Flag of the Tibetan Independence Movement

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Tibet is administered as an autonomous region of China, a status which is recognised by most countries of the world. However, a small but vociferous group of activists continues to seek complete independence for the country, under the rule of the Dalai Lama who, in the aftermath of the Chinese military occupation in the 1950s, set up a Government of Tibet in Exile to look after the interests of his followers and other Tibetans who, for whatever reason, were excluded from their home country.

For many years there were no railways in Tibet, but in 2006 an 1100km standard (1435mm) gauge line was opened from the western Chinese town of Xining to the Tibetan capital at Lhasa. The summit of the line is 15640 ft (4767 m) above sea level, making it the highest standard gauge main line in the world. Oxygen is provided for train passengers! The line is operated by China Railways. In addition to regular passenger and freight services, the line is used by luxury tourist cruise trains.

A 253km extension westward from Lhasa to Tibet’s second city, Xigazê, opened in 2014. Later the same year, construction commenced of a 402km branch from Xierong (34km from Lhasa on the line to Xigazê) eastward to Nyingchi, near Arunachal Pradesh in a disputed border region with India. Completion is planned for 2021.

A further extension from Xigazê to Gyirong (540km) is planned, with a projected completion date of 2020. Under a Memorandum of Understanding signed with Nepal in 2018, this line would be extended a further 35km to the Nepalese border at Rasuwa Gadhi and from there to the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. The line could be completed by 2025.

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