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Tibet Gets the Wheels Rolling
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An increasing number of vehicles are roaring into the mysterious highland of Tibet, figures of an official report on Tibetan economy show.

According to the Economy and Social Development Report of Tibet 2006 released by the Tibetan branch of China's National Statistics Bureau, the autonomous region had 143,900 civil vehicles by the end of 2006, a jump of 35.2 percent from a year earlier, Xinhua reported Thursday.

The number of cars, which may be humbled by inland, especially coastal, Chinese cities, is a remarkable increase nonetheless in the remote and thinly populated region. With a population of 2.81 million, currently about 1 in every 20 Tibetans owns a private car.

The traditional Tibetan travel necessities of a horse, rifle, and sword are quickly transitioning into an engine.

Middle school teacher Mima drives a homemade off-road in Lhasa, the capital. "It's seven kilometers between home and the school. And I love to drive out of town to take photographs," he said. This is the third vehicle that Mima has bought in the past two years, as he attaches great importance on sporting performance.

Integration of Tibet as a tourist destination into the national economy has brought both opportunities and vehicle sales to Tibetans. Ge Sang Da Wa, previously a herdsman then a cargo delivery driver in the western town of Ali, sold his truck last year and bought a jeep to serve tourists streaming into Tibet through the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

Today among Tibetan young people, it's no longer livestock or jewels to be used in judging a family's wealth, but owning a car or not.

With the convenience and efficiency brought about by the modern machinery into herdsmen's lives, the well-preserved land is beginning to take on baneful symptoms - environmental concerns aroused by intensified vehicle emissions, traffic congestion, and scarce parking lots.

Sometimes, "bumper-to-bumper cars chock the streets for half an hour at the heaviest commute hours," said Lamu, who works near Lhasa's city center.

(China Daily March 30, 2007)

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