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Tibet-railway-link-Shigatse-2014Dharamshala: - China on Friday, 15 August opened an extension of its controversial railway into Tibet, state-run media reported, linking the Tibetan capital of Lhasa with Shigatse, second largest city in Tibet.

Tibet is a highly sensitive region, not just because of ongoing repression and continued local opposition to Chinese government control, but because of the region's strategic position next to neighbours India, Nepal and Myanmar.

The track is an extension of the Qinghai-Tibet line -- an engineering marvel named the "closest stretch of railway to the sky." The railway to Lhasa launched in 2006, which passes spectacular icy peaks on the Tibetan highlands, reaching altitudes as high as 5,000 m (16,400 ft) above sea level.

When it opens, it will allow passengers to connect by rail from Beijing all the way to Shigatse, a gateway to Everest, which lies just 240 kilometers (150 miles) away, on the border with Nepal.

Critics of the railway, including Tibetans and Tibet support groups, say it has spurred an influx of long-term migrants who threaten Tibetans' cultural integrity, which rests on Buddhist beliefs and a traditional herding lifestyle.

Political tensions mean that access to the railway for non-Chinese tourists is likely to be subject to tight controls. CNN report says "Anyone hoping to travel on from Shigatse to Everest or Nepal will have to wade through further red tape."

'In addition to Chinese visas, foreign visitors already require special permits to enter Tibet and the availability of these is subject to sudden change,' it said.

Work on the new $2.1 billion line across the roof of the world began in 2010. When it opens, it will allow passengers to connect by rail from Beijing all the way to Shigatse, a gateway to Everest, which lies just 240 kilometers (150 miles) away, on the border with Nepal.

Suolang Deji, an officer with Shigatse's tourism department, told CNN the railway would be inaugurated at the end of August and would initially carry Chinese visitors and the first batch of tourists are from Shandong provice.

At a cost of 50,000 yuan per metre (ft), the railway lines is the most expensive ever built in China, because of the harsh terrain it traverses, making it necessary to build numerous bridges and tunnels, the state-run news agency said, adding: The first passenger train is scheduled to leave capital Lhasa on Saturday morning.

China plans further extensions of the railway line, to other major cities in Tibet and the borders of India, Nepal and Bhutan, by 2020.

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