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Kibithoo (NE of India)
to Karakorum (NW of India)        


Of people & land routes to China


These were the better known routes for traditional trade to Tibet. Now there are 2 functioning officially, but several more unofficially;


1-     The border crossing points that I shall cover from NE to NW are (Nearest collection of dwellings in Tibet are underlined and marked in red):



2-     Dibrugarh-Tezu-Walong- Kibithoo (at 1371 m - it is the lowest crossing point into Tibet from India)-Kahao- along the Lohit river which enters India here-Rima, a large town, just 10 kms or so away from the border- Chamdo (3243 m). The famous Rima Gap where within 100 kms the Salween, the Mekong, and the Yangtse flow is not far from here (this is one of the shortest  {Tinsukia to Tezu = 137 kms; Tezu to Hayuliyang=103 kms; Hayuliyang to Walong=103 kms; Walong – Kibithoo= 30 kms; Kibithoo-Kahao=1.6 kms} routes to the Tibetan border from the Indian plains. Reviving of this trade will immensely improve the economy of this area.

3-     Dibrugarh-Ledo-Pangsau Pass (937 m)-Mytkina (Burma)- Kunming (Yunan, China). The WW II Ledo road to Kunming already has a solid foundation. It requires clearing of trees growing on it and resurfacing and it will be ready within a couple of years. Both Kunming and Calcutta are about 1700 kms by road from Ledo.

4-     Dibrugarh-Roing-Anini-Mipi- Yongop La or Zeklu La- (all around 3000 m) to Shuden Gompa (4175 m) ; (To the Idu Mishmis here Tibet is known as the place where the rivers are silent)

5-     North Lakhimpur-Along-(or directly from Assam via Passighat too) –Yingkiong-Tuting (590 m)-Gelling (1829 m)-Tung la or Shouka la (3800 m) or Lamb la-  Kemteng-Gya Dzong (2775 m)(Shimong Adis who inhabit this region are Lhobas in Tibet. In the village of Mankhota (1120 m) on the Yangsang chu near the border live some Khamba families from Tibet ) 

6-     North Lakhimpur-Along-Mechuka (1890 m): means place of mediciane water that rises from the snows - up the Yagyap chu- Nepar la or Nyug La(4700 m)-Migyitun-Kyim Dzong (There’s a Kaying-Tato-Mechuka motor road now); (Pachakshiri Membas who inhabit this region are known as Moinbas in Tibet)

7-     North Lakhimpur-Dapporijo-Nacho- Taksing (2400 m)-Limeking-Lhontse Dzong  (This was one of the routes through which till about 40 years earlier amongst other goods Tibetan ornaments esp. brass carved bells known locally as majes used to be got- now its textiles on rare occasions)

8-     Tezpur-Bomdila- Tawang-Bum la (4332 m)-Tsona Dzong (this is very close to Bhutan and Chinese goods in large quantities are being brought in through adjacent Mele La in Bhutan. Lhasa is about 600 kms away.)

9-     The heights and names of the passes at S. Nos 4,5, & 6 may not be correct as they have been got from local sources, understanding whom requires a phonetically experienced ear.



10- Gangtok-Nathu la (4420 m)- Chumbi valley-Paro Dzong-Gyantse-Lhasa (3607 m). The closest port for Lhasa is Kolkatta which is about 1400 kms away. That is why the Chinese are keen on opening up the Nathu la route. Shanghai is more than 4000 kms away. Yangon about 2500 kms. 



11-  Pithoragarh-Tawaghat-Garbyang (villages on this route that were dying have revived and old houses are looking sturdy once again. Some old customs of serais in homes have started again) -Lipu Lekh (5453 m) (This is one of the two official trade routes open now. The Customs station is at Garbyang 30 kms before Lipu Lekh)- Taklakot (where now there is an Indian and Nepali market)-Darchen

12- Munsiari-Milam (a large village of attractive houses with patiently and tastefully carved doors and windows that was inhabited till 1982 is now abandoned and a lot of history is over)-Unta Dhura-Topidunga (4500 m) (till this point foreigners are being allowed in for treks)-Kungribingri La (5357 m)- Gyanima mandi- Tirthapuri (which is on the River Satluj)-Gartok (on the Lhasa-Sinkiang highway & on the River Garlung, which is a tributary of the Indus))

13- Joshimath-Bara Hoti Plains-Niti Pass (5060 m)-Tralung-Tirthapuri Gompa;

14- Joshimath-Badrinath-Mana pass (5608 m)-Tsaparang-or Totling Gompa-(to Gartok also)-or Tralung

15- Uttarkashi-Harsil-Jadh Ganga valley- Tsangchok la-Tsaparang-Gartok



16-  Sangla-Chitkul-Yamrang La (5487 m)-  {or Uttarkashi-Harsil-Lamkhaga La-Yamrang la}- Tsaparang. From colonial times till 1950 duty used to be levied on goods crossing the border. This had forced people to use little known & dangerous routes like this one, which passed through a valley nick named Chor Gad. 

17- Kalpa-Moirang-Khimokul la (4331 m)- Tsaparang

18-  Shimla-Kalpa-Pooh-Shipk la (4000 m) (on the Hindustan – Tibet road and for centuries was one of the 4 most prominent trade routes along the entire border. It is open again. This is the 2nd route which has a Customs station and is right on the pass)-Shipki vlg.- Kuukh (earlier parts of Spiti and of Western Tibet till Tsaparang-Tolingmath were part of one kingdom known as Kuukh)-Karkuncham (Hqrs of Chumurti distt.)-Nortok [where there’s a 18th C stone marking a trade treaty between the kings of Rampur Bushair (where the Lavi fair, attended by traders from Tibet, Central Asia and our plains used to be held every November) and of Kuukh]- or Tsaparang or Gartok;

19- Kalpa-Pooh-Sumdoh-Kaurik-Gargunsa on the river Garlung & thence SSE for 30 kms to Gartok or 20 kms NNW to Tashigong where the river Indus meetsthe Garlung, and which is 35 kms by motorable road from Demchok in Ladakh.



