Friday, December 18, 2015

Nilang Valley reopened to tourism

The Valley of Nilang/Jadhang
Yesterday, The Hindustan Times (HT) carried an article on Nilang (spelt Nelong) in Uttarakhand.
It says: “The spectacular Nelong Valley - a cold desert like area - tucked in the Uttarakhand Himalayas, close to the Indo-China border, was opened to tourists earlier this year after 53 years of remaining out of bounds post the 1962 War. While the state government opened it with much enthusiasm in May, it failed to promote the destination as a result less than 200 tourists visited the valley in the last six months. The valley, which has a similar landscape as that of Ladakh, is not only rich in natural beauty but also houses remnants of the treacherous Indo-China trade route - like a hand-built wooden bridge - that was used for centuries by the locals prior to the war.”
It is not exactly true that the landscapes look like Ladakh, but the beauty of the place is indisputable.
Further, Nilang has an interesting historical background, probably not known to the reporter who describes the area thus: “The valley, situated at an altitude of around 11,000 feet above the sea level, falls under the Gangotri National Park in Uttarkashi district, is around 315 km from Dehradun. It is also only 23 kms away from Bhaironghati, a place just eight kms ahead of the famous Gangotri shrine.”
Not only did the entry to this ‘restricted area’ remain closed for civilians after the 1962 War, but the local Bhotiya population was shifted to Bagori and Dunda villages in Uttarkashi district.

This year, the area has been opened to some privileged tourists.
The Hindustan Times explains: “The government has put a cap on the number of vehicles entering the valley per day, which is maximum six with only four occupants in each. A permit letter from the sub-divisional magistrate is required to visit the area while entry of foreigners is banned. Though the government had opened the destination with high hopes, only 184 tourists visited the valley in six months.”
According to the HT, the reopening of Nilang valley has made the local population happy, as tourism could be a good source of income: “Prior to the war, trade with Tibet was the economic mainstay of the villagers in the valley. Few remnants of the trade route - the most prominent one being a narrow wooden bridge along the gorge - still remains intact. This valley could thus be highlighted as a heritage site,” a native of Nilang told the daily.
The Government of Uttarakhand believes that the valley has a great potential; it can be developed into a special tourism destination, like Valley of Flowers in Chamoli district which attracts thousands of tourists and nature lovers every year.
A retired senior bureaucrat, SS Pangtey told the HT that the area is “an untapped asset of natural splendor that could turn into a major attraction for domestic tourists if publicized properly. It is a remote, virgin area which has a huge potential to become an adventure tourism hotspot if only the state is able to publicise it amply”
Soon after the 1962 War, locals Bhotiyas, living in Nilang during the summer and who for generations had been trading with Tibet, were resettled in Bagori and Dunda villages: “Prior to the war, trade with Tibet was the economic mainstay of the villagers in the valley. Few remnants of the trade route - the most prominent one being a narrow wooden bridge along the gorge - still remains intact. This valley could thus be highlighted as a heritage site,” said Jot Singh, a native of Nilang valley, now living in a nearby village.

History of Nilang-Jadhang Valleys
A few years ago, I researched the history of the area, which, in the early 1930s had been disputed by Tibet (later on, it was claimed by China).
In fact, it is this dispute which forced the Government of India to reallocate the local population after 1962.
I post here the introduction to my paper, as well as some extracts of the Report of the Officials of the Governments of India and the Peoples’ Republic of China on the Boundary Question, published by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India in 1961.
There were a few such places claimed by Tibet, with any historical or geographical basis; later they became part of the Sino-Indian border dispute.
It is a positive sign that the Government of Uttarakhand has not agreed to reopen this area.
Hopefully, it will become a destination for eco-tourism only.

Here is the introduction to my paper

History of the dispute between Tehri State and Tibet: A Himalayan Case

One of main historic upshots of the relation between Tibet and the Himalayan region has been the Sino-Indian border dispute along the 4,000 km mountainous range.
In many cases, the present ‘dispute’ with China has its origin in disagreement between the Lhasa government and the administration of Himalayan princely states (and by extension British India). This is true for NEFA too.
Our case study relates to Nilang/Jadhang area in today’s Uttarakhand.
It is particularly interesting due to the large amount of correspondence between Tibet (the Kashag in Lhasa and the Dzongpen in Tsaparang) and the princely states of Tehri-Garhwal, Bashahr as well as the provincial governments of the United Provinces and the Punjab and of course, the Foreign and Political Department of British India in Delhi.
The ‘negotiations’ lasted some 12 years, at the end of which no mutually acceptable solution could be found.
The entire story is extracted from a couple of files today in the British Archives. A few years ago, I had the good fortune to come across them and I thought it would be interesting to share this unknown aspect of the Himalayan relations.

