Trans-Himalayan Silk Road: An untold story

The movie will be made in four languages: Newari, Nepali, Chinese and English. Moreover, ethnically and linguistically diverse characters in the movie, even in the Newari version, will deliver dialogues in their own mother tongues

A new Silk Road has come off the anvil at last. With the formal unveiling of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Beijing on May 14-15 in the presence of 30 influential world leaders, the road has finally thrown its door open for riders. No doubt, it is President Xi Jinping’s visionary blueprint of the global economic development in the new world order, and so, once it comes into full operation, it will give a new definition and dimension to the word ‘cooperation’. It will bring civilizations a little more closer, directly or indirectly influencing the fate and future of all human beings all across the globe just like the ‘Trans-Himalayan Silk Road’ had once done to life both across the high Himalayas in the past.

The ‘Trans-Himalayan Silk Road’, or the trade route across the Himalayas, was the first ever Silk Road in human history. Even the much-talked-about Silk Road associated with Marco Polo had come into being several centuries after it. But obviously owing to the lack of information and publicity, only a very few people know about it and the immense influence it had made on life in the vast area stretching from the present-day Turkmenistan, Bamiyan (Afghanistan) and Mongolia to Nepal and other neighboring states, from Chaitya-gaon (Chittagong), Sri Lanka and Calcutta to Kashmir. The ancient trade route was first opened by a retinue of people that had accompanied Nepali princess Bhrikuti to Tibet after her marriage with the Tibetan ruler Son-tsen-Gampo in the 7th century. Together with Bhrikuti, both the Buddhism and Newar craftsmanship reached Tibet, and over centuries, they both became a part of life in Central Asia, Mongolia and Japan. The traditional trans-Himalayan trade had already come to a close in 1964 but the Buddhist philosophy and the Newar craftsmanship are still there though with a blend of local color and culture.

The ancient trade line, especially in its heyday during the Malla kings, had seen hectic trade activities taking place across the Himalayas. In spite of adverse terrain and weather conditions as well as the constant havoc by gangs of armed bandits on the way, long caravans ferried edibles, cloth, metal utensils and Buddhist articles from Nepal, and silk, gold powder, yak-tails, salt and so on from Lhasa and beyond. The influence of the multilateral trade is such that its surplus helped build a considerable number of monuments in three principalities (Bhaktapur, Lalitpur and Kathmandu) and celebrate a variety of socio-religious rituals (including Samyek festival). At times, many ‘Lhasa Newars’ (Newar traders doing business with Tibet) had spent a part of their profit in charity (CSR in modern terminology) using it to erect a community tap, dig a community pond or build a religious shrine in the neighborhood. The ‘Trans-Himalayan Silk Road’ brought about bad luck too. Unfavorable land and weather as well as several gangs of armed bandits were there on the way, all the time posing threats to the travelers. Besides, there were numerous newly-married couples who, allured by the “fortunes beyond the Himalayas”, parted ways within days of their marriage.

As only males were allowed to do business in the male-dominated society many a groom left their newly-wed brides back at home. They embark with a dream in heart, but some of them never get back home. The families at home desperately wait for their return, but at times, they receive ‘message bound with a cotton thread’ (message of death) instead. It’s one of these kinds of tragic stories that the multi-lingual movie-in-the-making—‘Chwapu-Phaye’ (The Snowstorm in English)—will try to portray.

Chwapu-Phaye is a story of a Buddhist Shakya family living at Lagan Tole in Kathmandu. The movie will give an opportunity to viewers to peep into the life of Lhasa Newars doing business in  Tibet. The movie will show the sorrows and sufferings that the adventurous Newars of those days used to go through to bring bliss and happiness to their families at home. Besides the life and society of the Newars, it will also portray a portion of the Tibetan life in those days. For making it more realistic and authentic, a series of extensive researches and studies were undertaken before giving a final shape to the script. A few but authentic and well-informed descendants of ‘Lhasa Newars’ were interviewed. ‘Chwapu-Phaye’—studded with a number of interesting historic anecdotes and supported with the latest cinematographic technology—will keep the viewers’ buttocks glued to their seats and their eyes riveted on the screen through 150 minutes!

The movie will be made in four languages: Newari, Nepali, Chinese and English. Moreover, ethnically and linguistically diverse characters in the movie, even in the Newari version, will deliver dialogs in their own mother tongues (Sherpa, Tibetan and English). In it, the viewers will have one more opportunity to peep into the time-honored family life and the socio-economic and cultural traditions of Newars.

Moreover, they will experience for themselves the pains and anguish that the Lhasa Newars used to go through before, during and sometimes even after their rigorous journey across the icy rivers and snow-covered peaks and passes. In all, the travel-centered feature film will bring the world a little bit closer to the Newars and the Trans-Himalayan Silk Road trade that they had started and gallantly pursued across the Himalayas till the 1960s.