Cold, quiet and tense: Last village before Doklam lives in fear of India-China row
More than 700 Indian and Chinese troops are stuck in a faceoff at Doklam, a plateau located at the narrow but strategically important tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan.Updated: Jul 16, 2017 20:56 IST
The hamlet at an altitude of 13,900 feet some 68 kilometres east of Gangtok betrays little sign of the tension brewing in its neighbourhood. The narrow hilly roads are deserted and most residents are indoors. But for the rustle of the icy cold winds blowing across, Kuppup is quiet and there is hardly any trace of activity.
All the action, however, is just seven kilometers away, at Doklam on the contested tri-junction of China, India and Bhutan. It is here that India and China are engaged in a tense month-long standoff over a dispute triggered by Beijing’s claim over the territory. Both India and its ally Bhutan dispute the claim.
As the last Indian habitation high up in the Himalayas on the way to Doklam, Kuppup has a ringside view of the festering dispute. As tensions ratchet up on the international border, residents of Kuppup – a hamlet of 200-odd tin-roofed huts – have decided to stay tight-lipped.
“There is enough trouble nearby. We don’t need more trouble,” says a 54-year-old housewife who runs a tea stall from her roadside home.
Overshadowed by giant peaks dotted with outposts of the Chinese army, Kuppup villagers are reminded of Chinese presence even in normal times. Around a corner of the road leading to Doklam that is heavily patrolled currently by Indian troops of the 17 Mountain Division, a signboard reads: “Caution: Chinese observation starts”.
Local officials have also told the villagers not to speak out of turn, particularly to any outsider adventurous enough to undertake the seven-kilometer arduous trek to Kuppup from the Nathula border pass.
The media, in particular, is unwelcome. “We have a magisterial order to detain media persons here,” explains a local Sikkim police official while escorting out this correspondent.
Locals are reluctant to narrate the sights and sounds they are witness to amid the expected troop buildup along the border. Many of men folk are engaged as porters for the Indian army while several work for the Garrison Reserve Engineering Force (GREF) of the Border Roads Organisation that builds and maintains strategic border roads along the international frontier. No one wants to earn the displeasure of the army.
Residents, however, do talk about a senior GREF official sacked from his job recently after he spoke to an outsider. They instead prefer to speak about how India-China border trade has taken a hit at Sherathang, some nine kilometers from Kuppup.
The trade outpost normally saw 100 trucks from Rintigang in China’s Chumbi Valley come in at the trading post laden with jackets, shoes, clothes and other gift items. They usually went back loaded with Indian goods. Of all Indian items, Parle G biscuits and Dalda vegetable oil were reportedly the most sought after.
But locals say the volume of the trade has gone down drastically since the standoff began. “No more than 20-25 trucks come these days,” points out a trader Chewang.