Encroaching on its neighbor, China has been building roads and providing grain to Nepal.
As most, if not all, Nepalese glaciers studied by scientists are shrinking, traditional ways of subsistence living has become increasingly difficult. With warming, lower snowfall and unpredictable weather patterns, the streams of glacial meltwater that supplies several Himalayan villages have disappeared.
For the past decade or so , harvest yields have been dwindling in some Upper Mustang villages due to an acute water shortage. Upper Mustang in northwestern Nepal is surrounded by Tibet to the west, east and north. The region’s main source of water, the Nhumina Himal glacier, is becoming unreliable as some meltwater streams have already dried up.
Today, instead of farming, the villagers wait for aid from China.
China provides rice, other grains, sugar and salt in aid. In recent years, most Upper Mustang villages have declined the help; they say that the aid products are very low quality. Only a few villages, out of desperation to survive, have to accept aid. Locals claim that their houses are inspected by Chinese officials to make sure that items they do not approve of, such as photos of the Dalai Lama, are taken down before they receive the aid.
The Samzong villagers, for example, mentioned that they disdain accepting aid from China. They think that China is using the aid to slowly gain control of the Nepal Himalayas, especially regions like Upper Mustang which were historically part of Tibetan Buddhist culture.
“What China is doing to us is exactly what China did to Tibet pre-1959,” said one 40-year-old woman. “They first come in, pretending to be nice by giving us grains. They pretend that they are building us roads for our welfare. These are all lies. Slowly but surely they are going to gain control of our land and subjugate us to oppression as they did to the Tibetans. The Nepali government is not going to defend us because they are accepting bribes from China too.”
The Chinese infrastructural influence is already present in Upper Mustang. Because there is no road from the low-lying Nepali districts to the district, most of the goods and services are brought from China, including motorcycles, soft drinks and chocolate. The Chinese are currently funding a road to connect Upper Mustang, expected to be complete by 2015.
The Nepali government’s development efforts have long been absent in this region. Last December, China announced that it will be increasing aid to Nepal with the condition that anti-China activities are removed and fleeing Tibetan refugees are returned to China. As nearby glaciers were used in 1960s-70s by the Tibetan Resistance Army as refuges from which they carried out covert guerrilla actions against Chinese army units, Upper Mustang is of special interest to China.
For those in Upper Mustang, fear comes from not just the melting glacial ice, but their neighbor to the north.