- Posted January 5, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Tell us the Good Stuff!
2014 Foresees Closer Sino-Indian Ties
One should also not forget that 110 years ago, the Tibetan Government in Lhasa signed a Convention with British India, which inter alia says: “The Tibetan Government undertakes to keep the roads to Gyantse and Gartok from the frontier clear of all obstruction and in a state of repair suited to the needs of the trade…” The idea was to open the Himalayan borders and facilitate the free circulations of goods and people.
Though for the next 50 years after the signature of the Lhasa Convention, trade flourished, it was brought to a halt in 1954 (60 years in 2014!) with the infamous Panchsheel Agreement through which Nehru abdicated India’s duties vis-à-vis Tibet (as well as India’s legitimate rights); a monumental blunder still haunting India. Since then, the Himalayan borders are sealed with disastrous consequences for the Himalayan people.
Interestingly, in the wake of the Younghusband expedition to Tibet in 1904, the young British Colonel had sent a fact-finding mission, led by Capt. CG Rawling to Western Tibet to explore the possibility to open ‘trade routes’ between British India and Tibet.
I recently came across Rawling’s report in which the captain of the Somersetshire Light Infantry describes what needs to be done by the Government of India to open up (and secure) its borders with Tibet. Rawling says: “Western Tibet is by no means a closed country to the natives of the southern slopes of the Himalayas, and these people pass in and out by many paths and many passes.”
He reports that the route from Srinagar through Leh in Ladakh, up the Indus Valley to Gartok, and then to Lhasa, was the main road in Western Tibet. He asserts “this road is mainly patronised by Ladakis, Kashmiris, and men from Chinese Turkistan”. Today, it is closed to local people, as well as Indian pilgrims wishing to visit Kailash/Mansarovar. The opening of such a road would immensely benefit the pilgrims by making their journey to the sacred mountain and lake shorter, safer and easier; despite regular appeals by the people of Ladakh to the Governments of India and China, Beijing, for its own reason, adamantly refuses to reopen the traditional route.
Then Rawling cites the paths from Kulu over the Shangrang-la, into the Chumurti country [in Tibet] ‘and from thence to Gartok’, the former important trade mart in Western Tibet, but also from Simla, up the Sutlej valley to Shipki, in today’s Kinnaur district of Himachal to Gartok.
In 1904, another route took the traders and pilgrims from Badrinath over Mana pass (17,890 ft.) to Toling, on the main Gartok-Lhasa axis. Indians and Tibetans could also travel from Almora through Joshimath and Niti village and then over the Niti pass (17,000 ft.) to Gartok.
Can you believe that 110 years ago, these routes were used on a regular basis; in Kumaon, some traveled from Almora through Milam, (north of Munsyari in the Pittoragargh district of Uttarakhand) and over the Unta Dhaura pass (17,590 ft) to Gartok. Finally, others did the journey from Almora, up the Kali river valley, over the Lipulekh pass (16,750 ft.) to Purang in Tibet and Gartok. It is the route still used every year by the Ministry of External Affairs Yatra. It is one of the most difficult to journey, but the only one China has agreed to provide to the Indian pilgrims (despite the 1954 Agreement which stipulates 6 passes).
Rawling affirms: “It is absolutely necessary that one or more good roads be constructed along trade routes from India into Tibet”. Today, 110 years later, most of these roads are closed (except for 2 which have been reopened on a small scale in the 1990s).
After giving more details on the trade opportunities and the length and difficulties of each route, Rawling recommends: “the immediate completion of the Simla-Shipki road. This should be taken in hand at once”. He explains that: “The construction of the Almora Lipulekh road is most important, as it strikes directly at the main road of Tibet, that between Lhasa and Gartok; besides leading straight to Manasarovar and Kailas Parbat.”
The captain further advises the Government of India: “As soon as [these] two roads are finished, the Niti pass road should be made, and as it can be done at a small cost, it will well repay the expense. The completion of this road will enable the traders and pilgrims to enter Tibet by one route and return to India by another.”
Can you believe it, 110 years later, it has hardly been undertaken, though it was (and still is) of great strategic importance for India: A glance at the map will show how every district of Western Tibet will be reached with ease by traders from India if these paths are turned into roads.
When one knows the poor (to say the least) state of the road network in the Indian Himalayas, one can only be angry at the successive Indian Governments which have neglected for so long the development of proper communication in the border areas, whether in Ladakh, Himachal, Uttarakhand or Arunachal.
In 1904, the Captain had advised: “Both for political and commercial reasons, I consider it advisable to construct these roads with as little delay as possible.”
In the meantime, on the other side of the Himalayas, The People’s Daily announced that the track-laying process for the Lhasa-Shigatse railway had been completed and the line will be opened to traffic in 2014. The Chinese newspaper asserts: “Its construction was started in 2010 and the total length of the railway is 253 km.” The People’s Daily draws a parallel with the construction of Metok highway which ended “the history of China’s last [county] inaccessible by roads”. The Communist mouthpiece adds: “the high-level [sic] highway connecting Lhasa and Nyingchi has been under construction.”
While trade with Tibet is not anymore the first preoccupation of Government of India, some of these 110-year projects should be taken up by the Border Road Organisation for defense purpose. I dream of this Great Leap Forward for 2014.It should not be so difficult. After all, India and China are brother: aren’t they?