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Work starts on the road Medog has dreamed of

WORK has begun building a highway to Medog in Tibet to end the county's isolation from the outside world.

Costing 950 million yuan (US$139 million), the 117-kilometer highway will link Zhamog Township, the county seat of Bome, and Medog by 2011, said Wong Mengyong, deputy director of the Ministry of Transportation.

Situated at Tibet's border with India and nestled among snow-capped mountains, there are only mountain paths connecting villages and towns. Tough terrain, complicated geological conditions, lack of funds and poor technologies had doomed seven attempts to build a highway in the area since the 1970s.

"We have no postal services and little communication with the outside world. Local residents mainly rely on horse and mules for transportation," said Ngodrup Doje, Medog's county head. "Many people in the county haven't seen vehicles."

Cering Wangchug, who runs a transportation business from Bome to Medog, says he is "three-fourths jobless." His business can only operate in a three-month period between July and October through the narrow winding passes between the two counties. "It's a dream of generations that vehicles could shuttle between the two counties freely throughout the year," he said.

Now that dream is coming true. As the first phase of the project, more than 300 technical staff from an armed police unit have been digging a 3.3km tunnel since last November through the Galung La Mountain, about 4,000 meters above sea level in Tibet's Nyingchi Prefecture.

The tunnel, which is expected to be finished in two years, will withstand earthquakes measuring up to 6.5 magnitude, said Liu Genshui, who is in charge of the tunnel project. "When it is completed, the progress for the rest of the project will be smooth," he said.

Tibet had no highways before 1951. Now, 97 percent of its towns and 76 percent of its villages are connected by 51,000 kilometers of highways, said Pelma Chiley, vice chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region government.

The sparsely populated Medog, which means "secret lotus" in the Tibetan language, has about 10,000 residents and it will be the last of the country's 2,100 counties to be connected via a highway.


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