Link to a Better Relation: Civil Services Mentor Magazine August 2013

Link to a Better Relation

The Karakoram Pass played a significant role in the
flourishing trade on the Silk Route between India-China and Central Asia. The
pass was shut down and trade stopped in 1949 when Xinjiang became a part of
People’s Republic of China. Leh was a busy cosmopolitan commercial town, with
traders from Central Asia, Kashgarh, Yarkand, Kabul, Tibet, Kashmir, Punjab and
Himachal Pradesh who stayed on for one or two months after their exhausting

The trade, through the Karakoram, influenced the dress, food
and dance forms of Ladakh. On the other side of the Pass, “Chini Bagh” at
Kashgarh (the residence of the British Joint Commissioner of Trade), “Gurdial
Sarai” and “Kashmiri Kucha” (street) at Yarkand, where Indian traders used to
stay, still remind us of the magnitude of commerce that took place. The Bactrian
camel (double hump) of Nubra valley is a relic from Xinjiang. A generation of
people in Nubra still speaks the Uyghur dialect. Food served in some of old
streets of Leh has a distinctly Central Asian flavour.

Central and Popular

At 18,250 feet, Karakoram was one of the highest trade
routes. Now, a motorable road exists through Khardungla (18,680 feet) and
Turumputila up to the base of Saser Kangri. Thereafter, a track moves over to
camp sites of Murgo (in Yarkandi, also known as the gateway of death), Burtsa,
Kazilangar, Deptsang la, Daulat Beg Oldi (the Indo-Tibetan Border Police post
named after a Xinjiang caravan leader who was buried here) and finally to the
Karakoram Pass. Notably, the India-China boundary at the pass is not disputed;
it is indicated by two heaps of stones at a distance of 50 feet, one Indian, and
the other Chinese. It is an eight daytrek from the picturesque Nubra Valley to
the Karakoram Pass. It is not possible to get lost there — the trail of bones
and skeletons of men and animals constantly remind the weary traveller of the
ruggedness of terrain and weather. But in spite of those drawbacks, the
Karakoram Pass remained popular due to its centrality and affinity with Ladakhis.
The Silk Route, through which passed Chinese merchandise, notably silk to Rome,
is a primary axis of transportation through the heart of Asia. A number of
auxiliary axes feed into the Silk Route. An important feeder route from the
lower Himalayas was from Hunza via Sarikol into Xinjiang via the Mintaka Pass.
This route is now a part of the Northern Areas of Pakistan. Another more
important route was via Karakoram from the Leh-Nubra valley or Leh-Changla pass-Shyok

Modern link

Pakistan has always enhanced its strategic power much more
than its economic and scientific potential by making full use of its
geostrategic location. It was at the 1955 Bandung Non-Aligned nations conference
that President Ayub Khan and Premier Chou en Lai met for the first time and
later concluded, in 1963, the historic Sino-Pakistan Boundary Agreement.
Earlier, Pakistan Army engineers had built a Indus Valley road to Gilgit. Later,
Pakistan concluded an agreement with China to transform this road into an
allweather dual carriageway all the way up to the Mintaka Pass.

Completed in 1969, the Karakoram Highway pushes north through
Islamabad, Gilgit and crosses the Karakoram range through the 16,000ft Khunjerab
Pass. The highway abandoned the Mintaka Pass because of its proximity to Russia
and the road is now closer to and strengthens the Xinjiang-Aksai Chin Western
Tibet road. Approximately 10,000 Chinese and 15,000 Pakistani engineers and army
troops were employed in building the road with 80 bridges. The road was hailed
by the Londonbased Financial Times as “China’s new trade outlet to Africa and
Middle East” in the Pakistan Himalayas via a “modernized ancient silk route”
(quoted by Dawn , Karachi, April 30, 1971).


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