spring bath.
The last iconic attraction before the train arrives at Lhasa Railway Station is the Lhasa River. The Qinghai-Tibet train enters into Lhasa from the northwestern suburb of the city. When it passes through the Lhasa River Bridge, it will stop at the Lhasa Railway Station which is in the south of the city. When you see the Lhasa River, a large urban landscape will also come into your vision, and the most conspicuous one should definitely be a towering white building - the Potala Palace.
In addition to these natural landscapes, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway itself is also a beautiful scenery. As one of the miracles in the world’s architecture history, the Qinghai-Tiebt Railway has many world-class constructs: the Sancha River Super Bridge (the highest bridge along the railway), the Qingshui River Super Bridge(the longest bridge along the railway), the Kunlun Mountain Tunnel (the world's longest plateau permafrost tunnel), and the Wind Volcano Tunnel (the world's highest tunnel), and the Yangpachen Tunnel Group, etc. Therefore, tourists are recommended to go to Tibet by trains, and go back home from Tibet by flights.