They Who Walked Mountains
On the Indo-Tibet trade routes used by the Bhotia tribes of Uttaranchal Kumaon.
Scripted, Narrated, Directed
“For centuries the Bhotias traded with Tibet. They brought much needed salt, borax, yak’s tails and woolen cloth and bartered it with Indian grains, jaggery and other goods. The trade routes cut through the western and eastern passes of the Himalayas. The Shaukas of Johar Valley of Uttaranchal were one such group of Bhotia traders.
The route they used cut through the valleys of the fast flowing Gori river and across the treacherous Untadhura and Kingri Bingri passes, 19000ft. high. It was the oldest route in the Uttaranchal Himalayas being the traditional one to holy Kailash Manasarovar. In 1962 these passes were closed following the Indo Chinese war. Trade came to an end and with it a centuries’ old culture that had bonded the Tibetan and Bhotia communities in familial friendships. These border clans of Shaukas, Rungs, Tochas and Marchas fell under the nomenclature of Scheduled Tribes. They soon abandoned their villages for occupations in the plains losing much of their distinctive way of life. With the economy disrupted these villages along the fast flowing Gori river became khandars. This film captures some of those memories of legendary traders. It also speaks of hazardous journeys taken under harsh climes, journeys that were lessons in friendship and faith.
These routes also fostered the fascination of western explorers. Tibet was the mystic Shangri La, the mythic land of gold. When Kumaon Garhwal fell under British rule after the defeat of the Gorkhas in 1815, Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of India, sent 28 year old George Bogle to penetrate the Himalayas. Several expeditions followed in the 19th century; the Strachey brothers, Hearsey and Moorecraft and others. The Great Trigonometric Society employed young Bhotia traders of Milam village to map the vast unknown deserts of western Tibet, the legendary explorers Nain Singh and Kishan Singh Rawat.
This film is a tribute to those traders, they who once walked over mountains. In doing so it engages in the question of political boundaries which asunder border communities.
The documentary was screened at :
Institute of Oriental Studies, Almaty, October 2011
Free University, Amsterdam, October 2003
IGNCA, New Delhi, October 2002
Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival, December 2002
Gulmohar Hall, India Habitat Centre, 9 October 2002
Mumbai Mountain Film Fest, Tibet House, New Delhi, May 2002
The film was also used by NYU Anthropology Dept. for their syllabus on Tibet
Distributed by Magic Lantern Movies:
“Knowledge is clearly caught in the memories of people in relation to their habitat, and once the habitat is destroyed, the risks of surviving culturally are very high.”
Read Susan Visvanathan’s review, Intense and Intimate,
on The Hindu, 13 February 2005
“What impresses me is their sense of coexistence at every level, whether it’s with nature, animals or even religions.”
Manju Kak, in Divya Kaeley, Old Stories Retold, The Indian Express, 11 January 2005
“On one level (sic) film deals with the paradox of a society where the older generation created prosperity out of limited ressources giving way to a parasitic one where the youth is dependant on government benefits.”
Vinita Faridi, The Salt Route to Economic Salvation, HT City, 7 October 2002