In 1951, there were hardly any roads in Tibet. At a relentless pace and extraordinary cost, Mao changed the nature of Tibet¡¯s connectivity.
It was raining when we left Lhasa. Our destination, the small town of Nyingchi more than 400 km away in the southeastern corner of Tibet, is perhaps less important than the road we have taken.
The 2,143 km-long Lhasa-Chengdu highway takes us through some spectacular settings-from the pastel brown hills around Lhasa to the green mountains of Nyingchi through the breathtaking Mi La pass at a little over 15,000 ft. This highway marks the essence of Chinese policy in Tibet over the last five decades-a political passion for road-building.
A total of 110,000 Han and Tibetan soldiers and civilians worked on the construction of the Sichuan-Tibet highway in the early 1950s.
China's strategic focus on road-building has by no means come to an end after improving gthe connectivity between TAR and China. China¡¯s new road-building promise to transform the geopolitics of inner Asia by making Lhasa the fulcrum of trade and transportation between central Asia, Western China, the subcontinent, including Myanmar.
Until recently, China has seen these roads as leading to Lhasa. Now, Beijing describes them as flowing out of Lhasa and forming a land bridge between different parts of Asia.
The Sichuan-Tibet highway was one of the first road links China built in Tibet. Mao Zedong, founder of modern China, ordered the People¡¯s Liberation Army to build roads as it marched towards Lhasa in 1950.
When the PLA took charge of Lhasa in 1951, there were hardly any roads in Tibet. Lhasa and its environs were better connected to India than China. At a relentless pace and extraordinary cost, Mao changed the nature of Tibet¡¯s connectivity.
In May 1954, the roads from Qinghai to the north of Tibet and Sichuan to the east were formally linked up in Lhasa. Two other roads ¨Clinking Tibet with Xinjiang to the northwest and Yunnan to the southeast and Yunnan to the southeast were also completed soon after.
Together these four highways from the economic arteries of Tibet today. From no real ,ileage in 1951, the road network in Tibet today has crossed 40,000 km and includes 15 trunk lines and 315 feeder lines.
Huge effort goes into maintaining these roads. Officials here say, they ¡°don¡¯t want just any roads but good roads¡±. IN the last few years, the upgradation of these roads has been undertaken on a war-footing. There is new emphasis on developing technologies for building and maintaining roads in difficult weather conditions. In 2004 Lhasa announced 44 new road-building projects with an investment of nearly US$ 500mn.
Besides Tibet, Chinese road-building has also looked across Tibet¡¯s borders. The first such road was the 736-km China-Nepal highway built in the 1960s. China now is modernizing this road to Nepal. It also wants to build many new highways through Nepal and link up with the gangetic plans. The progress on road-building in Tibet are neatly summed up by a government publications.
A transport network centered around Lhasa has taken shape, covering various parts of Tibet and provided outlets to China¡¯s hinterland and countries in Central and South Asia