Chinese army's supply mission on the world's highest road

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Now we continue our report on the Chinese army's supply mission to the Qinghai-Tibet Highway. It's been exactly 60 years since the world's highest road was completed. Yesterday, our reporter Han Peng joined up with the convoy as they departed from Qinghai. Today in the second episode, he continues his coverage of their arduous push toward Lhasa.

On the Qinghai-Tibet Highway, you can go through four seasons in one day. From scorching heat to a ferocious blizzard. For soldier Li Tao, it's an arduous journey. And just like the temperatures, a soldier's role is also constantly changing. While Li works mostly as a driver, he and his fellow soldiers sometimes have to take on the duties of emergency rescuers and road repairmen in the middle of no-man's-land.

At an altitude of 5,000 meters above sea level, the air is thin here, and such intense labor can be extremely dangerous. But any traffic delay means blocking the only route linking Lhasa with its northern provinces.

Li Tao's commander says their work is often a race against time.

"The bridge ahead is being temporarily closed for regular maintenance, because most parts of the highway are built on weak tundra. So we have to go through the mud road beside it. If we get stuck, we must work through it quickly, otherwise all of us will have to stay overnight in the cold and dark," Liu Zhiyong, political section chief of PLA's 35th Automotive Regiment, said.

It's been a treacherous journey for several hours after we reached here. This is a common state of affairs on the Qinghai-Tibet Highway. Now finally the soldiers have paved the way, and not only military vehicles, but also the private vehicles are also using this new paved road to go through.

Passing the impassable. 60 years ago, the Chinese army lost thousands of soldiers while completing the world's highest highway.

That history of bravery and sacrifice still inspires many soldiers today, like Li Tao. They frequently transport military supplies to Lhasa. Each mission still carries many risks. Over the past six decades, 780 soldiers have died. That's equal to one death for every two and a half kilometers of highway.

"I have taken part in this mission for 13 years, and have driven the route back and forth 90 times. It's dangerous, but the conditions have improved over the years," Li said.

As night falls, they stop at military stations along the way. On the mostly uninhabitable landscape, a hot meal is a luxury. The army says they are investing heavily to raise the standard of living for soldiers working along the highway. But no amount of money can change Mother Nature's extreme conditions.

But despite surviving the cold night, Li Tao says his years of military life on the plateau have begun to take their toll on his health.

"You can see, my fingernails, like many other soldiers here, are sunken in, and many of us suffer various health problems caused by the lack of oxygen, like heart disease or headaches," Li said.

After days of punishing travel, the convoy finally arrives safely in the crowded city of Lhasa with all its supplies.

In the city center is a monument to the Qinghai-Tibet Highway. It honors the army's sacrifice and achievement.

Over the six decades, the Qinghai-Tibet Highway has been a crucial lifeline for the army here. Each year, thousands of soldiers like Li Tao drive back and forth on the sky road to transport necessities to the most strategic place of Tibet.


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