Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times
March 07, 2014
China on Thursday announced that an extension of the Qinghai-Tibet railway network will reach Xigase in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), the hometown of the 11th Panchen Lama and located close to the Indian border in Sikkim.
“An extension of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, the world’s highest, will reach the residence of the Panchen Lama at Xigaze, Tibet, the contractors confirmed on Thursday,” the official news agency, Xinhua, said on Thursday.
The headquarters of Beijing-backed 11th Panchen Lama Gyaincain Norbu is based at Xigaze, also known as Shigatse, located close to the Sikkim border.
China projects the Panchen Lama as an alternative to the India-based Dalai Lama, termed a separatist by Beijing. The announcement of the railway network extension comes during the ongoing sessions of China’s rubber-stamp Parliament, the National People’s Congress and the country’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Thursday’s report said the extension will help the faithful to worship “Buddha in Lhasa and Xigase”. Quoting Tob Chung, a lama at the Tashihunpo monastery, the seat of the Panchen Lama, the report said: “It is the common dream of all the Tibetan faithful to worship the Buddha in Lhasa and Xigaze. The railway will make the journey safer and easier.”
The Qinghai-Tibet Railway began service in July 2006 and, according to the report, had positively impacted on Tibet’s tourism, hospitality and manufacturing sectors.
The plateau railway which covers 1,956 km from Xining in Qinghai Province to Lhasa carried 11.7 million passengers and 57.8 million tonnes of cargo in 2013. The announcement comes at a time when the government says that the economy of TAR grew 12.2 percent in 2013.
Tibetan areas in China have witnessed more than 125 cases of self-immolations where monks and civilians have set themselves on fire demanding the return of the India-based Dalai Lama to China and more autonomy.
Beijing insists that Tibetan regions especially TAR is witnessing impressive development.
The growth rate of TAR was 4.4 percentage points higher than the country’s average, according to the regional statistics bureau.