ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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​Bordering Tranquility

The sacred and the profane share an uneasy coexistence amidst the serene ambience of a Buddhist monastery in Tuting, a closely guarded village bordering Tibet.

To the east of Gelling, a small village in the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, is where the river Brahmaputra enters India. It’s a long river with many names to it, and an intriguing history relating to its discovery. In Tibet, just over the border, the river is known as Yarlung Tsangpo. As it flows southward to the Indian subcontinent, it assumes a more stately shape, but here in the north, with its new shifting histories and disparate claims, it is bound by mountains of the eastern Himalayas, fringed by spiky pines and other evergreens, and forms gorges and canyons as it streams downward.

Tuting, about 20 km south of Gelling, was as close as I could get to the river on the Indian side, a century and more since the monk Kinthup’s journey to find the source of the river. This was at the height of the “Great Game,” when Russia and Britain vied for control of Central Asia and Tibet. Kinthup’s journey in the early 1880s led him, through immense vicissitudes that included a period of slavery, to Tibet, and further north-east in the footsteps of the river. But it wasn’t until 30 years later that the Bailey–Morshead expedition (1913) convincingly traced the Yarlong Tsangpo to its source in Mount Kailash, as they travelled beyond the high peak of the Namcha Barwa, where the river forms a great bend. A few miles downstream, the river carves out the world’s deepest gorge.

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