Dirt-cheap Chinese goods are no rarity in the Indian market. Still, it's baffling to know that a good breed of a Chinese horse costs even less than a low-priced cell phone, if the Indian customs department is to be believed.
During the three-month-long Sino-India trade across Shipki — 18 Chamurthi horses, known for their firm footing on rough terrain, were brought by Indian traders from China for Rs. 3,000 each, going by the prices recorded by the department, which set up a temporary post along the Chinese border. However, a quality Chamurthi horse fetches Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 60,000 in the Indian market.
Shipki is a village located in China-controlled Tibet, the main trading centre. The trade is done through the ancient silk route, passing through the tribal Kinnaur district. The horses brought from China were sold last month during the traditional Lavi fair at Rampur, once the capital of the erstwhile Bushar kingdom.
The trade data compiled by the customs department says that items worth Rs. 5.74 lakh were exported from India to China, while the total amount of imports is pegged at Rs. 9 lakh. However, the cost of the imported items sold in the Indian market is more than Rs. 1crore.
Last year, the total exports were estimated at about Rs. 7.50 crore and the total imports at around Rs. 9.2 lakh.
Sources said the “suspiciously” low prices of goods purchased from Chinese traders were attributed to under-valuation and under-pricing.
The rare Chigu goat, a species reared in the high mountains of Tibet for fine cashmere wool, was purportedly bought for only Rs. 650 each. However, one such goat fetches Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 8,000 in the local market in Kinnaur and Rampur. This year, 1,100 Chigu goats were brought from Shipki by Indian traders, who are mostly Kinnauris inhabiting border villages.
A cup and saucer of rare bone-china crockery costs even less than Rs. 10. A carton of 1,000 piece bone-china crockery set brought from Shipki cost about Rs. 2,000. Local traders brought 93 cartons of bone-china crockery from Tibet. Yak tails, used for decorating palanquins of local deities revered by locals in Kinnaur, Kullu, Mandi, Shimla and Sirmour districts, were also imported from Tibetan villages.
Trade between China and India on the ancient silk route began this year in September, one month behind schedule, due to the union ministry of home affairs' strict directions for verifying credentials of traders going across the border. Earlier, it was the local additional district magistrate's office at Pooh in Kinnaur that issued passes. This time, the passes were issued on the instructions of central intelligence agencies.
According to official information, passes were issued to 24 traders, who made 84 trips to Shipki.
India's border with China in Kinnaur district has emerged as a hub of illegal trading. Last year, the police, on a tip-off from intelligence agencies, recovered rare sander wood brought from Andhra Pradesh, which was heading for Chinese villages. The sander wood seized was priced at more than Rs. 2 crore in the Indian market, while its cost in the international market is even higher.
Investigating into cross-border smuggling held two Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel who were later suspended for conniving with local smugglers.
This year, too, smuggling had come to light when the Kinnaur police seized 9,000 quintals of prized Pashmina wool, costing more than Rs. 2 crore. The consignment, brought from China, was being smuggled to New Delhi.
Trade with China through Shipki had come to an end after the 1962 Sino-India war. Business on this route resumed in 2002. Since then, only Indian traders go to China, while no Tibetan trader has visited India. The main items sold by Indian traders included rice, spices, textiles, gold, cooking oil, utensils and local horses. People residing in Chinese villages close to the Indian border make purchases mainly of eatables and rations from Indian traders during the trade season.