Shortly after I boarded the train from Gulmud to Lhasa, I was listening to the hit song "Back to Lhasa" by Zheng Jun, a famous Chinese rockstar. Like the many excited passengers on the train, I was anxious about the realization of my dream: to see and touch the land that's closest to the sky and to explore the culture that's most profound and mysterious in China. However, I carried with myself a doubt as well: with millions of tourists flocking to the land since the launch of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway last July, would it remain pure?
It was daytime when the train made tracks towards Tibet, so the tourists could see the scenery outside as though they were riding a tour train. Many were stunned speechless by the beauty and majesty of the mountains, some of whose tops were covered with snow. The window seats were occupied by camera-wielding passengers, who yelled out from time to time: Look, antelopes! Sheep! Yaks! I was glad the train was supplied with sufficient oxygen, or else on these high plateaus they would have been gasping for breath if they'd kept on yelling and cheering.
Traveling to Tibet by train takes much longer than by air, but no doubt the train experience is far more exciting and interesting than the latter. The highland scenes changed gradually from the grey deserts at the beginning, to the mild green of the Hohxil nature reserve, and to the vast green grasslands of the northern Tibet region. Even the Qinghai-Tibet Highway accompanying the train journey was a magnificent attraction, twisting and curving like a flexible belt among the mountains and playing hide-and-seek games with your eyes.
The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, it must be said, offers great conveniences to passengers who cannot afford the airfares. Among the 3,000-odd passengers on the train many were non-tourists. Some were on their way to visit family and friends in Tibet, especially kids on summer vacation, traveling to see their parents or relatives. And it was hardly surprising to find several foreigners on the train. Anderson, a mathematician from Austria, was to attend an international mathematics conference held in Lhasa. There were also lamas in red gowns that easily distinguished them from the other plain-clothed travelers. An old master of Tibetan Buddhism--whose name was too hard to spell--was leading his young students to pay homage to their home temple in Nagqu, a major city in north Tibet.
What impressed me most, during my four days in Tibet, was the Tibetans' sincere and heart-felt welcome to strangers like me. Whether traveling by train or the big tour bus, I saw that the locals passing by, men or women, old or young, pupils, shepherds, teachers or even wanderers, would wave at my co-passengers and me, smiling as if they had just seen a good friend of theirs who had come a long way to visit them. Sometimes they were so far from the bus I could barely see their faces but they would continue to wave. I waved back in return, and whether or not they could see me was irrelevant at that moment. I was moved, and also relieved; I felt I was traveling through a land that was still pure and undisturbed.