September 21, 2017
Tomorrow marks the departure of the Golden Eagle’s Silk Road Journey from Moscow to Lhasa, but on October 6 the Shangri-la Express chugs off in a new direction. Starting off in Lhasa, this new Golden Eagle journey traces an 11-day path through China’s west all the way to Urumqi in Xinjiang Province.
This China-specific jaunt through China’s Western Tibetan and Xinjiang regions, called the Tibet and China Rail Discovery, begins on a passenger train from Lhasa and then changes to the luxury Shangri-la Express. Golden Eagle trains roll everywhere from the Trans-Siberian Railway to their Persian Odyssey through Iran.
Rail to Golumd and Shangri-la
Arriving with Tibetan entry permits in hand, the first three days of this new itinerary takes place in the St. Regis Lhasa Resort, facing the world-famous Potala Palace. Surrounded by the Nyainqêntanglha Mountains at an elevation of 3,650 meters, the journey atop “The Roof of the World” may be said to have begun.
The second and third days in Lhasa involve the 13th-century Jokhang Temple, the holiest shrine for most Tibetans, and Lhasa’s Old-Town – as well as the Barkhor Market nearby the hotel.
To soothe the dizzying heights, supplementary oxygen is fed into the cabins and O2 masks are available throughout the train.
Boarding the train in Lhasa, a 14-hour daylight journey on the high-altitude engine line to Golmud crests Tangula Pass – the world’s highest railway pass at around three miles above sea level.
The purpose-built train is equipped to traverse the extreme conditions of such high altitudes: insulation for sub-zero temperatures, UV protection, and an air-filtration system. To soothe the dizzying heights, supplementary oxygen is fed into the cabins and O2 masks are available throughout the train.
This route offers all the amenities of standard public trains, but leaning back and watching the grassy plains, tundra, lakes, and Himalayan range of the Tibetan Plateau jostle by is certainly the highlight. Guides are on hand to explain the sights.
Shangri-la Luxury to the Gobi
The route continues on to Golmud where Golden Eagle passengers transfer to a private train – the luxury Shangri-La Express – and continue to Xining.
Of the available cabins on the luxury Golden Eagle Shangri-la Express train are the 3.5 square meters of the Heritage Cabins and the seven square meters of space of the more preferable Diamond Cabins, both of which feature two beds and a window. Life aboard the Shangri-La Express is, however, more plush than the square-meters might imply, complete with fine dining, careful service, and guided excursions.
The next leg of the journey takes passengers to one of earth’s most bucket list worthy destinations: the Great Wall of China. A mere three-hour ride from Xining, Jiayuguan has one of the most intact sections of the Great Wall, which, in sections and breaks, continues on all the way to Beijing and the Sea of Japan.
The Desert Wastes to Kashgar
The next day travels across the Gobi, with camel rides and a break at Crescent Lake. The camel-train will travel to the small oasis city of Dunhuang for a spelunk in the grottoes of the Thousand Buddha Cave Complex. As night draws in and the Shangri-La travels to Turpan, guests are free to enjoy the privacy of their cabins or spend the evening mixing in the lounge piano-bar.
Once in Turpan, travelers will have the opportunity to visit with a local Uygur family, partaking of local cuisine dishes and watching traditional dances. A Sunday Bazaar in the isolated town of Kashgar, the crossroads of the southern and middle Silk Roads, gives further insight into the Uygur people.
As Kashgar disappears into the distance, travelers will have one more day to indulge in the amenities of the Golden Eagle’s Shangri-La Express, heading toward the capital of the sometimes restive region of Urumqi in Xinjiang’s capital.
The journey will reach altitudes of more than 4,000 meters above sea level and includes all off-train excursions. The Silk Road journey beginning tomorrow from Moscow will take 21 days to reach Lhasa.