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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Trade with Tibet through Darma valley before 1962

Darma people (1897 )
      The year 1962 is a watershed year in the history of Darma valley. The border with Tibet  was closed off after the unfortunate war with China. With that came a momentous  change in the economy and culture. It affected many aspects of life in these valleys. But what was it like doing business with Huniyas ( Tibetans) before all this happened?  What was the life style like for a typical Darma trader? Here is an account by Makhan Jha and the paintings are by Henry Savage-Landour who visited Darma valley in 1897.   

Goats carrying Borax

        The winter settlements of the Darma Bhotia are the localities like Tejam, Sobla, Nyu, Dharchula, Balwakot, Galanti and Kalika.Leaving the families in these villages. the traders set out for their operations. First. they go to the trade fairs held at Jauljibi. Thal and Bageshwar. in successive time order. where substantial bulkof imported goods. particularly wool, woollen products., horse, pony. etc. are sold. As these fairs are over. the traders laden the carrier animals for the phase of trading in sub-mountain market centres_en route the local hill villages. The Darmi traders reach their traditional foothills mandi at Tanakpur via Pithoragarh and Lohaghat. The villages which lie surrounding this route are fre-quented by these traders where. principally. Salt, cereal, barter would take place. Borax was also bartered with cereals of the Kumaoni villages. But for wool and woollen products the Bhotia normally liked cash though from traditional customers they used to accept kind also. that is. grains realizing huge profit margins by artful bargainings. From Tanakpur mandi they used to procure jaggery. unrefined and refined sugar, cloth, leather products, tea and fancy items and the richer traders even used to go to Bareily or Kanpur for selling Tibetan goods and acquiring the aforesaid Indian items.

Darma valley - A view from above
Except for very brief periods during summer and winter seasons the traders remained on the move. Only the strong-limbed. able-bodied. courageous fellows of the family belonged to this class.some of whom even would go to the distant mart Gartok (Tibet).or thrice in a year to the Tibetan and foot hlll marts as against twice by the average traders.

A trade  caravan on a high pass...

       Traders of Darma valley had a few intermediate stations for stockpiling the export goods. A systematic pattern was evolved for conveniently carrying the merchandise from the sub-montane Indian marts to the Tibetan centres and vice versa. A few intermediate stations were famous tor dumping the goods. These were Sobla (located at lower Darma. 5 km downhill of last Bhotia village Dar which is non-migratory). and the high altitude villages closer to Tibetan boundary. The export goods acquired from Tanakpur and the hill villages. were initially dumped at Sobla by 2-3 trips within winter. when all the goods had thus been stocik piled.preparations were done to shift those to the high altitude (for example. Duktu. Go. Bidng, Dantu) dumping spots closer to border where from the goods could be transported to Tibetan marts within short time. By mid~July when the passes opened the transportation of goods from Sobla to the high altitude was completed by 3-5 trips. This commenced since May end and the activity picked up by mid—June with gradual receding of snow. Though the distances are shorter than the pretty long route of Tanakpur-Sobla. still the rough terrain and strenuous trekking would compel to undertake more trips as the carrier animals had to be laden lighter.

Alter the Hariyala festival. final departure for Tibet would us-ually occur and the first batch of traders used to cross the borderline by 15 July. The average Darmi traders usually did trade at Silti Chhungra (smaller mart) in adjacent Tibetan region while the bigger traders also visited Gyanima (Tibet). it took at least nine days to reach Silti Chhungra from the southem most Bhotia village Dar in Darma valley. A trader of Dar would make night halts at the camping grounds (parao) in successive order. Sela,. Nagling,. Duktu. Bidang. Pingru,  Dawe the last being at the bottom of Nuwe pass. The conditions beyond Go village used to become quite ditlicult. The firewood had to be carried alter Bidang parao as vegetation would disappear completely after this camp. 

A glacier on the way to the Darma pass

          The most tiring march would start alter Dawe. as to reach the next parao. Mangwal (the first Tibetan camp site for the Darni traders).the pass Nuwe had to be crossed by a steep ascending of about six miles. At points. the route was so badly narrow and risky that the sheep and goat had to be unladened first. then crossed and then the traders carried the loads themselves. to be reloaded on the carrier animals. Bigger transport animals like jabu,. Pony, horse were utilized up to Dawe parao and the terrains of the pass prevented their further march. Besides. to avoid the strong cold winds fatigue from the steep ascent. the Bhotia initiated journey at daybreak (around 3 am) as they used to be anxious to overcome the above hazards. On reaching the Mangwal parao (Tibet) alter 12 days long trekking. they would halt for the night and the following noon they would reach their traditional chhungra (mart) of Silti where the Tibetan traders also used to assemble…
        From “The Himalayas: An Anthropological perspective”
                              By Makhan Jha

Tibetan Goat
        Now it is all history. The times have changed. The present is very different. The trade and the associated life style is all part of the cultural memory. The old traders are almost gone.Very few remember the stories of  the past. In this page I brought together whatever the text and images I could find about this chapter of the Darma valley history.