When China cites tourism as one of the main reasons why it wants to open its second consulate (Mumbai has one) in Kolkata (see this story), my point is proved. Last July, when the border link between the 2 countries at Nathu La opened, hopes ran high that it would boost bi-lateral trade since much of southwest China including Tibet is geographically closer to sub-Himalayan India.
Once the widening of Gangtok–Nathu La road is completed by 2010 as part of India’s Special Accelerated Road Development Programme (Northeast) — SARDP-NE (..more), it is easy to see that Tibet’s access to Kolkata’s all-weather port will be much faster and economical compared to China’s far-off ports to its west. Things will be even more exciting if and as the proposed deep-sea port off Bengal’s Sagar Islands in Bay of Bengal is developed.
Trade and commerce apart, there’ll be tremendous boost to tourism between the 2 countries. In an earlier post I’ve written that Kolkata being a little over 1000 km from Lhasa, it may perhaps take less than 24 hrs to reach the Tibetan capital traveling by train/bus. From Lhasa one may avail the 26-hour-1972-km superfast train journey to Xining (in Qinghai province), and then onto Beijing.
Lhasa-Xining train-ride costs between 300 (sitting) to 800 (4-bed coupe) Chinese yuan, or Rs.1800 to Rs.4800 (1 yuan roughly equals Rs.6) (..more). Taking the cost of journey between Kolkata and Nathu La as Rs.500 and assuming it will be another Rs.500 up to Lhasa, the total cost of journey between Kolkata and Xining comes to about Rs.3000. Which is very reasonable indeed.
A Xining-Lhasa train crosses Lhasa River [Picture source]
For actual fares from Lhasa to Beijing and more information, click here.
If China offers some package for Indian tourists to see its central part and just about a day-n-night’s stay in Beijing (it’s rumored to be very costly) to see part of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square – the latter only out of curiosity because of mid-1989 events – I’m sure they’ll have many people lining up at their Kolkata consulate.
The moot point though is will that happen? I’ve a hope it will. Since China is interested to take part in India’s burgeoning infrastructure projects, it makes sense for them to ensure that more and more common people from India visit their country. If anything, it’ll increase people-to-people relationship, which in turn will make it more conducive to get a bigger pie of Indian business.