The Importance of Pangchen
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Issue Courtesy: | Date : 10 Apr , 2023

China has recently renamed 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh.

The first-named is Pangchen; it is an important location, mainly because the border in this sector partly depends on the traditional grazing rights between the villages of Panchen (in Tawang district of India) and Lepo (Tsona County in Lhoka/Shannan City in Tibet). The grazing rights are one of the factors, along with the watershed and customary passage and possession, which help determining a boundary.

Would Pangchen become Tibetan (or Chinese), the entire Namkha chu and Sumdorong chu valleys would automatically be part of the Tibetan/Chinese territory.

A confidential report from the Assistant Political Officer (APO) in Tawang in 1959 mentioned: “Primarily, the problem of the Tawang-Tsona boundary in the Chuthangmu [Khenzimane] sector, is of course a question of how much of the Nyamjang Chu valley is in Lebu [or Lebo] [in] Tibet territory and how much in Pangchen in India; a question which is to be decided on the basis of where the frontier traditionally has been, where the Simla Agreement of 1914 places it and what has been the de-facto position since February 1951 when regular Indian Administration was extended to the Northern Monpa area.”

The yogi, sage and builder Thangtong Gyalpo who lived during the 15th century constructed two double-cantilever iron-suspension bridges in Chaktsam (Mokto) and Drokung (Pangchen) areas of today’s Arunachal Pradesh. The Drokung Sempa (bridge) has been for century the traditional boundary for the caravans travelling between Tawang and Tsona; at that time, there was no issue between two friendly neighbours, i.e. Tibet and India. The situation is different today and with a bully in the North, each range counts and therefore the ‘dispute’ in the Khenzimane/ Sumdorung chu valley area.

The old ‘traditional’ border did not take into account the watershed principle, however the grazing rights in the area were important.

The above-quoted report explains: “Panchen of the Pang Chen Ding Druk [six] comprises Lumpo, Muchot, Kyalengteng, Kharmen, Shoksten and Zimithang [settlements] with the six Ding being Shoktsen Tui, Shoktsen Per, Shoktsen Me, Lumpo, Muchot and Kharmen (including Kyalengteng). The Ding Druk too was regarded as part of Monyul but was not under the officers stationed in Tawang/Gyankhar; its chiefs regarding themselves as autonomous and subject only to supervision by the Tsona Dzongpens [Commissioners] directly through the Tsukpa [official] of Marmang. The area used to send six representatives, generally of Thumi rank, to meetings dealing with Tawang Gompa. The McMahon Line specifies Pangchen as India territory and full administrative control has been exercised over the area by India since 1951. The total population of Pangchen is 760 with 1184 cattle and sheep.”

Zimithang/Panchen area with representative (‘non-official’) LAC

The Grazing Pattern

There is no need to go into the grazing pattern here, but it is clear that Pangchen plays a pivotal historical role in location of the boundary.

Today, Pangchen is known as Zimithang, due to the faster growth of this hamlet in the 1960s and the fact that it was the tactical HQ of the 4 Division during the 1962 border War with China.

Pangchen remains the traditional name of the area.

The location of Pangchen is probably the primarily reason for China to rename these 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh.

Map showing Tsona, Marmang and Zimithang/Lepo

Creations of Two New Cities 

The renaming of Pangchen has also to be seen in the context of China changing the status of Tsona which has become a ‘City’ directly under the administration of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and the shifting of the HQ of the new City from Tsona to Marmang, closer to the border, north of Pangchen.

According to China News Network, on May 3, the TAR People’s Government issued an announcement approved by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council; it abolishes the Tsona and Mainling Counties and establishes two county-level Cities with the same name (Tsona and Mainling) and the same administrative jurisdiction of two dissolved Counties. Tsona was under the jurisdiction of Shannan/Lhoka City and Mainling under Nyingchi City.

More interesting (or worrying) for India, the Government of Tsona City will be located in Marmang Monpa Ethnic Township, North of Pangchen and it will be directly administrated by the TAR Government in Lhasa.

Incidentally, Marmang is the last village where the Dalai Lama stayed before crossing to India on March 31, 1959.

This administrative change will certainly have serious implications for the border areas, particularly for the development of the infrastructure in the region. It probably means a railway line to Tsona/Marmang is not-too far in the future.

It is too early to say if the administrative changes will have military implications, but considering that everything is of dual-use on the Chinese borders, it will probably have.

For India, all this means more pressure on this area of the border, particularly in the Tawang sector, including Khenzimane, Sumdorong chu valley and Yangtse. 

The Case of Tathong 

On March 24, 1914 during the Simla Conference, there was an Exchange of Notes between the British and Tibetan Plenipotentiaries.

Henry McMahon, India’s Foreign Secretary wrote Lochen Shatra, the Tibetan Plenipotentiary (and Prime Minister): “In February last you accepted the India-Tibet frontier from the Isu Razi Pass to the Bhutan frontier, as given in the map (two sheets), of which two Copies are herewith attached, subject to the confirmation of your government and the following conditions:

  • The Tibetan ownership in private estates on the British side of the frontier will not be disturbed.
  • The sacred places of Tso Karpo and Tsari Sarpa fall within a day march of the British side of the frontier, they will be included in Tibetan territory and the frontier modified accordingly.

McMahon added: “The final settlement of this India-Tibet frontier will help to prevent causes of future dispute and thus cannot fail to be of great advantage to both Governments.”

The first point refers to Pachakshiri, an area today known as Menchuka.
Before 1914, the Lalus, an aristocratic family from Lhasa was getting some revenues from this place.

A scholarly research describes the area thus: “The territory known by local Memba inhabitants of Mechukha Circle as the ‘hidden land’ of Pachakshiri is located at an altitude of approximately 1900m in the north-western corner of West Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh. The wide river valley is fl by two snow-capped mountain ranges, the Damchen La to the northeast and the Shinjong La to the southwest. Memba settlements are located mainly along the sunnier northern bank of the Yargyab Chu river and are composed of various clusters of houses each bearing a common name.”

It is a fact that the Tibetans (and later on, the Chinese) never claimed any revenue from this place; In the case of the Communist Government in Tibet, it is logical as they never officially recognize the McMahon Line.

In this background, it is interesting to note that one of the renamed places by China is ‘Tato’ which has now been called ‘Tadhong’ by Beijing.

According to Census 2011, Tato village is located in Tato circle of West Siang district. It is situated 2 km away from sub-district headquarter Tato (tehsildar office) and 130 km away from district headquarter Aalo. The village has a total population of 286 peoples. There are about 50 houses in the village.

As can be seen from the map below, Tato is the gate to Menchuka/Pachakshiri.

It is not clear if the renaming is a prelude for China to claim the area.

But if they do so, it would mean an acknowledgment of the McMahon Line and it is doubtful if Beijing is ready to take this risk.


The Renamed places in Tawang sector

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Claude Arpi

Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

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