PRIME Minister Nehru gave notice to Communist China in December 1950, just after the Chinese invasion of Tibet, that the Himalayas are India's northern frontier and that an attack on Nepal would be, in effect, an attack on India.[i] What is the importance of this country which makes India's cautious Prime Minister venture to take such categorical responsibility for it?
Nepal is a border land where the civilizations of India and Central Asia meet and to some extent blend. It is guarded on the north by the towering Himalayas, including five of the world's highest peaks, but these are interspersed with passes, some 15 in number, through which at propitious seasons human-borne trade can make an arduous way from and to Tibet. Only one pass of about 9,000 feet is negotiable by yaks. On the south, Nepal joins India in a region of jungle and malarial swampland, part of the Ganges plain known as the Terai, through which a vehicular road has penetrated only since 1953. Near the center of the country, which extends east and west about 500 miles and north and south about 150, lies the small Valley of Kathmandu, the only arena until this year of Nepalese political life. The 9,000,000 Nepalese are more than 95 percent illiterate, and all but a tiny fraction of them work at gruelling animal tasks for the barest sort of living. They are divided and subdivided by tribe, caste and language. Tantrism, an erotic offshoot of Hinduism with animistic inheritances from dim times past, has been fused here with Buddhism and with the main strains of Hinduism; as a result, the pagodas and shrines which dot the country so profusely as to give the impression of outnumbering the population, offer a be-wildering and horrifying assortment of deities and demons.
Politically speaking, Nepal is not at all the same today as it was when Mr. Nehru took it under India's wing in 1950, presumably with China's acquiescence (as of that moment, anyway) in exchange for his subsequently sharply criticized recognition of China's
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