20- Leh-Nyoma (4207 m)-Dumchulle (4412 m)-Rudok on the south bank of Nyak Tso, which is a kind of continuation of Ladakh’s Pangong Tso,

21-  Leh-Nyoma-Demchok (4322 m)-Tashigong and along the Indus to the east to Thok Yalung gold fields (16330’),

22- Leh-Nyoma-Tiggar-Kyun la (or via Hanle too)-Chumar on the Pare chu river which flows into Tibet from here (this leads to an extremely isolated & backward corner of Tibet for which getting supplies from India will be most convenient.) 

23- Leh-Nyoma- Tcahaga- (& also via Chang la-Chushul to)- Tchaga la (5060 m)- Rudok.

24- Leh- Khardung la-Nubra-Saser La-Daulat Beg Oldi-Karakorum (5724 m) - Kashgar and Yarkand in Sinkiang, which are now being supplied with a lot of their essentials through Mintaka pass on the Karakorum highway from Gilgit in Pakistan. It is also the shortest way to a sea port for this part of China. The only possible advantage that a route through India’s Karakorum pass could have would be its round the year  accessibility)

25-  Its in Ladakh that the affects of Chinese economic offensive can be brazenly seen. At the Moti Market Chinese goods are sold in about 50 shops. In the Changthang where the Changpa shepherds tending their pashmina flock close to the border use Chinese jackets, jeans, cutlery, confectionery, torches and thermos flasks and meat in winter.




Related Information:


26- Chinese have a Singkiang  - Lhasa Higway running north of and quite close to very nearly the entire Himalaya from east of Sikkim westwards. They want supply routes to some points along this route from India.

27- There were Trade Agents till 1952 in Tezu in Lohit District of east Arunachal & Rima in Tibet’s Pemyangtse or Pemako district.

28-   The following 29 goods can be "exported freely" to China as border barter trade:
     1-    Agricultural implements;
     2-    Blankets;
     3-    Copper Products;
     4-    Clothes;
     5-    Textiles;
     6-    Cycles;
     7-    Coffee;
     8-    Tea;
     9-    Barley;
     10-    Rice;
     11-    Flour;
     12-    Dry Fruit;
     13-    Dry & fresh vegetables;
     14-    Vegetable oil;
     15-    Gur and Misri;
     16-    Tobacco;
     17-    Snuff;
     18-    Cigarettes;
     19-    Canned food;
     20-    Agro Chemical;
     21-    Local herbs;
     22-    Dyes;
     23-    Spices;
     24-    Watches;
     25-    Shoes;
     26-    Kerosene oil;
     27-    Stationery;
     28-    Utensils; &
     29-    Wheat (Ua & buck).
     This is according to India's Export Trade Control Public Notice No.
 5(PN)/92-97 issued on 20th of July, 1992.


INFORMALLY there are now many more goods to trade with than could have been dreamt of by the drafters of this notification. E.g. coarse wool, pashm wool, tiger eye & other precious and semi precious stones, gold pellets, daggers, boots, hats, blankets, quilts, jeans, jackets, fur caps, felt hats, inverters, electronic equipment, cycles, foot wear, confectionery, crockery, thermos flasks, raw meat (during winter in Ladakh), saddles, yaks, and horses come into India and liquor esp. rum, medicines (large quantity of Indian medicines go through Kyrghystan and Kazakhstan to Sinkiang), woollen carpets, petrol and diesel, car parts, tool kits, solar panels, shawls, bicycles & sometimes even cement go from India.


In Ladakh the Chinese indirectly finance dumping of their goods by giving long term interest free credit. They demand payment only after the goods have been sold by their Indian customers. For Indian goods they pay in Rupees immediately on delivery.


The goods that are now in demand are no longer traditional, and demand for traditional goods like wool is now on a commercial scale. No longer for local use by cross border communities. The routes and methods of carrying these goods is however still largely traditional. Earlier needs were few and localized thus salt e.g. used to be a very important item to be brought in.  Now as can be seen from the list above preferences have outstripped basic needs.  


Despite our bureaucracy’s whimsical reluctance to acknowledge it Chinese goods are being brought in large quantities all along the border, and that State controls and monitors it closely.


29-    It’s not only for Lhasa that the Chinese could be interested in opening up trade routes with India. They want traditional trade routes connecting each part of Tibet that has filial and old trade links with India to be resumed. This way they can ensure cheaper supplies. Providing these from mainland China takes time and is expensive. This situation will not be affected much even when the Sikang – Lhasa rail link is opened.

30-  Across the border areas of Sikkim & Arunachal there are more populated areas in Tibet than across the border in the NW and yet very little trade activity.

31- According to an old treaty people living on either side of the Indo-China border are allowed to go fairly deep into each other’s territory. Tho’ hardly any Chinese come this way to our side, many Indians used to go far inside Tibet at least across Shipki La (7 days march inside) till 2002. last year they were not allowed to go beyond Shipki village which is 1.5 kms inside Tibet. The reason was that people from these villages have become smart. They want to have their horses hired to take these goods further into Tibet. This had affected the volume of barter trade too and villages further away had been protesting against the high handedness of the villagers from Shipki. That was last year. I do not know what is the practice this year.    


                                                                                                Romesh Bhattacharji,

                                                                                                D 1008,

                                                                                                New Friends colony,

                                                                                                New Delhi 110065.

                                                                                                Phone: 26828580 &

                                                                                                mbl- 9868279350

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