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Tunnel brings isolated villagers closer to the world

Updated: Sep 17, 2019 China Daily Print
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Low-hanging clouds in the distance float above the Yakang Expressway, on July 13, 2019. Running from the Sichuan Basin to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the Yakang Expressway connects the mountainous region of Ganzi Tibetan autonomous prefecture in Southwest China's Sichuan province to the outside world. [Photo/IC]

CHENGDU-On his way to visit a relative in a neighboring village, Chen Jiuping ran into three bears.

"I was scared to death. Fortunately, the bears didn't notice me," said Chen, who still looked terrified when recalling that memory from seven years ago.

Chen, 28, lives in a village surrounded by mountains in Ganzi Tibetan autonomous prefecture, Sichuan province.

For generations, the locals had to cross a mountain to reach the outside world, spending hours on the road. Apart from Chen's chilling encounter with the bears, the scars on the villagers' legs tell many bitter stories of the mountain road at the edge of the cliff, which is pieced together with slippery rocks and used to be the only way for them to go to school and trade spices for rice and salt.

Xie Yubing, 46, broke his leg at the age of 7 on his way to school. "My elder brother carried me on his back to bring me home and I stayed in bed for a month," he said.

After recovering, Xie had to take the mountain road again to go to school. "Due to poor access, it was even difficult to invite a relative or a friend from other villages to a banquet here," said Luo Yongqin, a 25-year-old villager.

However, an 875-meter-long tunnel changed the lives of 147 villagers once and for all in 2014. It was built as part of a relocation program for a hydropower station.

It now takes only 10 minutes for the villagers to walk through the tunnel, and no one needs to risk walking along the cliff edge anymore.

After the tunnel was built, the village started to develop tourism, advertising itself as "a retreat from the world". At the same time, the tunnel also brought the villagers closer to the world.

Tourists from cities are often seen in the village today. Since the village's tourism program started trial operations in May, it has welcomed more than 5,000 visitors and earned revenue of more than 300,000 yuan ($42,000).

In addition, the transportation of farm products is much easier. Almost all the families in the village have now bought motorbikes and about 20 families now own cars.

"My little sister can take our dad's car to school now," Luo said. "Compared with my childhood, life is much more comfortable now."

Five years on, the rough road in the mountain is now overgrown with wildflowers and branches. "It is finally abandoned," said villager Liu Guangbing when talking about the road that he had walked countless times.

Liu's cellphone kept ringing while he was visiting the mountain road. "It's a wedding invitation from the neighboring village," he said.

For these mountain villagers, an invitation to a wedding in the neighboring village has gone from a grueling proposition to a joyous occasion.


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