Remote no longer, roads link county to country

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Publish Time: 2022-07-04 Author: DAQIONG and PALDEN NYIMA From: China Daily

An aerial photo shows part of the Metog-Pai Highway in the Tibet autonomous region, which is under construction and is expected to open later this year. DONG ZHIXIONG/XINHUA

Nyima will always remember the hardship he and his fellow villagers endured when his home county was isolated from the outside world because there were no proper roads.

Nyima is from a village in Metog, a remote county deep in the Himalayas in the Tibet autonomous region. He is a member of the Monba ethnic group, one of the smallest in China.

In the past, because of its isolation, people from Metog were forced to climb over snow-covered passes to neighboring towns to buy necessities and had to trek for a week to reach Nyingchi, the prefectural city, in search of education, medical treatment and job opportunities.

"A round trip between Metog and the nearest town would take villagers seven days in the past," Nyima said.

At an altitude of 1,200 meters, which is much lower than the average regional altitude of 4,000 meters, Metog is humid and rainy. Its name means "flower" or "lotus flower" in Tibetan, which is why it is also known as the "sacred valley of the lotus".

The county is surrounded by mountains and is home to everything from alpine zones to tropical rainforests. Farmers have grown rice, corn, finger millet and other crops for generations.

Because of the lack of roads connecting it with the outside world, people were either forced to walk or ride their livestock in the past.

The county is also located on one of the Himalaya’s fracture zones. Natural disasters like landslides, mudslides, avalanches and floods occur frequently, and access to the county could be blocked for as long as nine months a year in the past.

A park in the county town of Metog, Tibet. [Photo/China Daily]

Before 2013, its agriculture was largely slash-and-burn, and development was slow.

The government’s efforts to build a road to Metog started as early as the 1960s but were hindered by the county’s complicated topography and frequent natural disasters. Geographical surveys and other preparations took a few decades to complete.

After years of trials, surveys and planning, construction on the road started officially in 2009 and was completed in October 2013, when the 117-kilometer-long Metog Highway opened to traffic.

The last roadless county in the country ended its isolation with the opening of the highway.

"Before the road, eight to 10 villagers took up to a day taking turns carrying a patient on their backs to the county town, which is only 25 km away," Nyima said, adding that today, the journey takes less than an hour.

"In the past, we had to trek for a week to Nyingchi. On the way, we had to sleep in simple sheds made of palm tree leaves, and we’d always get bitten by leeches," he said. "Between the ages of 15 and 35, I made this journey barefoot many times."

Metog Tsomo, a civil servant with the county government, said the county’s five townships and 45 villages are now all accessible by road, and there are four passenger lines operating between the townships and 20 of the villages.

"So far, the county road network extends for 529 km, including more than 137 km of county roads, 160 km of township roads and about 230 km of village roads," the civil servant said.

By shuttle bus, it takes about six hours and just 180 yuan ($26.85) to travel between Metog and Nyingchi city, a 400 km trip.

"Thanks to road access, young people can work in cities, and bamboo wickerwork and other local specialties can be transported from the mountains and sold," Nyima said.

The per capita disposable income of farmers and herders in Metog county now exceeds 15,000 yuan, and the per capita disposable income of urban residents reached 41,000 yuan last year.

"Now, parents no longer have to accompany their kids to school in Nyingchi," he said.

Monba villagers pick tea leaves on a plantation in Metog. [Photo/China Daily]

With an investment of more than 2 billion yuan, work on the second county-level road project between Metog and Pai township in Manling county began in 2014. It should be completed by September.

Tibet has invested heavily in rural road projects, spending 94 billion yuan on their construction during the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) period, according to the region’s Traffic and Transportation Department. "This investment paid for more than 3,000 road projects, and more than 38,000 km of rural roads were renovated or built during the period," said Feng Zhenzhong, an official with the department.

Thanks to heavy investment, the rural road network extended more than 90,000 km by the end of last year, he added. Between 2016 and 2020, Tibet’s 280 townships and 2,974 villages were linked by paved roads. Now, 94 percent of its townships and 77 percent of its villages are connected by roads.

As passenger bus services in rural areas have increased, the region now has 317 rural passenger lines. With 369 shuttle buses operating in rural areas, 74 counties are now linked by services.

"During the next few years, we will continue to build better roads, operate more passenger lines, and provide faster and more convenient logistic services in rural areas," Feng said.

"We will strive to ensure all the region’s townships and more than 90 percent of its villages have access to paved roads by 2025."

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