Skip to main content

World's highest rail track reaches Everest gateway Shigatse

By Daojun Wu, for CNN
updated 10:53 PM EDT, Sun August 3, 2014
The new line is an extension of the Qinghai-Tibet line known as the highest railway in the world.
The new line is an extension of the Qinghai-Tibet line known as the highest railway in the world.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lhasa to Shigatse railway due to be inaugurated at the end of August
  • New line brings rail travel to within 150 miles of Mount Everest
  • Track is part of huge Chinese investment program in country's remote western territories

(CNN) -- The world's highest railway rolls even closer to Mount Everest this month when China inaugurates a stretch of track connecting the Tibetan cities of Lhasa and Shigatse.

Traversing valleys, mountains and crossing the glacier-fed Brahmaputra River, the line takes in breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks and majestic plateaus as it wends from the territory's capital to its second city.

The track is an extension of the Qinghai-Tibet line -- an engineering marvel named the "closest stretch of railway to the sky" after it first carried passengers above 5,000 meters (16,404 feet) in 2006.

MORE: Tibet fast facts

Work on the new $2.1 billion line across the roof of the world began in 2010.

When it opens, it will allow passengers to connect by rail from Beijing all the way to Shigatse, a gateway to Everest, which lies just 240 kilometers (150 miles) away, on the border with Nepal.

Suolang Deji, an officer with Shigatse's tourism department, told CNN the railway would be inaugurated at the end of August and would initially carry Chinese visitors.

"The first batch of tourists are from Shandong provice," she said.

MORE: Momo madness: Your guide to the Tibetan dumpling

Huge investment

With the arrival of the train, the journey from Lhasa to Shigatse shrinks five hours of driving over terrain ranging in altitude from 3,600 to 4,000 meters, to two hours by rail.

The railway is part of a huge Chinese investment program in the infrastructure of its remote western territories that is seen as an effort to consolidate Beijing's economic and political control of the autonomous region.

Such developments have not been welcomed by some Tibetans who say China invaded their land in 1950 and dispute Beijing's claim that the Himalayan plateau has historically been part of China.

Political tensions mean that access to the railway for non-Chinese tourists is likely to be subject to tight controls.

In addition to Chinese visas, foreign visitors already require special permits to enter Tibet and the availability of these is subject to sudden change.

Anyone hoping to travel on from Shigatse to Everest or Nepal will have to wade through further red tape.

MORE: China plans 'Swiss makeover' for Tibet tourism

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:26 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Take a trip to the Chinese town that has more relics than people.
updated 12:42 PM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
You know about reggae and Usain Bolt -- but you probably aren't aware of these other Jamaican superlatives.
updated 6:52 AM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
Artist creates brilliant tribute to Dutch impressionist painter -- a cycle route that glows in the dark
updated 1:33 AM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
European airlines beware: These 320kph trains are upping the travel game with roomy seats and onboard wi-fi.
updated 5:53 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
For such a relatively small collection of islands, the UK packs in an phenomenal range of beautiful scenery.
updated 5:37 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
Animals run behind the Rovos Rail train's observation balcony in Africa.
Rovos Rail's epic trips out of South Africa pamper passengers with fine dining, vintage comfort and even a bathtub.
updated 8:37 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
Nasir al-mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran
Self-taught Iranian photographer gains rare access to shoot religious buildings as they've never been seen.
updated 10:45 PM EST, Mon November 10, 2014
The subject of erotica has a way of making people uncomfortable.
updated 7:37 PM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
A
UK's Heathrow Airport pairs destinations with fragrances to evoke long distance travel. We do too.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
Bumper cars, a freefall simulator and robot bartenders are just a few of the cool features on Royal Caribbean's new Quantum of the Seas.
updated 5:58 PM EST, Sun November 2, 2014
Up in the mountains and across deep chasms, these bridges are both spectacular and terrifying.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT