Posted: Submitted by wtanaka (648) on Sat, 2006-06-24 06:13. | Subject: Direct land link between India and China
THE only direct land link between India and China -- a Himalayan pass mapped by a British expedition a century ago -- is to be reopened this month for the first time in 44 years.
The 14,400ft Nathula Pass -- used by Colonel Francis Younghusband to lead a British invasion force to Tibet in 1904 -- has been closed since the Sino-Indian border war in 1962. Its reopening marks a belated thaw between the two old enemies who recently became business rivals.
For the past 44 years the only traffic across the pass has been a weekly mail run. Letters written by Tibetan herders on both sides are exchanged by postmen who meet at the top of the pass.
“The area is deserted at the moment. Few wanted to live there,” said Zhang Minqiu, a professor of international relations at Peking University. “Now that is changing, supported by the two governments.” And yet, old animosities die hard. The only direct air link between the Indian and Chinese capitals is operated by Ethiopian Airlines.
As military tensions between the neighbours slowly fade, commercial interests along the former Silk Road are reawakening. North Indian companies have long pushed their government to find a land route to booming China. Delhi took up the issue with Beijing.
After initial scepticism the Chinese Government agreed to the border opening as part of its plan to boost the Tibetan economy. A railway route to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, from the Chinese city of Golmud in Qinghai province, will be opened next month. Experts are talking about an eventual rail link all the way to Delhi.
Long-term strategists in both countries are hoping for a return to the economic status of the 1750s when China and India produced 57 per cent of global manufacturing output, not least due to their trade with each other.
According to the Commerce Ministry, the land border will be opened around June 30. “The date, however, is subject to change considering the high altitude of Nathula and the proneness of the route to climatic vagaries including landslides,” a spokesman said.
The dispatch of a British expeditionary force to Tibet in 1904 was triggered by suspicions that Russian spies were infiltrating the area as part of the Great Game — the 19th-century battle for influence between the two European powers. Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, feared that Russia might be able to take over Tibet because the weak imperial Chinese Government could no longer impose its will on far-flung territories.
After long discussions with London and protests from Russia, Curzon instructed Younghusband, an explorer and mystic, to assemble a force to negotiate with Tibetan rulers directly. The force consisted of 1,200 soldiers, four artillery pieces, two Maxim guns, 16,000 pack animals and 10,000 coolies. Conditions on the “roof of the world” were terrible. The air was thin and temperatures well below zero. Soldiers used pencils to write because their ink froze. Subalterns kept Maxim gun parts warm in their beds.
But this was nothing compared with what awaited 900 Tibetans. They were mown down by the Maxims when the two sides faced off after the arrest of supposed British spies.
Younghusband’s foray into Tibet was eventually deemed a failure. The threat from Russia never materialised and no British agent was permanently installed in Lhasa. Younghusband did, however, change century-old trade routes across the Himalayas.
Before 1904 and after 1962, the main southern access point to Tibet was further west via the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. Mule trains carrying wool, gold dust, animal pelts and silk used the route, as have tourists in the past few years.
OVER THE TOP
The Expedition climbed, in pouring rain, to the Jelep Pass, 14,390 feet, and from there looked down into Tibetan territory — though not into what is geographically Tibet, for they were not yet over the main watershed but were looking into the Chumbi Valley, on the Indian side.
It began its ascent of the main Chumbi Valley towards Phari and the plateau of Tibet proper. The path lay close beside the clear rushing river. Soon the trees became scantier. The hill-sides became purple with the little rhododendron, which covered the hillsides like purple heather. After eight miles the country changed completely in character. The gorges and deep, richly-wooded valleys were left behind. And the Expedition came out on to the open plain of Phari -- the real Tibet.
And there, standing sentinel over the entrance, was the great peak Chomolhari, 23,930 feet in height — so sharp and bold and rugged in its outline.
Edited extract from The Epic of Mount Everest by Sir Francis Younghusband
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