Location and Description

The area disputed by Tibet and Tehri-Garhwal State lies between longitude 78.53 and 79.25 East and latitude 31 and 31.26 North.
For the sake of the different Commissions which went into the dispute between 1926 and 1935, different colours have been assigned to the respective claims on a map prepared by the British surveyors:
  • The boundary between the Tehri-Garhwal state and Garhwal district of the United Provinces is shown in green.
  • The boundary claimed by the Tehri-Garhwal State is shown in red. It is the watershed between the western sources of the Bhagirathi river and the valley of the Sutlej river, known in Tibet as Langchen Khabab.
  • The boundary claimed by Tibet is shown in yellow; their frontier claim is unclear at several places as the Tibetan representatives often claimed ‘a single point as the boundary’, that is the junction of the Gumgum nala with the Bhagirathi (one mile West of Jangla Forest Bungalow).

The Brief History of the Dispute
The dispute seems to have arisen when the Dzongpen of Tsaparang, the nearby Tibetan district, visited the Gumgum nala in 1914. He publically announced his decision of setting up a boundary pillar near the bridge. When the local villagers objected, the Dzongpen left without any further action.
In 1918, the Tehri State decided to erect 3 pillars on the top of the Tsang Chok-la (31.30 North and 79.16 East). Some versions claimed that the pillars had already been there in the past and were only ‘repaired’.
Two years later, the Tehri State surveyed the area and, for the first time, prepared cultivation maps of the Nilang region (31.7 North and 79.4 East). The Jadhang valley (31.11 North and 79.6 East) was also included in the maps.
In 1921, the Tsaparang Dzongpen visited Nilang again. This time, he sent a letter to the Raja of Tehri requesting him to send an official to sort out the boundary issue; at that time, it was not yet considered a ‘dispute’; it was more a ‘difference of perceptions’ between neighbours. The Raja answered that the issue had to be raised through the Government of India as it involved a problem with two foreign governments.
During the next warm season, the Dzongpen visited Nilang again and collected a tax of Rs.1 from the local people of Nilang and Jadhang. He thus collected a total of Rs 300.
In 1924, it was finally proposed by British India to appoint a boundary Commission, but due to the poor communications and the fact that these areas could only be visited in summer, the Commission could meet only in the summer of 1926.

Report of the Officials
The Nilang-Jadhang area
Regarding Nilang-Jadhang, the Indian side produced a large amount of evidence to establish conclusively that this area had always been a part of India. The boundary alignment between India and Tibet in this sector had always been along the watershed range.
…The Chinese side then referred to the discussions regarding the boundary in this sector between India and Tibet during the years 1921 to 1928. This, however, could in no way substantiate the Chinese claim. During these discussions the Tehri state had produced a variety of records going back to the 17th century to prove its ownership of the area; and the Tibetan side could produce only one book in which the trade dues paid by the villages of Nilang and Jadhang to the Dzongpon of Tsaparang, when they visited the Tibetan trade marts of Poling and Toling, were entered as taxes. Again, while the Tehri representative gave a precise definition of the Tehri-Tibet boundary, the Tibetan representatives referred to only on point — Gum Gum or Gungoong bridge — on the alignment claimed by them and could not say how the line would run east and west of this point The compromise proposed at the time by colonel Bailey, and referred to by the Chinese side was offered not because Tehri's claim was weak but because the Government of India were anxious to settle a minor dispute lest it impair the prevailing friendly relations between India and Tibet.
It was not, therefore, true to say that the then Indian Government coerced the local inhabitants in order to alter the existing boundary.
Rather, it was the other way round. The people of Nilang and Jadhang, who during winter moved deeper south, in the summer, went to Tibet to trade. While in Tibet they were subjected to various vexatious dues and intimidated into declaring that they were subjects of Tibet and that the trade dues paid by them were land taxes. It was significant that the only documentary evidence brought forward by the Chinese side for this area were two 'avowals' alleged to have been made by the inhabitants in 1921 and 1927-i.e. after the commencement of the boundary dispute. It was such repeated coercion by the Tibetan authorities of the traders of Nilang and Jadhang that forced these villagers to cease going into Tibet for trade.

No comments: