2007 #17: Chai With The India Tibet Border Patrol (ITBP)

Raj, owner of our guesthouse in Chitkul, is a very interesting guy to talk to. He is very high caste, is the local postmaster and also secretary of the temple committee. In fact, you might as well come right out and say he’s pretty much chief of the village. So he knows a fair amount of history about the place.

He has servants of his own to mind his flocks, etc, so it felt a little odd to have him cooking for and serving us. The two times he accepted our invitation for a drink of angori, he wouldn’t sit in the chair. He would crouch down facing us. No matter what we said, he wouldn’t sit in the chair. Personally, I found that quite awkward. It didn’t feel right to be looking down on him.

However. He told us a few things about the village, such as;

  • It burned down 70 – 80 years ago and was rebuilt a little further down the hill
  • In older times, a man would be taken up the hill across the river and sacrificed. Each year. Now they just sacrifice a goat.
  • The Maharaja of the Bushar Kingdom (who was based in Ramur) used to come up sometimes and stay in the fort, which is the tallest building in the village and has been recently re-roofed. This fort is at least 200 years old.
  • Caste used to be a lot more important here. There was a lower caste that had to put their hands over their mouths before addressing someone of Raj’s caste. Their shadows weren’t allowed to touch either. We had a wee bit of a discussion about how awkward this would be if you needed to have a prolonged conversation. Raj doesn’t remember these times. He’s 60 and his mother told him about it when he was a kid.
  • The locals here used to trade with Tibet until the 1970’s, when China put a stop to it. They’d swap rice and wheat for salt. China finally relaxed the rules again though, and it’s starting up again now. They have to have a special permit (only the locals of this village are allowed these) and they go over the Shipki La (pass). They trade kerosene, cigarettes, etc. The ITBP – India Tibet Border Patrol – post is 3 km away and only local with these passes can go past there. Many locals have to go up this way to manage their flocks of goats or sheep.

We thought we’d go for a look at this ITBP for ourselves. So we ambled along on this comfortable flat 3 km walk and wandered into the compound like we were allowed to or something. We approached fairly slowly, of course, to allow them to fire shots into the air if they didn’t want us. No shots ensued, so we continued in. We approached a Sikh guy and chatted with him in our most congenial manner and then asked if we could sit at their picnic table. He accompanied us and I pulled out my little photo album. It was a cunning plan – no Indian can resist a photo book. Within minutes we had most of the soldiers almost inhaling our photos. We told tales of our village and children and they poured us chai.

After a little while, the Area Commander came along. The other soldiers scattered, more chai came out and he too became absorbed in our photos. Then he kindly showed us around the compound – their little Kali temple, the greenhouse and his bunker. We sat in his bunker, which is like a small, half-round barn with a double-door entry, and chatted for a little while. After about half an hour he gave us friendly, firm handshakes and bid us Namaste. We had been dismissed.

It was a very nice walk, the hospitality had been wonderful and we were very happy. We’d gotten as close to Tibet as we couldmet some very nice people and drunk chai in the highest place we could get to in this region. What a day.

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