Mirza Aslam Beg
FOR the last four decades, I am a witness to the steady development of friendly relations with China, which now has matured into a deep understanding based on trust, rightly called as our Strategic Pivot. I first visited China in 1976 which was the period of the Cultural Revolution and later-on about a dozen visits I made during the period 1980-90s and several visits after retirement, on invitation by Chinese Peoples Association for Peace and Development (CPAPD). Our last visit was to Lhasa in October 2006, the most memorable one. Through these visits, we were able to build the bed-rock of our Defence Partnership, which now supports China-Pakistan Strategic Pivot. Thus our Army acquired the capability to actualize our strategic thought into military strategy of pre-emption and offensive defence, to achieve decisive results fighting out-numbered.
From Lhasa airport, we drove over 60 km to reach the city. It was a clear day with bright sunshine, with river Durab and road running parallel. River Durab is a shallow river, with sparkling water spread over a vast grassy land. On either side are majestic high mountains, some capped with snow. Since Lhasa is about 12,000 feet above the sea level, therefore lack of oxygen is the problem. Not-heeding for the warning, we got out for a walk. Felt no effect of height or lack of oxygen but soon it started telling on us. One of us fell sick and needed doctor’s care. Another lost a bit of his memory. I lost my appetite. The city of Lhasa is almost newly built, expanding both horizontally and vertically. We stayed in Lhasa for three days visiting various places, like the old Jokhang Temple, Potala Palace and Norbulingka etc. Jokhang temple, the spiritual centre of Tibet, was built in 647 AD. Potala Palace located at the heart of Lhasa city was the main residence of the Dalai Lama until the fourteenth Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959. Today the Potala Palace is a state museum. It is a popular tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage. Norbulingka is an impressive complex comprising a palace, which had served the traditional residence of the successive Dalai Lamas.
On the fourth day, our memorable train journey started at about 0900 hrs in the morning. We were privileged to be the first foreign delegation to travel on this route. An air-conditioned train with television, oxygen lifeline and a dining car was a luxury something we used to enjoy while traveling by Tezgam Express from Rawalpindi to Karachi during the 1950s. The railway line is a marvel of engineering, running zigzag and carved out of high mountains, parallel to the road and shallow river with sparkling water. For the first ten hours, the train kept climbing up and up and by evening it reached the height of over 16000 feet, where it stopped for a while to give us a feel of the height and the cool breeze. As night fell, the descend started and by morning, the train was still at a height of over 12000 feet and we had traveled about 1700 km. The descend continued, till we came to the end of our journey to the sprawling city of Xiring, the capital of Qinghai province, which lies at an average height of 7000 feet, with a population of over 8 million, with 50% Muslims. We had traveled almost two thousand kilometers of our journey in twenty-seven hours. From the railway station, we went straight to the restaurant, by the side of the large sparkling lake at 7000 feet height, where the working boys and girls greeted us with ‘Assalam-Alaikum.’ We were treated to a sumptuous breakfast and the fish from the lake, which was as tasty if not more, than our trout of the Indus river.
The railway line to Lhasa has been built in three stages. The last 1000 km, towards Lhasa is a marvel of engineering, which could rightly be called the Eighth Wonder of the world. During my school days, I read about the Tibetan Plateau, called the roof of the world and here I was traveling for 27 hrs in a luxury train, enjoying the beauty of the wide valleys and shallow rivers running almost all the way. The area is sparsely populated, waiting for life to appear in its full bloom. No doubt, the future belongs to this part of the world. “Man as a creator in the likeness of The Creator, is expressed by humanity’s creation called “infrastructure”, on which has continued the existence of the civilized society. The rail roads – rivers of steel, have transformed our relationship to the land, to space and time.” (Hussein Askary)
— The writer, a retired 4-star General, is former COAS, Pakistan Army.