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Sonam Dondrup enjoys height of ambition
China Daily 2020-07-23 11:33:33
The asphalt-covered road built by Sonam Dondrup and his friends that links the outside world with the 1,300-year-old Balha village set in the deep Shangri-La Canyon of Yunnan province's Dechen Tibet autonomous prefecture.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Vision and determination form the foundation for a road that leads a picturesque but isolated mountain village to a more prosperous era, Yang Yang reports.

Sonam Dondrup enjoys the high life, literally. For some, life is a choice made, a road taken. For Sonam Dondrup it is a road built, and a high road at that. He is in his beloved Balha village, perched about 3,000 meters above sea level. He is wearing sunglasses, Tibetan costume and polished black leather boots as he saunters into the rose garden across from the Balha Tayung Stupa in the village. All around, thousands of pink plateau roses are in full bloom in the bright sunshine under a majestic blue sky dotted with white puffball clouds. It is a beautiful scene, but for centuries it was isolated and impoverished. Sonam Dondrup has given the area a new lease of life.

In March, when the Balha Kardzong Tourist Park was deserted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sonam Dondrup, 56, its founder, also a Communist Party member, says he regarded it as a good opportunity to restore the environment. He led 120 employees and villagers in planting more than 40,000 roses as well as 30,000 other types of trees, such as cherry-apple, cedar, apple and camellia, around the park.

Holding a rose in his hand he makes a short video for TikTok. He poses and says: "Hi, everyone. I'm Sonam Dondrup. I'm so happy that the roses are blooming in the first year after being planted. So beautiful. Welcome to Kardzong Snow Mountain to see them yourself. Tashi Delek (good luck)." He smiles while pressing his palms.

Sonam Dondrup is trying to introduce the world to his beloved village that sits at the foot of the mountain, one of the most beautiful of its kind in Southwest China's Yunnan province.

For about 1,300 years Balha village, too isolated to be marked on any map, and set in the deep Shangri-La Canyon in Dechen Tibet autonomous prefecture, has been largely cut off from the world. Sonam Dondrup spent four hard years trying to change this by building an asphalt-covered road. Against all the odds, he succeeded and opened the village to the world.

He has about 66,000 followers on the short-video platform, but his heroic feat of building the road has been widely praised by audiences across the country through widespread media coverage. The beautiful views of Kardzong Snow Mountain and his story have attracted scores of tourists. However, due to the pandemic, fewer tourists have arrived since January but his debt of 850 million yuan ($121 million) that he borrowed to build and maintain the road grows every day.

"We are confident that we can survive the hard days. It's all temporary. We have gone through the most difficult time," Sonam Dondrup says firmly in a stentorian voice. He was referring to the period from 1999 to 2008, when he established a tourism development company in the Kardzong Snow Mountain and struggled to build the 6.5-meter-wide, 35-kilometer-long concrete road that connects the village with the No 214 National Highway.

It all started due to an accident in 1974 when villagers wanted to build a water mill and the 10-year-old Sonam Dondrup was helping out. As they were forging iron, a sliver of molten metal flew off and hit him in his left eye. Two villagers helped him get back to his home, but it took a day to climb the cliffs. There was no doctor in the village.

His father, working away from home, came back a month later, and decided to take Sonam Dondrup to hospital in the nearest city Zhongdian. It was the first time that the child left the mountain.

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Inheritor of the Jiuhe Zhuo dance in Tibet Gu Feng: Pilot stunt-kite flyer in Kunming In pics: Macaques enjoy life at new home in E. Yunnan Tourism brings fortune to internet-famous town in Tibet Interview: Trekking through the Yunnan-Vietnam railway is worthwhile
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