“If you ask me what is a well-off life, I think you can just see the changes in the life of my family and you’ll know,” Morigendaoriji, a local herdsman who lives in the hinterland of Kubuqi Desert in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, told People’s Daily Online jauntily in front of his family’s white yurt, while pointing to a cowshed, a large flock of sheep, and a car.
“Now my family has more than 500 sheep and over 40 head of cattle. The rose willows we planted in the early years for desertification control can bring us an annual income of up to 60,000 yuan ($9,204),” said Morigendaoriji.
In fact, just two decades ago Morigendaoriji’s family was struggling to make ends meet.
Morigendaoriji’s family has lived in Aolengwusu village, Duguitala township, Hangjin banner, Erdos city, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, for generations. Located deep in the Kubuqi Desert, known as the “sea of death,” Aolengwusu village had long been suffering from a harsh natural environment and poor traffic condition.
For most of his life, Morigendaoriji has been fighting against desertification in the Kubuqi Desert. His grandfather told him that there were once good spots with grass and water in his hometown, but those were only stories to Morigendaoriji when he was young, as he had never seen such places for himself.
“When I was young, there was hardly any grass in the place. Our doors and sheepfold were often buried in sand during windy weather,” Morigendaoriji recalled, adding that the only things his grandfather left when he passed away were several sheep and rose willows, as well as a wish to make plants and sheep thrive in the desert.
Keeping the last words of his grandfather in mind, Morigendaoriji was determined that he would not move away no matter how hard life could be. In the meantime, he swore that he would try his best to bring the sand under control.
“There was no road at that time. Our only transportation tool was a cart pulled by a donkey. Since the wheels frequently sank into the sand, we would often get into the situation where we had to push the cart and drive the donkey rather than sit on the cart. During windy days, when sand was blown up by strong winds, the path would disappear and we would often get lost in the desert,” Morigendaoriji told People’s Daily Online.
The most difficult part for him was to get seedlings of salix mongolica and rose willows from Duguitala township, located 40 kilometers away, according to Morigendaoriji, who said a round trip to the township took him four to six days.
Day after day, Morigendaoriji would spend all of his time looking for willows, planting trees, finding roads and selling sheep. Until one day, he heard that a highway was about to be built in his hometown, and he knew good changes would happen.
On June 16, 1997, dozens of thousands of people came to the Kubuqi Desert and started to build a highway in the “sea of death.” Because there was neither road nor water or electricity in the desert, all of the builders had to take food with them and live in the desert. In the scorching weather and frequent sandstorms, they didn’t have modern machinery, so everything they needed to build had to be completed with their own hands.
“One time, we woke up to find that our tents were blown away by strong winds in the night, and even a section of roadbed we just finished was gone,” recalled Guo Shudong, director of the planning department of the transport bureau of Hangjin banner.
“To make the villages and pastures no longer isolated from the outside world and bring their life on track was both our goal and responsibility,” Guo said, adding that the highway through the desert not only bore the hope of herdsmen, but was also an important approach to economic development, social progress, and ecological improvement of Hangjin banner.
Finally in October 1998, the 115-km-long third-level highway S215 with sand-gravel surface, the first road that passed through the hinterland of Kubuqi Desert, opened to traffic. In May 1999, the phase two project to lay asphalt concrete on the sand-gravel surface of the road kicked off. By October 1999, the project was successfully completed.
A total of more than 60,000 people took part in the construction of this important road, which is now surrounded by endless green grass.
“After the road opened to traffic, sheep dealers could get to my home much easier, so the sheep I raised could be sold at good prices. I have paid off more than 100,000 yuan of bank loans and all of the money I borrowed from others,” Morigendaoriji said with a big smile.
As greater changes have continued to happen in Morigendaoriji’s hometown, three brand new highways through the Kubuqi Desert, including the newly renovated section of S215 between the townships of Duguitala and Xini, opened to traffic on Sept. 18, 2019, when the old highway through the desert became the county-level highway X651.
“The new S215 was built according to the standards of first-level highways. Broader and more convenient, now herdsmen can bring their sheep and cows to the fair and send their children to schools faster. The new highway also linked resources of the locality such as cashmere, liquorice, mirabilite, argil, and natural gas, forming an important economic belt,” Guo said excitedly.