Reviving the Trade Fairs

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 28 Nov 2015

Munsyari. Into final days of November and had this writer not visited the celebrated Jauljibi Mela ( 14 – 22 November ) earlier this year –  as a part of his re-assessment of all what can worjk in our remote border regions – he would have simply dismissed the thought of a Munsyari Mahotsava, during the last four days of the month as something bordering on madness ! Not only the recently commenced Munsyari Mahotsava, during the wintry November month, commenced its second edition today but promises to be a fitting finale to a comparatively more successful year of traditional Trade Fairs, for which these border regions have once been famous for.

Malla Dummar and Jauljibi .  

Convinced that all socio-cultural events which have withstood the vicissitudes of times deserve a serious re-look as something as a pivot to trigger the manufacturing and producton activities of a region this writer commenced taking interest in organizing some as old as 60 plus years. Malla Dummar, a village some 11 kms down-wards towards Goriphat region of Munsyari tehsil, has been persisting with what is locally known as Sri Hari Krishi and Udyog Pradrashini, and commenced some 62 years ago by one Tusli Devi Rawat, to commemorate the memory of her late brother, who laid his life for the freedom struggle of our Independence. This three day Exhibition Fair ( 5- 7 November ) has been going on for the last 62 years ! Nowithstanding the 1960 China War that totally snapped the trade link with centuries old Tibetan trade, and later the Zamindari Abolition, that literally broke the back of hard-working and honest Shauka trader, could not decimate their fervour, and this Sri Hari Mela continued, uninterrupted. Talk of resilience of our rural border folks ! Readers would be happy to know that the Sri Hari Mela has now found a new lease of life and this year it was a memorable string of commencement of herabal and agricultural development initiatives, women farmers getting their due, over-due as it was. Dr Pattanaika of the Vivekanand Agriculture Institute coming all the way from Almora, with his team of senior scientists, promising, almost a New Deal for High Altitude Farming ! The Herbal Resaerch Development Institute, arguably out-did every thing that this writer knows of, and know he does as he has handled it for many many years, by commencing long awaited appropriate cultivation of some Ashtvarg Medivcicinal herbal plants ! The Sarmoli Herbal Garden soon promises to deliver what HRDI has not been so far. These developments have been reported in Garhwal Post already.

The Jauljibi Trade Fair, which took place simultaneoulsy with the celebrated Gauchar Trade Fair in Garhwal, indeed heralded return of the Indian trdaers from their Tibetan marts, Taklakot, Gynamima and some smaller ones, across our Mana Pass and Niti Pass.The British officials, acute businessmen as they essentially were, did not loose a single year to activate and fully under-write these two Tibet Trade Fairs, Gauchar and Jauljibi. 

Post the China War and closure of the High Himalayan Passes even though the Trade Fairs did not stop, they became what came to be described as "Sarkari Melas", full of Sarkari stalls, Development publicity etc. The period 1960 to 2000, has been a period of uttar neglect, as Lucknow was too far away, almost a foreign -land. With no cross-border trade the administration could not care less and our politicians, as most of them had not been aware of their significance, could care still less. However, these lingered on and with the state coming into existence, the past memories just could not be forgotten or allowed to be forgotten. While the Gauchar Mela was lucky to be en route to Badrinath Dham and other Dhams of Uttarakhand these received better attention and better assistance from the district administration. Jauljibi, was compensated with the re-opening of the Lipu Lekh from 1992, with a new Convention. The story goes that as the Chinese Government realized that the Taklakot revival can not do without re-operning it relented and allowed its re-opening. During the past two plus half decades the situation has improved, at least on the Tibetan side, with the Taklakot revamping itself as a Mini Shanghai ! The comparative development of our Byanse villages and Taklakot has already been reviewed in Garhwal Post, some time back. 

Be that as it may, this writer's visit to this celebrated Tibet Trade Fair has convinced him that a time has come when these past Trade Fairs deserve a new look, to revive economic life in these border regions.

Indo-Nepal-Tibet Triangle of Trade 

Just as China has slowed down in its three decade old phenominal growth speed and realized that the present stance of an age old policy of 'trade on sufference', i.e. trade on its own stipulations and terms, would no more hold and the Indian traders could have better options, the new situation provides an opportunity for development of these border disricts. The recent political upheaval in Nepal is likely to ensure that the farthest west districts of Nepal would come to form one of the seven proposed States of Nepal. These border districts of Far West Nepal border on our five blocks of Pithoragarh district, namely Dharchula, Munsyari, Didihat, Kanalichina and Muknakot blocks, nearly or along the river Kali. Dharchula and its neighbouring district in Nepal, Darchula, have had very close relations, both trade and otherwise and their delings are almost on daily basis. 

