Chinese Premier Hu Jintao’s visit to Delhi on Monday is a sign of hope for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. They are looking for opening of a historical cross-border trade route to China from their land.
They are confident that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will deliver on his promise. During his visit to Leh last year, Singh had promised that he would take up the matter of the opening of the trade route from Leh to China whenever he would get an opportunity to talk to his Chinese counterpart.
"Now, we see that opportunity has come,” says Tsering Dorjay, Chief Executive Councillor of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), "for Prime Minister to take up the issue with Hu Jintao".
The council is a mini government of the cold desert region. They are hopeful that Hu Jintao who is Beijing’s face of changing times and pursuer of economic liberalization will give a thought to the re-opening of Leh-Kailash Mansarovar route.
Ladakhis have been wanting re-opening of this route for years. For them, such a re-opening would bring tourists and boost their mutual trade and economy from both the sides as in the recent years, Jammu and Kashmir, like the rest of the country, has started sending tourists to China (especially, Shanghai).
"Moreover western Tibet is so far away from mainland China, that this route is economically viable to re-open this route. This is free of the problems that Nathu la Pass faces," Dorjay told Hindustan Times over phone.
The re-opening of Leh-Kailash Mansarovar route depends on nod of Chinese leadership. Ladakhis believe that Jintao can do it. The Jammu and Kashmir Government has convinced the Centre about the usefulness of the opening of the route, since the days of Farooq Abdullah's reign in the state.
That re-opening of the road that would ferry tourists and pilgrims to Hindu pilgrimage centre - Kailash Mansarovar within two days as against the arduous journey of trekking through rocks and bridal paths via Uttranchal - prone to landslides and other risks.
Another logic has been added to their armoury that if Nathu la Pass can be thrown open between Sikkim and China, why this route cannot be thrown open.
"The visit of Chinese Premier is an opportunity. In today's world when barriers are collapsing, keeping a historical route closed makes no sense,” says Ghulam Hassan Mir, former Tourism Minister who had taken some initiatives on this count during his term as minister.
"This move would offer benefits to Chinese as well. Chinese tourists can travel to Kashmir via this route," says M Ashraf, former Director General of Tourism. He is an authority on Himalayan tourism.
Kashmir has two routes connecting China – one through Karkoram pass in the Nubra Valley and second through Leh – Demchuk on the Indian side to Kailash Mansarover.
Leh-Demchuk – Kailash Mansarovar is just a two-day road journey from Leh upstream Indus via Upishi, Nayoma and 14,500 feet high Hanley where the highest observatory has been installed recently to Demchok and then onto Kailash Mansarovar.
This historic route also touches Tsokar Lake, a salt-water lake. This route was both trade route, and can serve a better and smooth alternative for the pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar. It is a week’s journey Leh-Kailsah Mansarovar – Leh against three week arduous and dangers climb and trek via Uttaranchal.
"Kashmir was a branch of the silk route and both the history and geography testify to that," says Ashraf, who is also a historian. Traders used to take salt, tea and spices from here, while they would get silk from China.
Dorjay said that in ancient times grains - wheat, barley and dry apricot used to be sent from Ladakh, we hope to send the same and much more if the trade route opens."
"We are keeping our fingers crossed," Dorjay said, epitomising the prevailing sentiment of Ladakhis and people in rest of the state.
They have seen two cross LoC travel routes open between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan occupied Kashmir, now they want revival of the ancient Silk Route in Leh.