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A Himalayan business pass

On July 6, Nathu La, the only road link between India and China, will open for business. Analyst Shrikant Kondapalli looks at the implications of Puncturing the Himalayas.

When Chinese warlord Zhao Erfeng from neighbouring Sichuan Province tried to incorporate five Himalayan kingdoms (Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Ladakh) in 1910, little did he realise the implausibility of such a venture through brute military force. The British Indian government -- with Younghusband's forays into Tibet in 1903 through Jelep La -- proved to be equally shaky except for the trade routes they built through Nathu La that connected Lhasa with Calcutta (now Kolkata). Nearly a century later, the successor states, India and China, are charting out plans to trade through the same routes.

An overwhelming portion of traditional trade passed through Nathu La till the early 20th century -- supplying foodstuff and construction materials from India to Tibet while importing wool, silk and other raw materials. This has increased with the Chinese military's entry into Tibet. To feed the increasing numbers of Chinese military personnel, Lhasa has to import food items from different parts of the country and outside.

Even in 1962, as Sikkim had not joined the Indian Union yet, Chinese activity was considered to be high. Border clashes elsewhere between China and India destabilized contacts -- including trade between the two regions. Indeed, given political vagaries, scores of traders in Sikkim lost their livelihood, including their bank transactions and savings deposited across the border.

Image: The area near Tsongo Lake, Nathu La

Photograph, courtesy: Sanjay P K

Also See: Remembering a War: The 1962 Indo-China conflict


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