Sam Cowan: All Change at Rasuwa Garhi
Friendship Bridge in March 2013. This shows some of the extensive new building on the Chinese side of the border crossing. The Chinese have recently started work on a dry port on the Nepal side to ease the congestion caused by the present archaic system for the transshipment of goods from Khasa [Zhangmu in Tibetan] through the Tatopani custom offices on the Nepal side. Khasa is visible in the top left hand corner. This is where trucks from Nepal are loaded with goods from China.
On the road to Friendship Bridge, below Kodari. Work is going on in March 2013 to repair some of the 2012 monsoon damage. The last 26km of the road up the steep sided gorge from Bahrabise to the border is in a poor state with landslide damage made worse by unrestricted stone quarrying above the road.
Arriving at Rasuwa Garhi in the autumn of 2006. A peaceful and tranquil place. The Bhote kosi, flowing south, can be seen on the left and the walls of the old fort are straight ahead. The three ladies visible were from a local village and were on their way to cross the border and catch a bus to shop in Kyirong. In 2006 the road-head was just a 30 minute walk beyond the frontier. Rasuwa Gadhi was the scene of a ferocious three day battle which yielded a victory that was much acclaimed in Chinese sources as an outstanding feat of arms. It was the first battle on Nepal territory of the powerful Manchu counter offensive launched in response to the invasion of Tibet in 1791.
Arriving at a much changed Rasuwa Garhi in March 2013. The contrast between the two sides of the frontier is stark. On the Chinese side is a very impressive new five-storey building; on the Nepal side, one new bungalow-style building and a ramshackle collection of huts. Clearly Nepal has a great deal of infrastructure building to do to match Chinese ambitions for this new road crossing point.
The river junction at Rasuwa Garhi in 2006. From the right, the Lende khola joins the Bhote kosi which flows down the valley on the left from Kyirong. A footbridge can be seen leading to the buildings across the frontier. There was no activity at all on the Tibetan side, nor was a single official present on the Nepal side.
The river junction at Rasuwa Garhi in March 2013. Behind the temporary military-style bridge are the anchored retaining wall and concrete supports for the new fly-over bridge, and a very impressive new building. With the construction of the road and the insertion of the temporary bridge, the Chinese linked Kyirong to Kathmandu exactly 50 years after they first proposed doing so. This was their preferred option over the Friendship Bridge route but Mahendra decided otherwise.
Footbridge at Rasuwa Garhi in 2006. The remains of an even older footbridge can be seen on the right. The Chinese have now replaced the modest two storey building with something much grander!
. Footbridge at Rasuwa Garhi in 2013. This gives a closer view of the impressive new buildings on the Chinese side.
A view of the river junction from the east in 2006. This shows the outer walls of Jung Bahadur's fort. The new fly-over bridge will cross between the two very large boulders seen as integral parts of the walls of the fort.
A view from the east of the river junction in 2013. This shows the temporary bridge and concrete supports for the permanent bridge. Press reports suggest that the building of the anchored retaining wall on the Nepal side could cause permanent damage to parts of the walls of the fort.
A section of the impressive new road from Syabrubesi, 500 meters from Rasuwa Garhi. There are nine concrete bridges on the 20km road capable of bearing the heaviest loads. The road was constructed entirely by Chinese labor with Chinese equipment.
A 2006 photo of the ancient chortens in Timure, a Tibetan speaking village 5kms from Rasuwa Garhi. These greatly impressed two early European visitors; Tilman in 1949 and Forbes in 1956. The chortens remain untouched by the new road but press reports suggest that some villagers believe that for them the road will be a mixed blessing.
Landslide near Ramche. The first 5km of the road out of Syabrubesi has recently been black topped but the remaining 10km to Dhunche, through the villages of Mulkharka, Ramche and Gadkhola, traverses one of the most landslide-prone areas in Nepal. This will make maximizing the use of this new road link between the TAR and Nepal a formidable civil engineering challenge.
Sam Cowan first visited the historic crossing point between Nepal and Tibet at Rasuwa Garhi in October 2006. He revisited the place in March 2013. In the same month he also visited the existing road crossing between Nepal and the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) at Friendship Bridge to see the changes taking place there and to better understand why the Chinese are keen to develop a second and more efficient road crossing point for the transhipment of goods.
In his article “All change at Rasuwa Garhi”, in the newly issued Volume 33 of HIMALAYA, he writes about the historic significance of both border crossing points and describes the bridge and road construction already completed at Rasuwa Garhi to link Kyirong in Tibet to Kathmandu. He also gives references which indicate that when the railway is extended from Shigatse to Kyirong, the Chinese anticipate that most trade between China and Nepal will shift to this new link. He concludes by speculating on why China is making such huge efforts to improve Nepal’s infrastructure and cross-border transportation links.
All the photos were taken by Sam Cowan. The captions are intended to describe what is seen in each photo and also to give an indication of the many and varied points covered in his wide-ranging article.
Sam Cowan is a retired British general who knows Nepal well through his British Gurkha connections. He trekked extensively in east and west Nepal during his service, including during the Maoist conflict. Since his retirement eleven years ago, he has trekked at length through most of the Tibetan-speaking lands on Nepal’s northern border. He has written about the Maoist conflict, including an article: “Inside the People’s Liberation Army: a Military Perspective”, published in the European Bulletin of Himalayan Research, Number 37, 2011 and in “Revolution in Nepal: An Anthropological and Historical Approach to the People’s War”, OUP Delhi, 2013.