Across the Himalayas through the Ages By Rashmi Pant

Khcmanand Chandola Patriot Publishers  IRs90

In this study, the author examines a variety of ancient, medieval and modern sources to advance a political claim for an Indian interest in Western Tibet today. He bases his thesis on the tributary relationships with northern Indian kingdoms in the past, common lineages, shared religious beliefs and practices, as well as close economic ties through trade. Such a political claim is questionable in its own right; it is also supported in this book by an often erroneous interpretation of historical sources.
Statements from epics, courtly chronicles, myths, travelogues, reports of colonial officials, works of historians as weli as archaeological evidence are all accepted at face value. Such uncritical use of sources has characterized almost every history of the Garhwal region. History as a professional discipline today must involve economics, geography, anthropology, structural linguistics and literary criticism,
Chandola recounts myths that trace the descent of Tibetan ruling dynasties from Indian clans such as the Licchavis and the Mallas. Rather than taking the myths literally and trying to establish biological descent, it would have been truer to the nature of myth to see them as legitimizing ideological claims. Similarly, the folk myth that Bhotiya and Huniya traders on either side of the border belong to branches of one family could be better utilized as an ideological construct.
According to Chandola, Indo-Tibetan trade is marked by pre-market exchange in which gift-giving, familial norms and exclusive partnership temper purely commercial transactions. Trading between Tibet and China is more commercial and lacks such ritual and personal ties. It would be wrong to argue from this, as the author does, that Tibet´s economic ties are closer with India than with China.
In fact, the trading structure on the Chinese border even led to the rise of a Tibetan bourgeoisie which set up mediating mechanisms between individual Tibetan   traders and Chinese
merchants. In the comparative framework of economic anthropolgy, the economy of Tibet would thus appear to be better integrated with China than with India, therefore requiring less support from quasi-kinship structures.
Notwithstanding his interpretation of materials, the author, a political activist in Garhwal, has great familiarity with the region. The book is replete with details that come from a long association with the people. Had the book focused on economic and social institutions within a comparative framework, it would have had greater relevance. (This review first appeared in The Times  of India.

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