All rights reserevd “Belt and Road” Initiative International Think Tank, CASS
For Kyrgyz farmer Mairambek Sarkulakov, the gigantic mountains he could see were almost the boundaries of his world.
What visitors may see as picturesque in Sarkulakov's hometown in Jalal-Abad Region in southwest Kyrgyzstan -- grassland where animal graze, the Naryn River and snow-capped mountains -- made travel difficult and dangerous for the locals.
The existing narrow road connecting major cities in Kyrgyzstan have been worn down over years without proper maintenance, badly hindering the flow of people, goods and natural resources in this landlocked country.
The situation did not change until the Kyrgyz government decided to build the North-South Alternative Road, financed by the Export-Import Bank of China with low-interest loans, to connect the capital Bishkek in the north with the country's second largest city of Osh in the south.
Since 2014, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) has won the bids to build the first and second phases of the project with total length of more than 250 km, and it plans to complete the construction in 2021.
The work involving more than 2,000 builders is more than arduous in the mountainous Central Asian country.
Some 81 km of the road in the second phase of the project needed to be built in high-altitude and uninhabited areas, and engineers had to ride donkeys and trudge in the mountains without cellphone signals, said Cai Yu, a CRBC manager for the section No. 6 of the second phase.
A large part of the road was built next to the torrential Naryn River, and builders had to tie themselves to a safety rope when working on the mountainside as the rocks were easily eroded by the river, said Zhang Haixiao, a CRBC manager for the section No. 8 of the second phase.
A key tunnel was built at an altitude of over 3,000 meters and it snowed there in May, while in rainy seasons the stormy Naryn River has swept away three temporary bridges, said Jin Zhe, an assistant to the general manager of the CRBC's Kyrgyz branch.
The artery running across the country is set to be Kyrgyzstan's largest road project featuring the longest road tunnel built since the country's independence, according to Jin.
"We have built more than 10 roads in Kyrgyzstan. I believe all of them will serve our people for a long time," said Ruslan Tuhtamatov, a material engineer who has been working with the CRBC for over 15 years.
"The road will link Northern and Southern economic zones, serve as a corridor connecting China, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Russia, and boost our economy," said Lev Alibegashvili, 84, deputy director of the survey and design institute under the Kyrgyz Ministry of Transport and Roads.
Aibek Kozhoshov, head of Toguz-Toro district of Jalal-Abad Region, said the people of his district are thankful to the Chinese company, which has created many jobs.
As the North-South Alternative Road has reached his hometown, Sarkulakov now works as a driver for the CRBC. The brand-new "China Road," as locals call it, also takes his fellow villagers to Jalal-Abad City to do small businesses.
"The 'China Road' has changed the life of me and other people here. I hope my children will easily go beyond these mountains to the outside world," Sarkulakov said.