Abdul Aziz (name changed), 24, is an unhappy soul. He is feeling the palpable tension along the line of actual control in the Ladakh region of high mountains of trans-Himalayas, better known as the cold desert.
His “trade” (trans-border smuggling) is down for he cannot bring in Chinese goods, nor can he sell Indian items to the Chinese. He is workless.
The tension on the borders has dealt a severe blow to the illegal Sino-Indian trade in the Ladakh region, north of Jammu & Kashmir, and many shopkeepers and unemployed youth are affected by this.
They are not allowed to go to the border areas. The army has prohibited their movement beyond a point after the tensions erupted in December last year, though they were allowed earlier.
He was a frequent visitor to Dumselle, 300 km east of Leh.
Aziz, who is from a village near Leh, is spouting venom at the Chinese incursions and the tension they have caused.
“Our trade is off,” he lamented.
His story is that of many others who used to make money by bringing in Chinese blankets, flasks, shoes and mobiles from a stealth trade centre at Dumeselle, 300 km east of Leh, where the Indians and Chinese would trade until November last year.
“From our side, we would sell sugar, wheat flour, apricot and walnut and bring in flasks, shoes and mobiles,” he told Hindustan Times. But now that doesn’t happen now. The business is down.
This trade centre, a big bowl-shaped area, is located at the Dumselle mountains, after a big climb of more than 2 km.
“The Chinese set up stalls there, and we sell our items,” Aziz said.
“Yes, it is in the know of the two armies (Indian and Chinese), but the traders are cleverer,” he said, suggesting that the men knew how to give the troops a slip and travel long distances unnoticed.
There exists bonhomie between the traders of the two sides. “We strayed into Chinese territory, unknowingly,” Aziz recalled his last visit to the area two years ago. “Suddenly, we spotted a vehicle coming in our direction; we hailed the vehicle thinking it was an Indian one, but it turned out to be Chinese.”
When Aziz and three of his associates wanted to know how to approach the place where they had parked their vehicle after having lost their way, the men in vehicle told them that they were in Chinese territory. They also turned out to be Chinese “traders”.
“They guided us and we walked up to our place, partly in the light of the headlamps of their vehicle in the night. The area of mountains and bridal path were slippery.”
It’s a barter system. “We price our products and they do theirs; then items are exchanged,” Aziz said.
Sugar is in high demand on the Chinese side. And this side looks for Chinese flasks and blankets most (six kg of sugar for one flask worth Rs 250).
Chinese flasks keep the tea hot for more than 24 hours, and Indian ones are no match for those. And they work when the temperature is minus 18 to minus 25 degree Celsius.
Ladakhis are very fond of tea. Since these flasks, of different sizes, can store up to two litres of tea, these are preferred over the Indian ones.
They would be bought at the Indian rate of Rs 150-250 per piece, and sold here at double the price.
“Now it is not available in the market even at four times the rate,” and those who have stored them can sell at a much higher rate, pegged at Rs 800-900,” said Stanzin, a shopkeeper in the main market of Leh. He refused to give his full name.
Similarly, the blankets, which were available at Rs 1,200 a piece, are now not available even at double the price. The stocks have exhausted and the new ones are not coming.
The visitors would take Chinese items as a souvenir from here, mostly flasks, but now they scan the markets and return disappointed.