Tajik ethnic people ready to hit new heights
URUMQI－At the intersection of the two main roads of Tashikurgan Tajik autonomous county stands a landmark sculpture of a flying eagle. The eagle is one of the most revered totems for 33,000 people from the Tajik ethnic group living in the county in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
Located on the Pamir Plateau, Tashikurgan is the only Tajik autonomous county in China, with more than 80 percent of its 41,000 residents belonging to the Tajik ethnic group.
China has vowed to leave no ethnic group behind in ending poverty and achieving a moderately prosperous society in all respects. The once impoverished county managed to lift itself out of poverty last year and is making strides toward becoming an all-around prosperous society.
Tourists visit a relic site in Tashikurgan. [Photo/China News Service]
Ethnic Tajik people living in Tashikurgan are known as the "eagles of the high mountains", but it was never easy to move freely on the Pamir Plateau due to the rugged terrain. Tashikurgan, with an average altitude higher than 4,000 meters above sea level, is located in a cluster of mountains.
For local residents, the mountains posed a challenge to their daily life and work. There were no roads in many villages and the small trails could be easily destroyed by floods or mudslides.
In Rasekam, the remotest village in the county, residents lived in 12 gullies.
It would take about a month for Dawut Uxur, former Party chief of the village, to visit all the villagers by either horse, yak or camel. A trip to the county seat, more than 200 kilometers away, would take five days.
"Some aged villagers had never ventured beyond their village. It's just mountains everywhere," Dawut, 66, said.
The mountainous landscape also made it difficult to access electricity, tap water and communication signals. Dawut had never watched television until 2017.
However, the mountains failed to dampen China's determination to lift people of all ethnic groups out of poverty. Infrastructure development played a key role in making life easier for everyone.
After living in the mountains for 47 years, Dure Jarman, 49, a villager in Datong township, could finally stop worrying about earthquakes.
A 5.5 magnitude earthquake jolted Tashikurgan in 2017, damaging more than 3,000 houses made of earth and rock.
New houses were built with support from the central and local governments, and many residents were relocated to places more suitable for living and work.
Dure's new 80-square-meter house is located about 25 km away from the county seat and is equipped with a washing machine, a gas stove and a cooker. The house also has a yard and a shed.
For those who chose to stay in the mountains, infrastructure and living standards have also improved. The road between the county seat and Datong was improved in 2018, slashing the travel time by half to about four hours.
By the end of this month, a stable electricity supply will be provided to Datong via power lines which will replace energy generated by photovoltaic panels and a small hydropower station.
"It's no longer just mountains. We feel connected with the rest of the world," Dure said.
Warxidi village is close to several popular tourist spots in Tashikurgan. Maynurgul Ikmu, 30, was not aware she could benefit financially from visitors coming to her area until 2015, when a tourist service center was established 1 km from her home.
Tashikurgan has seen a growing number of visitors drawn by the county's snow-capped mountains, verdant grassland and Tajik customs such as the eagle dance and polo.
Many travelers have visited Maynurgul's house to taste both traditional milk tea and Tajik culture.
In 2016, Maynurgul built an inn to house tourists with the encouragement and support of the local government. She has learned to cook new dishes to cater to visitors' diverse tastes, and performs the traditional Tajik eagle dance for tourists and sells handmade Tajik souvenirs.
Her family earned more than 150,000 yuan ($21,190) last year, and bought a car in January. "It's the best thing that's happened to me in recent years," Maynurgul said.
More than 1.1 million trips were made to Tashikurgan last year, bringing in more than 1 billion yuan in tourism revenue. The county made it onto the top national tourist destination list late last year.
The county mayor, Guluzar Aburahman, said plant cultivation, herding, tourism and border trade were the pillars for Tashikurgan to achieve sustainable growth, with tourism the major focus.
In April, construction began on Tashikurgan Airport, expected to be the highest-altitude airport in Xinjiang. It is expected to improve transportation and boost the county's tourism market. The airport is scheduled to be completed before June 2022.