Two-storey buildings line an asphalt road. Made of posts and panels, the structures are adorned with typical Tibetan decorations on their windows and doors.
Pots of flowers on window sills add yet more colour to the floral paintings and patterns that cover beams and eaves.
On the open ground floors of the buildings are small grocery or clothing shops, restaurants and teahouses, although they are patronized by only a handful of customers.
This is a quiet town with dogs, chickens and black pigs wandering in the streets.
"I moved here only two months ago. It is more than I expected," said Pasang, sitting behind the counter of a grocery shop.
His building is particularly eye-catching, with its door lintels painted with flowers and clouds.
According to Pasang, most residents have been busy harvesting highland barley in the fields a kilometre away.
The town, named Puqu, is located 40 kilometres away from the eastern Tibet's Bayi Town where the government office of Nyingchi Prefecture is located. Puqu sits at the foot of the Lama Hill with the Nyangchu River flowing by.
The small town started to take shape only last year. Now 23 households, out of 37 who have invested in the buildings, have settled down, with most being farmers from nearby villages.
Tibetans are used to living in sparsely-populated, scattered villages. Sometimes there are only two or three families in a village. Most keep their horses, yaks or sheep around, just as their nomadic ancestors did.
"To build small towns is a way to improve the living conditions of local farmers," said Tobgye, an official from Nyingchi County.
"With good infrastructure they can have clean drinking water and better sanitary facilities," he said, adding that their dwellings are much cleaner when separated from their animals.
"But it takes time for the farmers to accept the new ways," he said.
"I had to drop by from door to door to show the blueprints and relate the advantages of living in towns," said Tobgye, who has been in charge of the town's construction since the very beginning.
Pasang said he did not want to leave the place and the way of life he had been familiar with.
The new site was once a swamp. He said he had to lay solid foundations for his house. That meant he had to spend more money on the building. "It didn't seem worthwhile," he said.
The 42-year-old Tibetan used to live as a lumberjack. Three years ago when logging in forests was banned in the interests of protecting the environment and ecology, he lost his livelihood.
"I was quite frustrated at that time," he said. "It's hard to make extra money by growing highland barley and rape in my 14 mu (0.93 hectare) field," he said.
"The blueprint Tobgye brought to me seems to have some potential in development," Pasang said.
He finally accepted the offer. He spent 270,000 yuan (US$33,292) on this 500-square-metre house. His family of four lives on the second floor while the ground level, with six rooms, has been leased to other businesses.
"I'm planning to run a family inn in the future," said Pasang.
"The establishment of a small town enables farmers like Pasang to find their new ways to prosperity," Tobgye said.
According to him, the new town will attempt to attract more tourists by developing the scenic Lama Hill and the Nyangchu River.
Apart from adopting the traditional style of Tibetan houses in decor, the houses are all better equipped -- with electricity, drinking water and a flushing toilet.
Each family that has settled down will receive a 15,000 yuan (US$1,849) subsidy from the government.
The town has attracted investment from home and abroad. Tobgye said a Singaporean company would put up 20 million yuan (US$2.5 million) to improve the local tourist facilities. Two local firms have pumped in 30 million yuan (US$3.7 million).
"The biggest problem we have now is to deal with the garbage. We have not found a good way to treat it," said Tobgye.
He said the local government planned to build a rubbish disposal plant.
"It is also a way to get rid of poverty by building small towns," said Kelsang, director of Kongbo Gyamda County in southern Tibet.
Namse Village, located 200 kilometres southeast of Lhasa, used to be one of the poorest villages in the region.
The villagers lived sparsely around the mountains with limited farmland. Following the completion of State Highway 318 in 1999, the once backward Bahe turned into a neat small town.
"I have gained a lot from this highway and the small town as well," said Thubten.
Once a farmer growing highland barley in his 0.066-hectare field, 55-year-old Thubten said he could not even support himself, let alone his family.
In 1993, when the road construction started, he opened a small teahouse in a shabby plank hut by the roadside.
When the road was completed and the small town took shape, Thubten developed his business -- a shop selling local specialities, a Tibetan-style restaurant and a truck for transportation.
He now lives in a 180-square-metre two-storey building by the highway with his wife Tamdrin and two children. He earned more than 40,000 yuan (US$4,932) in the first half of this year.
"I'm planning to open a small inn with 20 beds. I believe it would be a booming business not only because we are by the highway but also we are not far from the Lake Baksum Tso," he said.
There are 21 households in the town with 73 people, among which 13 families are engaged in the transportation business. By the end of last year its per capita income reached 15,732 yuan (US$1,939).
The regional government is keen to develop more small towns to improve the living standards of local people. There are 140 towns in the region. In Nyingchi Prefecture alone, there are 28 involving an investment of 184 million yuan (US$22.7 million).
Besides the new towns, the local government has also put its resources into sprucing up rural areas. More rural dwellings will be fixed up in the near future according to sources from the construction department of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
(China Daily August 31, 2005)