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Edinburgh – Hong Kong

The Railway to Heaven

My latest book will be published on the 10th October and I wanted to share a bit more about it. I thought a good way to do this might be to answer some of the questions that I frequently get asked about the journey. Why did you choose Tibet as your destination? After much studying of my vintage 1956 National Geographic map, I realised that I could fuse together two journeys that I wanted to make – the Trans Manchurian and the Qinghai-Tibet railways – broadly speaking the longest and highest in the world. Tibet is such a fabled place […]

September 11, 2019

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The Snake House

My arrival in Hong Kong has feels like a bit of an anticlimax at first. It’s not like anyone was there to greet me or say “well done, old chap” or “are you the only person to have ever completed both the Trans-Manchurian and the Qinghai-Tibet railways in one journey?”. I walked the streets of Kowloon amongst throngs of tourists who had no idea that I had just joined them by taking the train from Edinburgh Waverley to Hung Hom, not to mention a side journey to Lhasa. I was very careful at first not to tell everyone what I […]

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Enter the Dragon – the Z823 to Hong Kong

After the experience on the train from Lhasa, I gave myself 48 hours in a reasonably plush hotel to decompress. I must have had some train related PTSD, as I found myself on sentry duty during the night, guarding my bathroom from non existent smoking Chinese passengers. Also without really thinking about it, I worked out that the square footage of my bedroom would accommodate 32 people in the density of soft class. My time in Guangzhou was short, but I felt very relaxed here. I last visited in 1990, and of course hardly recognise the place now. I took the […]

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Reasons Not to Be So Cheerful (Part 2)

My second day on the Z266 train from Lhasa to Guangzhou begins with a gentle but firm tug on my ankle. It is the guard. We go through the Chinese train ritual of me returning my train plastic gold card in exchange for my original ticket (I think they do this so they can remind passengers when they will be getting off at the next stop). Then she surprises me by getting out her smartphone and pointing to the words “change train”. This wasn’t in the script, as my train was already going to Guangzhou. Anyway, I shall go with […]

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Z266 – The Slow Train to Canton – Part One

 I’m back on the train. My plan is a bit mad, and even I can’t remember why I decided to do this. I’m on the Z266, which runs daily from Lhasa to Guangzhou. It takes three days. This is a big trip, but yet in my mind I’m treating it like a short journey for some reason. I bet I am actually the only person travelling the full 4390 km to Canton. How many Chinese people would want to do this? Perhaps like wanting to take a single train journey from Edinburgh to Istanbul. I’m on a Z train again, and to […]

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The Man Who Would Be King

My time in Lhasa is fast drawing to a close. It’s been a wonderful and unique experience to be amongst all the pilgrims. The winter is a good time to visit Tibet. Okay it’s cold – just a couple of degrees in the daytime and freezing at night, but the climate is dry and the days are generally clear and sunny. Best of all though, there are hardly any (non Chinese) foreigners here. I’m hoping that you might have seen the epic British film from which the title of this post comes from. It’s Kipling fiction of course, but there […]

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Climbing to the Roof of the World on the Z21

We reached Golmod at 10.30 last night. This is the place where the climb really begins. I didn’t get off to supervise, but I could feel lots of shunting going on. I’m guessing that this is where the high altitude engines are added and whatever changes are made to the air supply take place. I was trying to get to bed early. Some hope! Once we set off there was a new noise in the darkness of our cabin. At first, it sounded like I might have accidentally switched on the radio, and all that was coming out was static […]

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Heaven and Hell in Zhongwei

Last night I went into a bit of a negative thought spiral. This annoys me as I like to think that one of my most precious skills on the rails is remaining positive and even madly happy in the face of adversity. The subject of my thoughts was the rapidly deteriorating state of the train. The toilets had become seriously bad so quickly that I secretly wished I wasn’t on the train. Then just to push me over the edge, I returned to my compartment to find an overpowering stench of stale urine. I lay in my berth desperately trying […]

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From Beijing to Lhasa on the Z21

If you have followed my blog on some of my other Chinese adventures you will know that I’m not a big fan of Beijing West railway station. Once you have managed to get into the place, the design is based around a number of huge waiting rooms. I don’t think “waiting room” describes it very well though. “Shouting Room”, “Spitting Room” or “Standing Room” would all all be better descriptions in my experience.I showed my ticket to a couple of guards and they concluded between themselves that my best shot was to hang around ticket check no. 4, where my […]

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The Scorpion King

I woke to a distinctly strange sensation. I wasn’t sure quite what it was at first. Then I got it. It was one of stillness and a total lack of movement in any direction. I reached for my clock to find out what the time was, but it wasn’t on the table next to my berth. In fact there was then a further incomprehensible discovery. There seemed to be no edges to my bed at all – it stretched on and on in all directions, well beyond the dimensions of my compartment. It took my brain about 30 seconds to […]

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