China is to allocate 800 million yuan (US$96 million) to build a highway leading to Medog County of the Tibet Autonomous Region, the only county without highway in China.
The move will end the history of Medog having no access to the outside world. "It is a milestone in China's highway construction," said Gyaco, director of the Tibet Regional Communications Department.
Medog lies on the southern slopes of the Himalayas. As the county has no access to other parts of the country, local residents have to transport goods on horseback. It takes four or five days at least for a trip to the nearest destination. Many villagers never leave their hometown.
The local government poured a huge sum of money and significant manpower into building a highway to Medog in the 1970s. However, the endeavor ran aground due to difficult geological features and problems with landslides, mudflows and earthquakes.
In drawing up the regional 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-05), the regional government offered seven routes for the highway and will choose the best one among them. Preliminary preparations will be done within a year. Road construction will be completed in five years.
As a state-listed nature reserve, over 80 percent of the land in Medog County is covered with virgin forest. It is a major habitat of Bengal tigers, the world's most endangered species.
"Medog is an ideal place for growing sub-tropical vegetables and fruits. Mangos planted in our village are as big as the Hami Melon. But, great amounts of fruit rot in the fields as a result of a lack of transportation,'' said the village head Gyaim.
"Though villagers are now able to see the colorful world on television, they want to go out and have a look with their own eyes even more,'' he said.
The highway will greatly boost Medog's development and benefit tourist growth in eastern Tibet, a regional official said.
Tibet, with a territory of 1.2 million square kilometers, had not a single highway half a century ago. Thanks to support from the central government, Tibet has built over 1,000 bridges with a total length of 30,000 meters and highways with a combined distance of 22,500 kilometers. Except Medog, all counties in Tibet have access to national or regional highway networks.
The region is to earmark 12 billion yuan (US$1.45 billion) in highway construction in the upcoming five years to bring its total highway mileage to 27,000 kilometers. By then, 90 percent of townships and 80 percent of villages in Tibet will be connected to highways.