All Roads Lead North: Nepal’s Turn To China 

Book Summary by Arjun Athalye, Research Intern, PIC

All Roads Lead North: Nepal’s Turn to China is the first book written by Amish Raj Mulmi from Pokhara, Nepal. He has written about Nepal before, and his writings have been published in Al Jazeera, Roads and Kingdoms, Himal Southasian, India Today, The Kathmandu Post, and The Record. Amish is consulting editor at Writer’s Side Literary Agency.
The book is about Nepal’s diplomatic and economic turn towards China recently.  It has been endorsed by Ranjit Rae of Biblio, Shyam Saran of the Business Standard, Srinath Raghavan (author of The Most Dangerous Place: A History of the United States in South Asia), and Manjushree Thapa (author of Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy). The book has also been featured in The Guardian’s ‘Books That Explain The World 2021’.
The ten chapters cover topics like the historical Nepal-Tibet trade, Nepal’s borderlands with China, Nepal’s periods of war and peace with Tibet and China, its history of Communism, Tibetan exiles in Nepal, how Nepal has had to balance India and China’s interests, the now-friendly Sino-Nepal relations, Chinese construction and business projects in Nepal, and how Nepal is increasingly turning towards China diplomatically and economically.
All Roads Lead North commences with an account of the centuries-old trade between Nepal and Tibet; how that trade has continued between Nepal and China in modern times; and an interview with a former Nepali trader who traded with Tibet. The author visits Nepal’s border with China, where skirmishes involving Nepal, Tibet, and China have happened in the past. He notes the disparity in infrastructure between Nepal and China near the border and tells us about several past incidents on the border in the past. These include standoffs between Chinese and Nepali forces; a battle fought between Nepali Gurkhas and the Chinese Qing dynasty 200 years ago; the escape of a Buddhist lama from Tibet a few years ago; the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1950; and the recent fencing of the border by China. He gives an account of the history of Communism in Nepal and Tibetan exiles in Nepal, who lack documentation. He also discusses various political figures in Nepal’s history, like K P Sharma Oli, Prachanda, and the kings Gyanendra, Mahendra, and Tribhuvan, all of whom had differing views of India and China.
He portrays Nepal as a country that has had to balance opposing Chinese and Indian interests without offending either country. Outside of its neighbours, US-Nepal relations and the former US support for Tibetan guerillas operating within Nepal are also discussed. He says China and Nepal have grown diplomatically closer recently, with many Chinese projects underway in Nepal, like the Kathmandu Ring Road and the Pokhara International Airport. Nepal sees an alternative trading partner in China, in contrast to India, which imposed economic blockades on Nepal in 1962 and 2015. He also mentions agro-businesses and Chinese restaurants run by Chinese people; the burgeoning Chinese demand for the ‘Bodhichitta’ seed from Nepal; the hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists who visit Nepal every year; and the many Nepali students who study in China. He concludes by saying that Nepal’s turn to China is now inevitable and well under way. The author visits several sites across Nepal, like Humla, Mustang, Timal, Kathmandu, and Pokhara to gather information for his book.
To quote the author Srinath Raghavan, who has written on South Asia, “This book should be required reading for anyone in New Delhi dealing with Nepal and for anyone interested in understanding China’s growing footprint in the subcontinent’. It is a very well-researched book which has used various sources like the author’s own travels and stay in Nepal; his eyewitness accounts of the border with China and Chinese projects in Nepal; CIA archives; and interviews with people like Tibetan exiles, former Nepali traders, former Tibetan guerilla fighters, restaurant owners, and Chinese businessmen in Nepal. Furthermore, the author is credible as he is Nepali and has in-depth understanding of the country, which outsiders do not have. It is also informative for lay people who do not know much about Nepal and offers a different narrative from the one that says Nepal is a mere Indian satellite state.