I press the elevator’s button that brings us to the 16th floor of one of the many, many skyscrapers modern China is rapidly popping out of its grounds. We’ve arrived at our cosy hostel in downtown Xining.
Xining is the capital city of the Qinghai province and the commercial centre of the area. In this big Chinese city and its surroundings, you will find Han-Chinese, the Tibetan culture and the Hui-islamic culture. It is situated at the beginning of the Tibetan plateau and lies at an altitude of 2300 meters. One reason to visit Xining is the Kumbum monastery. Another is to relax and book your trip to Tibet.
Gateway to Tibet
Tibet is known as ’the roof of the world’. The average height of the Tibetan plateau is 4200 meters. The need to acclimatize is not exaggerated. Altitude sickness is caused by a lack of oxygen at altitudes above 2000-2500 meter. Your body needs time to adjust to a different type of environment.
We want to enjoy Tibet to the fullest so we’ll take our time and acclimatize step by step. Starting by staying in Xining for a few days.
The railway into Tibet
The best way to avoid getting sick from the altitude as much as possible, is to go to Lhasa – located at 3600 meters – by train. It’s a slow way of ascending and in this case: slow is better!
Since the Chinese built the railway into Lhasa (a way of getting more Chinese into Tibet), Tibet has become more accessible. The Chinese occupation is a sad part of Tibetan history and present time. The opinions about it differ. Some say the Chinese brought development. Others say Tibet has lost its freedom and charm.
A way to support the local community
The least we can do is book our trip through a Tibetan agency, so that the local community will benefit from tourism.
There is a good agency in our own hostel. How convenient! The American owner – Bill – runs a small but reliable and friendly agency called Tibetan Connections. It works closely with a Tibetan runned organisation in Lhasa. The driver and guide you get assigned to in Tibet are locals.
We sit down at one of the bureaus in the small office. Lobsang is one of the employees and is originally from Tibet. He’s our walking encyclopedia. He answers all our questions patiently, helps us with our itinerary and tells us all about the rules and regulations to enter Tibet, the procedure of getting a permit, the different itinerary options and the train journey. What better way than to arrange our trip with someone who knows the place inside and out!
By train from Xining to Lhasa
This train journey should be a unique experience on its own. From Xining, it lasts about 24 hours and takes us over 5000 meters several times during the night. The sweet and patient staff at Tibetan Connections tell us (over and over again if they have to, when I keep asking this question again and again) not to worry about the altitude while we are in the train: “if you have problems breathing, you can ask the staff for oxygen”. Here’s hoping we won’t need it!
After all this information on our first day in Xining, we’re ready for a Chinese bite. Let’s hop into one of the Chinese restaurants across the street and pick up them chopsticks. 16 floors down please!