undertook the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra (KMY) in August 2015 which jelled in well with my love for mountaineering and trekking. In my younger days, during my tenure in Ladakh, I had read of the exploits of General Zorawar Singh and I was also keen to visit his ‘samadhi’, which was near Mansarovar beyond Taklakot. I was amazed that my fellow yatris had no idea about the gallant hero who had integrated Ladakh with India through his military campaign in 1841. When Zorawar was killed in battle in December 1841, the Tibetans cut small pieces of flesh from the General’s dead body to hang outside their houses so that Zorawar-like chivalry was passed on among the Tibetan people from generation to generation.
I had expected the plateau to be totally barren and dust laden but was surprised with the extent of infrastructure development that has taken place in Tibet, which starts from Nathu La itself. This includes state-ofthe- art roads, rail network, telecommunications and overall infrastructure development beyond the actual needs of Tibet. The road network in Tibet is excellent, and luxury buses ply easily up to Nathu La. From what I observed, it would be possible for fighter aircraft too to take off from some of these road stretches. This amply highlights Chinese policy of integrating Tibet with the mainland, by laying special emphasis on the economic development of the region and showcasing its development to the world.
Customs/Immigration posts have an integrated modern network of computers. The railway line has reached Shigatse and is likely to be extended to Yatung below Nathu La. Emphasis on renewable energy could be gauged by the fact that solar panels and windmills dotted the landscape. Also visible were a large number of communication towers.
New townships are mushrooming (Latung- Kangma- Lazi-Darchen) all along the highway with world class infrastructure of multi-storey hotels and malls. New Han settlements have come up though not fully occupied with each house hoisting the PRC flag. Excellent post offices and extensive mobile usage also gave an idea of the development of the region. In Latung, just an hour’s drive from Nathu La, the river passing through has been converted into a canal with colourful multi-storey buildings on both the banks.
How the Tibetans view the development is difficult to gauge due to language barriers as no one understands English. 99 percent of the road signs, shop names etc. are in Chinese or Tibetan. Majority of the hospitality sector and the shops are managed by girls/ladies. Toilets were the only eyesore at places and along the highway. They are the open deep trench stinking toilets like in Ladakh villages and are called the ‘Rest Rooms’ in Tibet by the Chinese!
My mission of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra remained partially unfulfilled as I could not visit Gen. Zorawar’s Samadhi. As per our Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Chinese authorities do not allow diverting from the laid down itinerary. However, people who go on the yatra via Lipulekh do visit the Samadhi. Perhaps the MEA could look into this aspect.
In the book, ‘Becoming a Mountain’ by Stephen Alter, there is a passage where a refugee from Tibet, Lhatoo remembers his village in Yatung as ‘a cold, dusty, dark place’, where he would watch disassembled motorcycles being carried on the backs of porters all the way from India to Lhasa, where they were reassembled. Clearly, that trade flow has reversed. The pictures of Yatung then and now tell their own tale.
Col RC Patial, SM, FRGS is an army veteran who has served with NTRO as Chief Editor OSINT & Dy Director NTRO Training Centre. He has also served with the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) as a Senior Defence Specialist.