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Tibet Wants Rail, Road Links with India (Indian Express)

Indian Express 13 June 2005

LHASA, JUNE 13 As its internal transport infrastructure expands rapidly, Tibet is looking forward to eventual rail and road links with India and other neighbouring countries to promote greater cross-border trade and tourism.

Once it develops tourist facilities near Kailash Manasarovar, Tibet will be ready to receive a lot more Indian pilgrims in Western Tibet than today, a senior official of Tibet Autonomous Region said here today.

Speaking to a group of visiting Indian journalists here, Lhosang Gyaltsen, vice chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, said the development of transport infrastructure in Tibet “will have a great impact on the economic development of whole region.”

The Tibet railway will be operational in July 2006, when trial runs begin. Once the rail line, built at enormous cost and amidst international controversy, is formally opened in 2007, the emphasis will be on extending it to rest of Tibet, Gyaltsen said.

Earlier reports had indicated that plans already exist for taking the rail line to the Nepal border. Gyaltsen was underlining Tibet’s natural interest in using the new railway to deepen its connectivity to the Subcontinent, particularly to India and Nepal.

While his enthusiasm may be tempered by the realities of the Sino-Indian border dispute in Tibet, Gyaltsen was underlining the growing hopes in the region to prosper through cross-border connectivity and contact.

Having brought the rail line all the way and against great odds to Lhasa, it makes little sense for Tibet to stop there.

Given the low population density of Tibet outside south eastern Tibet centred around Lhasa, the logic would inevitably lead to integration with the rail networks of the Indo-Gangetic plains.

While Beijing and New Delhi might want to carefully consider the consequences of opening up the Sino-Indian border, there is no doubt where the interests of the people across the frontier lie.

There has been a growing demand in Ladakh to use the Demchok tract to facilitate road travel to Kailash Manasarovar. Responding to the demand in Leh last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised to take up the issue with China.

“I have to admit that the infrastructure in Western Tibet near Kailash Manasarovar is relatively poorer in comparison to Lhasa,” Gyaltsen said. “We will make efforts to build infrastructure in Western Tibet as soon as possible,” Gyaltsen added.

Currently, Indian tourists go to Kailash Manasarovar through a government-organised trek or through Nepal. The annual Indian tourist flow to Tibet of 500 stands in sharp contrast to the total of 1.3 million tourists in Tibet last year.

With a border that runs longer than 3,500 km, many in India would want to know why they are being denied easier access to Tibet. On its part, Tibet is ready. “We dedicate ourselves to opening up to the world,” Gyaltsen said.

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