The View from a Train to Tibet, Part One


Towards the end of a semester spent abroad in China, our class went on some study trips. After weaving through most of the mainland we got on a day long train ride to Lhasa, Tibet. Trying to pass the time on a long train ride to Tibet, I turned to my journal. However, as I tried to get my thoughts on paper, the scenery got my complete attention. So I chose to write about that instead.

The writing became pretty consuming, and I did not take any pictures. The window’s reflection would have made most of them look pretty bad anyways. Still, to give some idea of what I am describing I interlaced some pictures of the Tibetan Plateau I took when off the train into the article.

The sky looks crystal clear. I did not think any patch of sky could look so clear and empty. White clouds drift in immaterial puffs over towering mountains. The soft trails of white from broken clouds melt into the light blue sky. All around the train a mile or so of flat land spans out into the distance. Scattered settlements dot the landscape and herds of sheep graze at the start of distant slopes. Winding roads punctuate the wide, flat, empty terrain.

At points the grass yields to small streams of translucent water creating dark green swamps marked with little ferns. The water is so clear that brings bits of the sky to earth in form of reflections. The clouds come to the earth in small puddles. Three billboards drift by, the first I had seen so far, though more would come here and there.

I wonder if the CCP will give me 99 cents for posting this picture
Some of the clearest sky I had ever seen

The train started to pass by massive lake Qinghai. The lake spread out for miles alongside us, and encompassed the setting sun. The lake shimmered on endlessly into the distance. The sunlight ran in long golden stretches across the earth. It sat cut in half by the ground, like a sparkling orange mountain rising up from a massive lake. Lake Qinghai carried the sun’s gleam to the shore right near the train. The brilliance of the light bouncing off the water shined so brightly that I could not stare straight into it. I stared instead at the way the bulbous conglomeration of sheer light broke off in pieces at the side. I tracked the light of the lake the same way I would try to look at a burning star.

The bright and endlessly wide, shimmering blue salt lake still haunts me as I write now. Looking at Qinghai felt like staring a deity straight in the iris. Not even words by the thousands can capture the magnificent way the Qinghai reflected the sun’s final blast of light.

The sun looks to visit other parts of the world. It leaves a sublime goodbye through dark orange rays illuminating less and less of the rising and falling knolls, and the stretches of flat lands. Herds of furry yak look to graze on into the late evening. One yak sped off from the herd. The yak’s heavy, legless body bounded across the flat land spread out before the slight slopes of nearby hills. Its fur bounced with each bound.

The mountains in the distance grew dark, and human settlements become more spread out. The splotchy green sides of the not so steep but still tall mountains form up in the distance. Earlier the sun lit up the far distance. In it, I could see steep sloped, towering mountains capped with snow. It looked like a scene wrapped around a bottle of water.

A perfectly lucid gloom surrounds the far spread of land now. Past the mild slopes a massive brown plateau shoots violently up from the undulating earth. It recedes and the land turns back to the rise and fall of gently sloping hills. Some sharply steepen up and form strange crags. We are now so high that the clouds flirt with the mountain tops. My breath shortens as I look at the mountains climb to meet the sky.

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Now the slopes rose sharply and widely up, but still in great circular bulges of earth like smooth waves of dirt. They roll up to the cliff sides that shoot up to touch wispy grey clouds. One hill jaggedly broke into a shorter altitude. The cliff ran along the hill until it pushed into the smoothness of it, creating a corridor of flatter, lower earth within the grassy knoll. The pattern of the cliffs almost looked like a pagoda, wide at the base and rising up thin into the side of the hill. It even had sides that splintered inward, looking like the way the roof of a pagoda pushes out at each floor.

I wish my pen could grab hold of all the wondrous landscapes around me. Some images must slip through. I do not have the time to do all of it justice; I do not have the ability to do any of it justice. The progress I made will have to do fine enough. The night comes soon and the thin light turns all the distant mountains into only rising shadows. The darkness blurs the lines and the mountains all blend into the back of one massive and shifting form. In one big poof the low and high lands merged together. They rise and fall, waving goodbye as night covered the train windows up completely.

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~Austin R Ryan

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