The New Silk Road

By Prasiit Sthapit

The first time I visited the Timure-Rasuwagadhi stretch in 2011, a Nepali policeman stationed at the border village of Rasuwagadhi had insisted, “Don’t take pictures facing the Chinese side, they don’t allow that. We’ll get into trouble.”

Amid such displays of nervous tension, the Chinese were in the process of restoring the ancient trade route to Kerung, Tibet, once a southern extension of the old Silk Road. Traditionally used by yak caravans bartering salt for rice, the route was upgraded to an 18-kilometre stretch of highway connecting Syabrubesi to Rasuwagadhi. It was built to connect Kathmandu to Kerung, further facilitating border trade between Nepal and China.

The locals, however, had a different take on the development.

Once a stop in the famed Tamang Heritage trail, it is known for preserving its culture and tradition. “It has made things easier,” Nima Ghale of Timure had said. “The journey to Syabrubesi used to take five to six hours, but doesn’t take more than two now, even by foot.” Transporting goods is also more convenient. But there are concerns about long-term consequences. “All the land is being bought up by people from Trishuli and further south. Soon, the whole village will be owned by them, and we’ll have to resort to collecting firewood and fodder for money,” she says. “The poor will just get poorer.”

The twin earthquake of 2015 caused huge landslides in the region, destroying most of the houses in the village of Timure and flattening the temporary customs post in Rasuwagadhi. Dozens lost their lives and some bodies have not yet been found. After the quake and the closing of another trade post with China, Rasuwagadhi/Timure is the biggest trade route to the country. Timure, is now all set to become arguably one of the fastest growing town in Nepal, hosting the Customs Office with a parking space for around 500 trucks heading to and coming from China and a very big hydro-electricity project. The village is now in a head on collision with fast paced development with little consideration for anything else, much less its history. Caught between elation and apprehension, the residents of the area look to an uncertain future.