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Driving prosperity: Logistics pioneers on Qinghai-Xizang Plateau


 , Updated 19:54, 28-Jan-2024

Experienced truck drivers at high plateaus often know every detail of highways in the Xizang Autonomous Region, from anticipating traffic jams to navigating through areas with reduced oxygen levels, rough terrains, and potential hazards. These drivers, with mileage that could essentially circle the Earth one and a half times, bear witness to the unfolding development of Xizang's logistics landscape. 

Logistics plays a pivotal role in connecting supply and demand, production and consumption, and promoting the high-quality development of the region's economy. 

Despite technological and infrastructural evolution, the primary resources these drivers rely on remain unchanged from four decades ago: unwavering focus and unyielding hard work.


Biggest challenge: extreme weather

Feeling tiny in front of nature makes people more courageous.

Facing extreme weather on the plateau remains the greatest challenge for drivers, and the driving skills from 30 years ago are as relevant today as ever. Basang Luobu, a long-distance driver with over 25 years of experience and the current manager of the mail transportation center at Xizang's China Post, recalled the wisdom passed down by his master when he started as an apprentice.

"Drive more during the day and sleep less at night to prevent the tank from freezing on the plateau," he shared, continuing to impart this advice to his apprentices.

Compared with other four routes to enter into Xizang, including Xinzang Highway (from Xinjiang to Xizang) and Chuanzang (from Sichuan Province to Xizang), Qinghai-Xizang Highway, also known as Qingzang Highway, is the preferred route for truckers, being the shortest with relatively good road conditions. However, it does not mean there is no potential risk.

On Qingzang Highway, one of the most challenging sections is Wudaoliang, where the oxygen content of the air is only about 40 percent of the plain area, and the climate is capricious, with rain, snow, hail, scorching sun, and other weather conditions possible within a single day.

In 2006, during a long-distance transport mission, Basang Luobu was so tired that he stopped at Wudaoliang for a few-hour sleep. But upon waking up, the truck was trapped in a blizzard for four days.

"I had no experience at that time, but now I am very familiar with every outlet of each road section, knowing exactly where there will be bumps. Plus, there are many rest stops along the way right now, so this kind of thing basically will not happen," he said.

Along with the logistics development of Qingzang Highway, there are more vehicles around Wudaoliang, and the streets are lined with stores, mostly small supermarkets, inns and restaurants. In contrast, back in 2000, there was no electricity in this area. Also, because of the difficult conditions on the highway, the drivers have become friends with herdsmen and road maintenance workers, asking for help when there are difficulties on the road.

"When the herders need something, I will remember to bring it to them on my way," he said.

"After being stuck in a truck for four days and nights in 2006, many villagers got to know me. Every time I passed the villages after that, the children in the village would gather around," he said.

'We are the national team'

Normally, long-distance drivers don't give rides to random strangers on the road for safety reasons. 

"We have offered rides a handful of times when seeing long-distance drivers ask for it since we know what happened to them," Basang Luobu said. "The harsh natural conditions make the truck drivers who often run this route very united."

When extreme weather comes, private truck drivers have to abandon their trucks since life is more important.

 "But for China Post, we are the national team and waiting for help is the only option.”


Epitome of the regional development

Qingzang Highway is not a typical road freight line since the freight transport volume on it may not match that of other provinces. 

But it serves as a symbol of development in Xizang, showcasing impressive progress in logistics and consistent growth of transported goods over the past decades. 

According to the China Statistical Yearbook in 2000, the volume of goods transported by road in Xizang was 1.96 million tonnes, and in 2017, this data increased to 21,477 million tonnes, 10 times the original amount. Behind these numbers lies the continuous development of Xizang's economy and the enhancement of its road infrastructure. 

Data from 2018 showed that Xizang's GDP growth rate ranked among the top three in China for five consecutive years, with an average annual growth rate of 10.8 percent, nearly 4 percentage points higher than the national average. In recent years, highways connecting Lhasa and Nyingchi, Lhasa and Nagqu, and the Airport Expressway have started operating at full capacity, greatly promoting the development of road transport in Xizang.

With the development of the logistics industry and the rising living standards in Xizang, items delivered by truck drivers are becoming more abundant. /CGTN
With the development of the logistics industry and the rising living standards in Xizang, items delivered by truck drivers are becoming more abundant. /CGTN

With the development of the logistics industry and the rising living standards in Xizang, items delivered by truck drivers are becoming more abundant. /CGTN

Delivers better life

With the development of the logistics industry and the rising living standards in Xizang, items delivered by truck drivers are becoming more abundant, with items such as medical reimbursement documents and online shopping items.

Many residents in remote villages did not know about courier services in 2016 but now they put on their Xizang-style clothes bought online during the Xizang New Year, Basang Luobu recalled.

By the end of 2021, postal outlets had covered all 21 border counties and townships in the autonomous region. 

From January to July 2023, these carriers transported goods weighing 27 million tonnes, which was once unthinkable, to reach the homes of ordinary people in Xizang. Locally-produced tea, highland barley, also called "qingke" in Xizang, and milk products are also sold nationwide through the express delivery network.

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