Charding Nullah

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Charding Nullah
Lhari stream
Charding Nullah is located in Kashmir
Charding Nullah
Nickname(s)Demchok River
countryIndia, China
regionJammu and Kashmir, Tibet Autonomous Region
provinceLadakh, Ngari Prefecture
districtLeh, Gar
subdistrictNyoma, Zhaxigang
Physical characteristics
 ⁃ locationCharding La
 ⁃ coordinates32°33′26″N 79°23′02″E / 32.5573°N 79.3838°E / 32.5573; 79.3838
 ⁃ elevation5,170 m (16,960 ft)
MouthIndus River
 ⁃ location
 ⁃ coordinates
32°42′N 79°28′E / 32.700°N 79.467°E / 32.700; 79.467Coordinates: 32°42′N 79°28′E / 32.700°N 79.467°E / 32.700; 79.467
 ⁃ elevation
4,200 m (13,800 ft)
Basin features
River systemIndus River
 ⁃ leftNilu Nullah

Charding Nullah (traditional name: Lhari stream, called Demchok River by China[1]) is a small river that serves as the de facto border between China and India in the disputed Demchok sector of Ladakh. Both India and China claim the disputed sector, and the river came to define the Line of Actual Control between the two nations. The river originates near the Charding La pass that is also on the border between the two countries and flows northeast to join the Indus River immediately to the south of the Demchok village.

The Lhari stream was mentioned by name in a treaty between Ladakh and Tibet in 1684 as forming the boundary between the two regions. After independence, the Republic of India has claimed the river as forming its boundary, which has been contested by the People's Republic of China. The two countries fought a brief war in 1962, after which the Demchok region has remained divided between the two nations across a Line of Actual Control.


The Indian government refers to the river as "Charding Nullah" after its place of origin, the Charding La pass. (A nullah is a mountain stream.)

The Chinese government uses the term "Demchok river" by the location of its mouth, near the Demchok village.[1]

The historical documents name the river as "Lhari stream".[2] Lhari (also spelt "Lahri" or "Lairi") is said to be the name of the rocky peak (4,865 m), at the foot which sits the village of Demchok.[3][4][a] Therefore, "Lhari stream" is identified with the Charding Nullah by the Indian government.[6][b]


Charding Nullah

The Charding Nullah originates below the Charding La pass, which is on a large spur that divides the Sutlej river basin from the Indus river basin. In this area, the Sutlej river tributaries flow southeast into West Tibet and the Indus river and tributaries flow northwest, parallel to the Himalayan ranges.

The Charding nullah flows northeast along a narrow mountain valley. Halfway down the valley it is joined by another nullah from the left, called Nilu Nullah (or Nilung/Ninglung). The Charding–Nilu Nullah Junction (CNNJ, 4900 m) is recognised by both the Indian and Chinese border troops as a strategic point.[8]

The entire area surrounding the Charding nullah is referred to as the Changthang plateau. It consists of rocky mountain heights of Ladakh and Kailas ranges and sandy river valleys which are only good for grazing yaks, sheep and goats (the famous pashmina goats) reared by Changpa nomads.[9] The Indian-controlled northern side of the nullah has very few landmarks. The Chinese-controlled southern side has the village of Tashigang (Zhaxigang) with a historic monastery. At the end of Tibet–Ladakh–Mughal War, the Tibetan troops are said to have retreated to Tashigang where they fortified themselves.[10]

At the bottom of the valley, the Charding nullah branches into a 2 km-wide delta as it joins the Indus river.[11] The Indian Demchok village is to the north of the delta. There might have been a traditional Tibetan village to the south of the delta.[c] Prior to the Sino-Indian War of 1962, India had established a border post to the south of the delta (the "New Demchok post"). As the war progressed, the post was evacuated and the Chinese forces occupied it.[13][4] Subsequently, the Chinese established a new village at the southern location, whose name is spelt Dêmqog. Travel writer Romesh Bhattacharji states that it was established as a trading village for trade with Ladakh, but India never renewed trade after the war. He states that the southern Dêmqog village has only commercial buildings whereas the northern village has security-related buildings.[14]

Both the Indians and the Chinese have track roads going up the valley on the two sides of the nullah, reaching up to the CNNJ. Occasional stand-offs between the two forces at CNNJ are reported in the newspapers.[15]


Treaty of Tingmosgang[edit]

The chronicles of Ladakh mention that, at the conclusion of the Tibet–Ladakh–Mughal War in 1684, Tibet and Ladakh agreed on the Treaty of Tingmosgang, by which the extensive territories in West Tibet (Ngari) previously enjoyed by Ladakh were removed from its control. Ladakh was reduced to approximately its present extent. The frontier of Ladakh with Tibet was fixed at the "Lha-ri stream at Demchok".[16] Most sources agree that this border involved cession of territory for Ladakh. Ladakh had earlier annexed the entire West Tibet under its ruler Sengge Namgyal (r. 1624–1642).[17] The reduction of Ladakh was in effect a retaliation by Lhasa. The traditional border between the two regions prior to these conflicts is not clearly known.[d]

Roughly 160 years after the Treaty of Tingmosgang, Ladakh came under the rule of the Dogras, who launched an invasion into the West Tibet leading to the Dogra–Tibetan War. The war ended in a stalemate. The resulting Treaty of Chushul in 1842 bound the parties to "old, established frontiers", which were left unspecified.[18]

British boundary commission[edit]

After the Dogras joined the British suzerainty as the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the British government dispatched a boundary commission to define the borders of the state with Tibet in 1846–1847. The Chinese government was invited to join the effort for a mutually agreed border. However the Chinese declined, stating that the frontier was well-known and it did not need a new definition.[19] The British boundary commission under Henry Strachey nevertheless surveyed the area. Its report stated:

