The New Silk Road

“Don’t take pictures facing the Chinese side,” a Nepali policeman stationed at the border village of Rasuwagadhi insists. “They don’t allow that. We’ll get into trouble.”

Amid such displays of nervous tension, the Chinese are in the process of restoring the ancient trade route to Kerung, Tibet, once a southern extension of the old Silk Road. Traditionally used by yak caravans bartering salt for rice, the route will now be upgraded to an 18-kilometre stretch of highway connecting Syabrubesi to Rasuwagadhi. On completion, it will connect Kathmandu to Kerung, further facilitating border trade between Nepal and China.

The locals, however, have a different take on the development.

Although the majority of the villagers here are of Tamang and Ghale ethnicity, they are heavily influenced by Tibetan culture and speak the language. Whatever promises the highway offers in terms of easing travel and trade, the proximity of Tibet means that doubts persist regarding Chinese intentions, among other things.

“It has made things easier,” says Nima Ghale of Timure. “The journey to Syabrubesi used to take five to six hours, but doesn’t take more than two now, even by foot.” Transporting goods is also more convenient. But there are concerns about long-term consequences. “All the land is being bought up by people from Trishuli and further south. Soon, the whole village will be owned by them, and we’ll have to resort to collecting firewood and fodder for money,” she says. “The poor will just get poorer.”

Caught between elation and apprehension, the residents of the area look to an uncertain future.