The Jauljibi Trade Fair, as it stands today, does not have a bilateral co-operation i.e. by the Indian and Nepal Governments. As  a matter of fact its long neglect has resulted in existence of various economic activities which if worked on properly and properly encouraged by both the countries , have a good propspect of making it a win-win situation of some 12 districts of Nepal and bordering two districts of India, Pithoragarh and Champawat.

It is with this objective when this writer paid visists to Dharchula and Jaljibi Fair he received every indication of this Indo-Nepal economic co-operation being received with enthusiasm by the citizens of these border districts. The increased Indo-Nepal, along the Kali border, trade is bound to have its salutary effect on a much imporved Indo-Tibet trade, which has been going on since 1992, without much traction.

The China Decline & Taklakot

My discussions with some of the traders who had just returned from Taklakot at Dharchula, and later at the Jauljibi Fair confirmed that this year the Tibetan and Chinese Officials, alarmed with the Chinese Decline in their exprts and economic growth, had specifically exhorted them " Tum apne achche businessmen lao aur hum bhi apne achche business men layengae " ( You bring your best traders and we will also do the same, we will also allow more range of exports and import of goods ). There are indications that the Chinese economy now facing a southward trend is anxious to lieberalise further the existing range of goods and ready to provide better trade of terms.

It would do well for Indian  Government to reach out to its Chinese counterpart for ( i ) re-opening of new routes, like Niti, Mana and Teen Dhura, ( ii ) Expansion of items of exchange, including several commodities that the traders feel would fetch business, and ( iii ) provide facilities like Quarantibne facilities, Exchange Rate facilities at Gunji and Dharchual, to begin with, and better facilyties to the India  traders visiting the Tibetan marts. Tiem to take action is now, and a formal meeting with the traders and the Trade Officer should commence right now and the Chinese Government sounded via the Government of Uttarakhand.

There exists a solid case to examine the cross-district trade between all Indian and Nepalese districts, relax trade norms and facilities, promote intra-regional trade by allowing concessions. With an improved Indo-Nepalese trade across the Kali river in Pithoragarh and Champawat district, the entire region is bound to gain economically. As this Indo-Nepales trade across the Kali improves its direct and indirect impact on the Indo-Tibetan trade could only be beneficial to all the three countries, benefitting our border people tremendously.

Chain of Trade Fairs

This writer's present observations on Malla Dummar and Jauljibi Fairs have been triggered by this late Munsyari Mahotsava, as its proves that the opportunities of trade transactons can be adversely impacted, but only up to a point. The following winter months to be made fullt active and fruitful for the local economy has to be supported by the state initially, by way of doing things that would enhance and intensify people-to-people interface. There is no interface more potent and effective than participating in Trade Fairs, which mix business with pleasure. Mall Dummar ( 5-7 November ), Jauljibi ( 14 – 22 November ) added with Munsyari Trade Fair ( 8-13 November ) could be a new chain of Fairs and Mahostsavas that can warm up business proceedings in the farthest regions of our state. These also hold potential of expanding into a major door-opener for a very large international trade, to be held at Jauljibi, with equal partnership of the Far Western Nepal States.districts, returning traders from Taklaot and even the Tibetan traders bringing Tibetan trade articles like in the past. With a far better road and other communication facilities these Fairs could well be of and on an altogether different league, befitting a Resurgent Uttarakhand ! 

Role of the Askot Rajwar

Aware of an ancient and abiding role of the Askot Rajwar who has been described by one of Kumaon Commissioners as 'something of a Warden of Marches' when this writer presented him his latest book, the Twilight of the British Raj – which for the first time describes the status of Askot officially- sought his active involvement of te future evolution of such a conceived International trade Fair at Jauljibi, he was full of enthusiasm.  All the roads leading to and conevrging on Jaljibi, at the confluenec of Gori of Johar and Kali of Byanse-Chaudans, are under a massive over-haul, and soon shall be wide enough to carry any amount of load and number of tourists. The opportunity is just right to revive Jauljibi to its past glodry, this time as a tri-national International Trade Fair, with full support of all three countries. Rajwar of Askot, as he holds the traditional rights over the Fair land must be allowed a pride of place and due monetary recompensation fo his support.

Tail-piece: When broached this idea of reviving the traditional Jauljibi Trade Fair to its old glory and appropriate role for the Rajwar of Askot, Harish Dhami, the Chairman Van Nigam, agreeing with the idea added that he has also announced that such a rle should be assigned to the Askot Rajwar, from the platform of the Jauljibi Fair this year. That makes it two of us

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