Sichuan-Tibet Highway reinvigorates tourism in far-off county

The construction, renovation and expansion of the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, or 318 State Highway, has brought business opportunities and improved the lives of to a mountainous county in a Tibetan-inhabited area of Southwest China's Sichuan province. Since the construction, per capita income of villagers in Dawu county of Ganzi Tibetan autonomous region has improved dramatically. Covering an area of 7000 square kilometers, the area is home to some 56,000 people, most of whom are of Tibetan ethnicity.

Located in the southeast part of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, the county features rich natural resources such as the Yalong River, the snowy Yala and White Yak Mountains, and the Yukog and Longdeng grasslands.

Due to the mountainous terrain, the village, situated on the rim of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau was cut off from most visitors.

Between 2005 and 2006, the section of Sichuan-Tibet Highway's South Line that passed through the county was rebuilt into a smooth asphalt road and the road lanes was broadened. This enabled better traffic and more travelers to reach the village.

"In 2003, residents from four households formed an association to help each other open home-inn businesses, and advocate home accommodation business to travelers as a way to increase income," said Zhang Guizhi, vice chairman of the association. "A few people realised the business opportunity at that time. The number of people joining this association has surged to over 100, with all of them working in the tourist accommodations business providing either guest rooms or Tibetan food services."

Originally, Dawu residents transformed parts of their homes into large guest rooms where about four travelers could stay overnight. These accommodations didn't offer showers. They charged around 30 to 50 yuan (S$6.20 to S$10.40) per bed..

In 2012, a construction team under orders of the Sichuan provincial government that urged people and organisations from the more prosperous part of the province to help the less developed areas part came to Dawu from Nanchong city, Sichuan province.

They helped Dawu residents engage in home-inn businesses. They also helped restructure homes, separating the large rooms into standard double bed rooms with showers.

"During the three-day May Day Holiday, the week-long National Day Holiday, the standard double bed room can go for 200 yuan (S$41.60)," said Zhang. " I have three such rooms on the first floor of my two-story house, with all of them occupied during that period of time".

Dawu residents' traditional Tibetan homes have also been turned into tourist destinations. The wooden structures featuring splendid carvings and paintings have been long open to visitors. Tours cost 5 to 10 yuan depending on the home.

"The average annual household income of our village reached 80,000 yuan (S$17,600), a great leap from the past decade," Zhang added.

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