Tibetan farmer drives a better truck toward a better life

Between gulps of homemade highland barley wine, Kelsang talks enthusiastically about the large red truck parked behind him.

"This is my third heavy-duty truck in four years," he says proudly as he slaps the huge tire of the 360,000-yuan (52,500 U.S. dollars) Foton Daimler.

Kelsang, 51, is one of just over 240 people that live in Lumpa, a tiny village in Gongkar County in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.

The village is blessed by its proximity to the Yarlung Zangbo (Brahmaputra) River, the mother river of Tibet.

Despite this rich natural resource, however, Lumpa lacks arable land and the local farmers were once among the poorest in Tibet.

Things changed in 2012 when the government broke ground on two infrastructure projects near Lumpa -- roads along the north bank of Yarlung Zangbo River and an expressway to Lhasa Airport.

Kelsang understood early on that these projects brought with them exciting opportunities. After careful consideration, he withdrew 75,000 yuan from his savings account and bought a secondhand Dongfeng truck. He then despatched his 20-year-old son to work as a driver for the construction teams.

The following year, Kelsang found work at a nearby quarry. Today, the quarry employs more than 70 villagers, each taking home a fixed salary of 3,000 yuan per month.

"My son and I were earning nearly 30,000 yuan a year, each," Kelsang said. "This increase in income meant that not only could the family be more comfortable, but we had a good shot at living much more prosperous lives."

Kelsang made his next big decision in 2014, when the railway from Lhasa to Xigaze started operation.

"Trains meant a more regular flow of goods in and out of Tibet, which would mean there would more demand for trucks to transport these goods," Kelsang said.

Keen to maximize on this opportunity, Kelsang sold his truck and bought a new one that had a larger-load capacity. The decision proved to be good one.

The following year, in 2015, another golden opportunity arose -- construction began on the Sichuan-Tibet Railway. The Lhasa to Nyingchi section of the line was set to pass by Kelsang's village, and a station was going to be built in Lhokha, the nearest city

With this news, Kelsang left his job at the quarry and joined China Railway Construction as a bricklayer. The same year, thanks to a 80,000 yuan bank loan, he part-exchanged his truck and bought the red Foton Daimler.

The loan was guaranteed by the government without any interest, and since joining the railway project, Kelsang's monthly salary has increased to 4,500 yuan.

"My wages coupled with the money I make from the truck meant I repaid the loan in less than a year," said Kelsang.

Today in Lumpa, almost every household is connected to a construction project. More than 60 villagers work on construction sites and there are more than 100 trucks, excavators and other machinery up for hire, which were self-financed or purchased through interest-free loans.

"I have never taken a train, so when it arrives I will jump aboard and go and see what the outside world has to offer," Kelsang said.