URUMQI, May 31 (Xinhua) -- Alimjan Dawut, from northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, has covered a distance seven times the length of the equator in 33 months, driving his sixth ute pickup.
Pointing at the odometer showing 286,800 kilometers, the 34-year-old man working for a local transportation company told Xinhua that he was mostly shuttling between Kashgar City and the Tajik Autonomous County of Taxkorgan.
Taxkorgan, some 1,250 km from the regional capital Urumqi, borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Once an impoverished county, it relied on a 300-km road which extends westwards to Pakistan for shipments of supplies.
"I longed for freedom, and I found that everything we used in the county came from Kashgar, so I bought a ute," recalled the thin man with a sun-tanned face. The locals fondly call him the "ute prince." "In this way, I can have both freedom and money."
In 2008, when he was 19 and just finished high school, Alimjan Dawut started working in a clothing shop. Two years later, he bought his first ute, putting together the 50,000 yuan (about 7,060 U.S. dollars) he borrowed from his parents and relatives, and the 20,000 yuan he earned by herding sheep after school.
He then realized that "freedom was at the price of hardship." "The county was impoverished at that time," Dawut said. "I carried onions, potatoes and womboks from Kashgar. Vegetables were cheap and the transportation cost was low, but our county was short of everything. So I had orders every day."
He paid off all his loans within three years, before buying himself a new ute.
He bought his third ute in 2015, when Taxkorgan embarked on the fast track to shake off poverty.
Alimjan Dawut witnessed a surge of visitors to his home county in those few years, many of whom went there to invest. Besides, with the increasing exchanges between China and Pakistan, the county saw more Pakistanis.
For residents in the county, "demand for onions, potatoes and womboks dropped, while that for green leafy vegetables and clothing increased," Dawut said, adding that he felt happy about the change, because it meant improvement of the people's lives and diversification of their diet.
Alimjan Dawut always remembers a disaster which happened in 2017.
In May that year, a 5.5-magnitude earthquake jolted Taxkorgan County, where eight fatalities were confirmed and 23 people were injured. Over 1,500 houses collapsed or were badly damaged.
Alimjan Dawut was saddened to see his hometown devastated. After seven years of hard work he had already built up some bank savings. This enabled him to donate food and water worth of more than 2,000 yuan, while he also volunteered to bring supplies to people affected by the quake.
In 2019, Taxkorgan declared its victory in ending poverty. The next year saw the road linking the county to Kashgar upgraded and Alimjan Dawut needed only six hours, instead of 10, to complete the 300-km journey.
The driver bought his sixth ute in 2020, a white model of Changan Automobiles. Different from all his previous pickups, the new ute was priced above 100,000 yuan. It is broader and equipped with a backup camera.
Now that Taxkorgan has its own vegetable farming industry, and with the new road enabling more trucks to access, Alimjan Dawut carries less vegetables and clothing. Instead, he is delivering more office equipment, such as computers and printers, many of which are used by construction companies, as the county is undergoing a dramatic facelift.
His experience epitomized Xinjiang's development in the past decade. According to the regional government, in 2021, Xinjiang's GDP reached nearly 1.6 trillion yuan, doubling the 2012 figure. The region has invested heavily to improve transportation. By August 2022, Xinjiang had more than 7,500 km of expressways.
Alimjan Dawut's transportation company now has around 300 vehicles, including 100 utes. According to Wang Yun, deputy head of Taxkorgan's transport bureau, the county is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist destination. As the high season of tourism comes, about 1,000 passenger vehicle drivers are on the road per day, along with lots of others transporting cargo.
The ambitious man is now planning to buy his seventh ute. "An automatic with sunroof," he said, beaming. "My hometown will become an even better place."