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The train journey was 3,060 kms long (1920 miles) and took a little over 45 hours in total. The first 24 hours was spent skirting the Tibetan plateau. Ir rises abruptly over 12,000 feet all along its western and northern borders. We traveled north and then west to a point where there is a moderate inclined access to the high country and that is where they built the railway line. We went to sleep around 9PM as the train gradually made its way up in elevation. At 1AM I woke suddenly with a splitting headache. The train was moving along at about 40 mph and I could see that the ground was covered in about two feet of snow. I got up to use the toilet and almost blacked out. Once I had gained control, I stumbled down the corridor to the oxygen making station to look at the altimeter. The gauge read 5, 323 meters or a little over 18,000 feet. That gave me the reason for the headache. I got out the map and judged that we were at the summit of the pass. Going back to the cabin the next four ours were pretty rough and there were several times when I though I might have to find Bobbie and get some O2. By sunrise we had dropped down to about 14,000 and the altitude sickness leveled off. Bobbie took the photo below when were were at 15,600 feet. By this time the train was awake and most everyone had a complaint or two.
Both still having headaches and not having slept well on the train, we opted to kick back for the balance of the day and each fell into a deep sleep until later afternoon...smile. We got up, wandered the streets a bit, and had dinner at a nice restaurant overlooking the ancient square.
The next day was our free day and we were allowed to wander the streets of the old part of the city without an escort. We headed out and enjoyed meeting the local people. Lhasa is not in anyway as developed as the rest of China. There are no high rise apartment buildings in the old city...the tallest being four stories and most all are made of centuries old stone blocks and mortar. There are few street vendor carts...in fact we only saw one or two the whole day, as most have small shops. This being said the city was still already suffering from the ever growing Chinese tourist market and the ancient charm was starting to vanish.
The crowd was AMAZING. Thousands of people walking jammed together eight across pushing and shoving their way up the winding path to the monastery above.
Our third day started off with the main highlight of our tour...a visit to Potala Palace, official home to five kings of Tibet, all of the Dali Lamas, and the location of most of their collective tombs. An image of the Potala is the most common associated with Tibet. On board the bus our guide issued the timed entry tickets. Once again Bobbie and I were not on his list. After some "discussion" he produced from his bag the following photocopy of a US passport. It wasn't mine but it had my photo.
I was pretty pissed off that the company had photo shopped my picture on to a US passport, thus giving me an illegal form of ID that could easily get me arrested. The additional information was that the passport number matched the number of a ticket to the palace that they conveniently had...so it was obviously planned...they lied about not having a copy of my passport earlier, obliviously were trying to save some many using an unused ticket from another guest, and seemed not concerned at all that they were breaking a major law. After some additional conversation I was assured that it wopuld not be checked and all would be well. I agreed to go to at least the first checkpoint to see how it went. The entrance guards barely looked, and I passed through all three checkpoints without an issue. I was still pissed off.
The palace was amazing. Built in 600 AD with has over 2300 rooms. We toured 20 of them.