Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Chinese tourists arrive on the Indian border

Le (or Legbo) village north of the McMahon Line
While Delhi remains stuck with its ‘colonial’ system of Inner Line/Protected Area Permit system, China has opened its side of the frontier to hordes of tourists coming to the Mainland.
Yesterday, China Tibet News reported that “Legbo Valley creates ‘natural oxygen bar’ tourism brand.”
The catchy title is not very clear, but the location of the ‘Legbo Valley’ is speaking. ‘Legbo’ or ‘Le’ (or Lepo’) village is located just a few kilometers north of the McMahon Line (LAC) in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh.
One still remember the Thagla ridge, the site of the Namkha chu battle during the 1962 conflict with China.
Le village is situated on the Tibetan side of the ridge, not far from Khinzemane, the last Indian post on the Namjiang chu (river).
Today, Le village comes under the administration of Tsona County/Dzong of Lhoka City, Southern Tibet.
China Tibet News says that the area is not only renowned “as natural oxygen bar; but it is also the settlement of Monpa people with simple and unique ethnic customs.”
‘Natural oxygen bar’ is just a gimmick to attract tourism, as the altitude is not so high (Zemithang, the last big village on the Indian side is at 2,100 meter asl) and the area is afforested, with plenty of oxygen.
The Chinese site says: “To create the tourism brand of ‘natural oxygen bar’, by centering [sic] on the Legbo [Le] Valley scenic spot, Cona [Tsona] County strengthens the construction of tourism infrastructures, improves tourism services, explores unique folk customs, develops characteristic local products, and builds tourism leisure resort destination.”
All this on the Chinese side of the LAC!
China Tibet News gives figures: up the beginning of 2016 up to November “the number of tourist reception in Legbo Valley is 46,242 passengers and tourism revenue is 15.929 million yuan, increasing 20.4% and 18.5 respectively.”
It is not clear what a ‘passenger’ is, but it seems a lot of visitors for such a small border village.
Beijing is said to be ready to invest some 89 million yuan (14.5 million US dollars) to have “an ecological civilization site”.
Ecological site or military base?
Probably both!
Like most of the places in Southern Tibet (particularly in the Nyingchi prefecture) local farmers (and even herdsmen) are encouraged to open up ‘Inns’ (family hotels). The Chinese site speaks of promoting “a combination of characteristic culture and tourism.”
The nearby town of Tsona is ‘the site of commodity’ [sic] and is where the Tsangyang Gyatso Festival [takes place].
Let us remember that Tsangyang Gyatso, the Sixth Dalai Lama was born in Urgyeling, a hamlet south of Tawang. Tsona is not the birthplace of the ‘Indian’ Dalai Lama, though he stayed there for a short time while on his way to Lhasa; strangely the town is today promoted as Tsangyang Gyatso's place.
China Tibet News reports that during a first phase of investment (77 million yuan or 6 million dollars poured into the area), a ‘characteristic’ small town project is being launched in Le village: “The overall planning project of Kyipa and Gomri Monpa nationality township has been completed. At present, the Legbo Valley tourism leisure resort has been basically formed, attracting tourists with unique charm.”
All this would be fine, it was not happening a few kilometers away from the LAC.
Beijing has used a similar tactic in Metok County, located near the Indian border (Upper Siang). This small country, with a population of hardly 11,000 inhabitants received over 70,000 visitors in 2015.
China Tibet Online, an affiliate of Xinhua reported last year that since a highway reached the village of Metok in 2013, “tourism industry has seen rapid development”. In 2015, Metok officially welcomed some 70,800 tourists. For the first time in 2014, the authorities of the county started selling tickets for entrance to its scenic areas; in 2015, total ticket sales have exceeded 5 million yuan.
The propaganda invites the Chinese tourists to see the Galongla Waterfall, the wonder of Swallow Pond, the Metok Waterfalls, the Menba suspended tower and other scenic sites, “as well as ‘plant fossil’ spinulosa trees and other such thousands of kinds of plants and animals.”
The potential tourists in China are told that Metok “is famous for its natural ecology and highland tropical climate. The drop in elevation here is huge, with both brilliant snow mountains and tropical and subtropical plants existing side-by-side, and it is knows as a hiker’s paradise.”
I wonder how many Indian tourists are allowed to Zemithang or Tuting/Geling (Metok is located just north of these villages on the Yarlung Tsangpo river — the river becomes the Siang in Arunachal and later the Brahmaputra in Assam).
Incidentally, was the visit of the Party boss of the Tibet Autonomous Region, near the LAC north of the Upper Subansiri district, linked with a similar scheme to 'occupy the frontiers with tourists' north of the Upper Subansiri district?

