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Contents Page: Jan 1, 2012, vol 7 no 4

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Sonam Chhoki

Old Bandit Country

A century ago, the Indo-Bhutan border was called 'bandit country.' India Office Records describe 'marauding Bhutanese brigands' pouring down these malarial slopes to 'raid' British Indian territory. We Bhutanese say the Chilip1 tried to invade our Dragon Kingdom. Under clouds of monsoon rain and mosquitoes, skirmishes and battles were fought; treaties forged.2

Tonight, in the drizzle, the Border Highway is a wet, glistening tongue. Kilometre after kilometre it slicks us into the darkness. Fleeting shadows of fields, houses, trees and verges. Through the lowered glass at my side, the smell of cow dung and wood fires and tea bushes.

The radio struggles with Bollywood songs. Snatches of longing, prolonged crackling, sudden bursts of love. Moths, leaves, flakes of ash flit across the windscreen like debris from the past in this corridor of the Himalayan foothills.

We pass Indian army camps in skeletal jungles, tin-roofed shops, telephone booths, lorries, pot holes.

night storm –
in my headlights
a rhino


1 Chilip (CHE-LIP) (Dzongkha); White foreigner.

2 Indo-Bhutan border: This territory belonged to the Maharajas of Kamrup ( Assam in North East India) and Cooch Behar ( in modern Bengal) with whom the Bhutanese had treaty relations for free movement and trade. But with the British conquest of India, these ties were ignored, resulting in numerous Bhutanese 'raids' to claim our rights.

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