Imagine boarding a train in Beijing and disembarking in Delhi. That dream could be one step closer, according to reports in China’s state-run Global Times newspaper. Plans are already afoot to extend the Qinghai-Tibet railway south across the Himalaya to Rasuwagadhi in Nepal, and the line could be lengthened as far as Birganj and on into the Indian state of Bihar.
The route has the potential to become one the world’s most dramatic railway journeys, but the idea of a direct India-China rail link has been viewed with a mixture of enthusiasm and suspicion by people on the Indian side of the border. Traders and manufacturers are broadly positive about the idea of an easy trade link from central India to China, without the cost and inconvenience of shipping goods by rail to Kolkata and on to China by sea. However, ordinary people have been more circumspect, with some openly apprehensive about the breaching of the mountain wall that has traditionally divided the Indian and Chinese spheres of influence.
Growing cordiality between Nepal and China has been matched by a cooling of India-Nepal relations, creating tensions which came to a head during the fuel blockade of Nepal in 2015. An added complication is the presence in India of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile, and the ongoing border disagreement between India and China over their national boundaries in Arunachal Pradesh and in Aksai Chin, which is also claimed by India as part of Ladakh. India and China have previously gone to war over these disputed regions, and there have been confrontations between Indian and Chinese border forces as recently as 2015.