The train was super modern and equipped with oxygen masks. It
climbed the steady gradient through tunnels and over gorges on a track
that had been completed a few months earlier. Lhasa now had a rail link
with China’s coastal cities. The track and the train were symbols of a
nation on the move, determined to make up for lost time and join the
technologically advanced world as quickly as possible.
I was travelling with my wife and we had no problem with altitude sickness .
The other people in the carriage were Chinese and some were badly affected .
A couple from Beijing needed medical attention and were advised to return to
a lower altitude and acclimatise before proceeding further.
All of Tibet is at high altitude and getting higher. The entire region sits on
the Indian tectonic plate, which was once part of Gondwanaland, together with
Australia, Antarctica, Africa and South America. When this vast southern
continent broke up, the Indian bit headed north at great speed (geologically
speaking) and collided with Eurasia.
The undersea part of the plate ducked down and pushed its way beneath
Eurasia which was uplifted to form the highland we call “Tibet”. If you have
difficulty visualising this process then think of a raft being pushed under
another raft. The continents are like rafts drifting in a sea of molten magma.
India followed behind the undersea part of the plate and made contact with
Eurasia about 45 million years ago. It was too light to go under and a bit of a
mess ensued. The outcome was the range of mountains we call the
Most of the Tibetan people live in the “lowlands” adjacent to the
Brahmaputra valley, which runs along the northern edge of the Himalayas
before crossing down into India. Huge sand dunes, in the valley, date from
when the land was below sea level. The Chinese are planting trees to
stabilise them. A Tibetan commented to me that, since the country is
continually rising, there is not much to worry about. She figured you would
need an awful amount of erosion to wash Tibet into the Bay of Bengal. That’s
an interesting observation but unlikely to carry much weight with
conservationists and people building dams.
Scarcely any part of Tibet is less than 3000 metres (10,000ft) above sea
level. When you talk about “lowland” that’s what you mean. The Tibetans
have been in Tibet for 3000 years and have adapted to the high altitude. DNA