India to emulate China
Delhi should perhaps emulate China and open the Indian borders to tourism.
Would it not be the best way for the Government of India to demonstrate that Arunachal is part of India?
For Beijing, the trend is bound to continue; the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been told that all new infrastructures built in China should be able to be used for civilian and military requirements.
According to Xinhua, on November 10, President Xi Jinping called for the building of strong and modern logistics forces that will guarantee the realization of the Chinese dream as well as the dream of a strong army.
Xi said: “As the international military competition situation experiences profound changes, and national interests and military missions develop, logistical construction is becoming an increasingly crucial factor that affects wins or losses in battle... and occupies a key place in the development of the Party, the country and the military."
Xi added that “more efforts should be made to use state-level resources and enlist the help of local governments as well as social groups and individuals to develop a series of innovation projects that cater to both military and civilian uses.”
As the result in 2016, 50,000 ‘passengers’ will come a few kilometers from the Indian border.
India should start thinking about the implications of this development.
Incidentally, Lt Gen Devraj Anbu, the GOC of 4 Corps called yesterday on Arunachal Chief Minister Pema Khandu. According to press reports, the discussion centered on construction of roads in the border areas and land acquisition for army use; Gen Anbu also suggested having an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) in the Tawang-Kameng area.
How many years it will take, nobody knows; India is not China.

For information, I am reproducing an extract of the Diary of Capt Frederick Bailey during his journey in the area in 1913. Based on this report, McMahon drew the famous Line.
20th October, Shakti, 11 ½ miles, 7,250 feet. We had a good view down the valley of the Tawang Chu this morning and were shown the frontiers of Bhutan. Our road left the Tawang valley and went up the Nyamjang valley. We had to change our coolies at several villages and were delayed each time. We passed some terraced rice cultivation at Gyipu. The hills were covered in forest. We stopped in a house in the village of Shakti. No rain.

21st October, Le, 19 miles, 8,350 feet. We made a very late start as were again had trouble with our local coolies. Two miles from Shakti we crossed to the right bank of the river and six miles further we came to a large [Gorsam] chorten of a peculiar design having a base of over 50 yards. A mile beyond this was Pangchen on the left bank above which the river has been dammed up by a landship and there are marshy flats [near Zemithang]; at other places the river flows in a very valley with steep sides covered with forest. At Shoktsen where we changed transport we again had trouble with the coolies who threw our loads down and bolted into the jungle. The road is in places over galleries and causeways built up in from the river. We crossed the river 3 tames by good wooden bridges. We arrived after dark, the villagers of Le coming out to meet us with torches of dried bamboo. We stopped in a house. No rain.

[And then Bailey and his colleague Henry Morshead continued towards Tsona]

22nd October, Trimo, 10miles, 10,700 feet.-We went up the valley all day crossing the river 3 times. After going 5 ½ miles we suddenly came on Lepo Tsukang or custom house astride the road where we found an agent of the Tsona Dzongpons who took us in and gave us tea. He collects a tax in kind of 10 per cent on all merchandise which goes up into Tibet from the lower lying Monba country. He also collects 1 tanka on each animal and ½ tanka on each man who passes his post. At Trimo we found the people, though still Monbas, to be very Tibetan in their appearance; they grow crops of barley and turnips but maize and other Himalayan crops have been left behind. Their cattle are dzos. No rain.

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