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5 - Past and present: Shadows of the China-Ladakh-Pakistan routes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 November 2020

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Summary

Abstract

The mountainous desertscape of Ladakh borders China and Pakistan. The political borders appear to be invisible to the pashmina goatherders of Changthang, the apricot farmers of Baltiyul, and the yak herders of Demchok, who wander, absent-mindedly, through this arid land. Often thought of as shadow trade routes, these circuits are a constant in the lives of the people and their relationship with nature. This paper outlines the prevalent interactions and emotions of the people, commodities, and processes that underpin the shadow nature and future prospects of this region. Running through history and security, governance without government, social relationships between state and non-state actors, the study highlights the relevance, or not, of formalizing these routes in view of current economic development dynamics.

Keywords: informal trade practices, cross-border trade, traditional exchange, Ladakh, shadow routes

Introduction

The Silk Road is a vast tradescape. It embodies historical, geographical, religious, and socio-cultural spaces and has long held sway over fact and fiction, reality and imagination. Even today it fascinates, challenges, and attracts the bold and adventurous from the spheres of economics and geopolitics. The term ‘globalization’ was coined in the early 20th century to capture the economic scenario of the modern world, but the old Silk Road tells the globalization story of a bygone era. The use of the present tense is purposeful, as it has not entirely shifted into the past in the minds of many people across its direct and indirect landscapes, which form a long chain of ‘trade segments’. In short, the Silk Road still exists, just in a different form. Fragmented, specialized by commodity and geography, variously governed or semi-administered, and decentralized, arguably it extends beyond today’s understanding of global trade and international business.

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Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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