'[Demchok] is a hamlet of half a dozen huts and tents, not permanently inhabited, divided by a rivulet (entering the left bank of the Indus) which constitutes the boundary of this quarter between Gnari ... [in Tibet] ... and Ladakh.[20]

The "rivulet" is evidently the Charding nullah. The Tibetan frontier guards prohibited the commission from proceeding beyond the rivulet.[20]

The commission placed the border on Indus at Demchok, and on the east followed a mountain watershed of the Indus passing through the Jara La and Chang La passes.[21]

Kashmir Atlas: new border alignment[edit]

A John Murray map of the Kashmir region, 1903
A French military map, 1909, shows the boundary in fine detail

Between 1847 and 1864, the British Indian government conducted a 'Kashmir Survey' and published its results in the Kashmir Atlas of 1868. This involved several adjustments to the boundary, including in the Demchok sector. Scholar Alastair Lamb states:

Where Strachey had put the boundary actually at Demchok, the Kashmir Atlas (Sheet 17) put it about sixteen miles downstream on the Indus from Demchok, thus coming nearer to the [present] Chinese than the Indian claim line.[22]

Lamb interprets this as a "compromise". According to him, the British gave up territory in Demchok to include other territory near the Spanggur Lake.[23][e]

In reality, the British knowledge of Ladakh was quite limited at this early stage. Maharaja Gulab Singh was zealous of his independence and the British distrusted his "expansionist" tendencies. Indian commentators state that the revenue records from the very period of the survey show that the Demchok area was administered by Ladakh. This information did not apparently filter down to the survey team.[25][26]

The alignment chosen by the surveyors leaves the Indus–Sutlej dividing spur at coordinates 32°33′23″N 79°16′32″E / 32.5565°N 79.2755°E / 32.5565; 79.2755, and follows the crest of a ridge that separates the Koyul Lungpa river valley from the Indus Valley (the "Koyul ridge" with its Umling La peak in the centre). It rejoins the Indus river near the junction of Koyul Lungpa with the Indus (an area now called Fukche). It traverses along the Indus river till a place marked as 'Tagarna', and follows the crests of mountain ridges again towards the Spanggur Lake.

Subsequent to the Kashmir Atlas of 1868, the British gained much knowledge of Ladakh. Frederic Drew entered the service of Kashmir as a geologist in 1862, publishing his seminal work Jammoo and Kashmir Territories in 1875. The Ladakhi chronicles were discovered by a Moravian missionary Karl Marx in 1880s and its text was published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal between 1891 and 1902.[27] However, no revisions were made to the border at Demchok in the light of the new discoveries. During the two World Wars, the world powers including China came to adopt the borders depicted in the Kashmir Atlas.[28]

On the ground, the traditional boundaries continued to be followed. The Kashmir government disregarded the British maps and the Tibetan claims to Demchok seem to have persisted.[f] Alastair Lamb states, "by the time of the Transfer of Power in 1947 nothing had been settled."[30]


  1. ^ "Lha-ri" means "soul mountain" in Tibetan.[5] The Lhari peak might have had religious significance.
  2. ^ Fisher et al. states that the Lhari stream flows "five miles southeast of Demchok".[7] This seems incorrect. Rather the Indian alignment of the border is five miles southeast of Demchok. It follows the watershed of the Lhari stream/Charding Nullah. See Indian Report, Part 1 (1962, Q21 (p. 38))
  3. ^ A report by the Governor of Ladakh in 1904–05 stated: "I visited Demchok on the boundary with Lhasa. ... A nullah falls into the Indus river from the south-west and it (Demchok) is situated at the junction of the river. Across is the boundary of Lhasa, where there are 8 to 9 huts of the Lhasa zamindars. On this side there are only two zamindars."[12]
  4. ^ A. H. Francke, who first studied the history of West Tibet believed that, when the West Tibetan kingdom of Kyide Nyimagon was divided among his three sons c. 930, the borders of Ladakh (then called Maryul) stretched up to the Sengge Zangbo river valley. This is contested by other historians. It is unlikely that the borders remained unchanged up to the 17th century.
  5. ^ The idea of "compromise" seems to contradict other observation of Lamb regarding the virtues of the survey, e.g., "Henry Strachey, and the Kashmir surveyors, like Godwin Austen, made careful inquiries as to the whereabouts of the traditional boundary". (emphasis added.)[24]
  6. ^ Claude Arpi narrates the description of a murder inquiry in 1939, conducted by the British Trade Agent in Gartok and the governor of Ladakh (wazir-e-wazarat) jointly with the Tibetan officials (garpons). The Indian officials travelled from Leh to Demchok for this purpose, where they camped at the Lhari stream, described as "a natural boundary between Tibet and Kashmir at Demchok".[29]


  1. ^ a b Chinese government communication: "The Indian Government alleges that Chinese troops moved forward up to so-called Charding Nullah in the eastern part of Demchok. In fact, it was Indian troops who on September 18, intruded into the vicinity of the Demchok village ... after crossing the Demchok River from Parigas ..." (Indian Government White Paper XII (January 1965 - February 1966))
  2. ^ Fisher, Rose & Huttenback, Himalayan Battleground (1963), p. 107.
  3. ^ Handa, Buddhist Western Himalaya (2001), p. 160; Bhattacharji, Ladakh (2012), Chapter 9: "Changthang: The High Plateau"
  4. ^ a b Claude Arpi, The Case of Demchok, Indian Defence Review, 19 May 2017.
  5. ^ McKay, Alex (2015), Kailas Histories: Renunciate Traditions and the Construction of Himalayan Sacred Geography, BRILL, p. 520, ISBN 978-90-04-30618-9
  6. ^ Indian Report, Part 2 (1962), pp. 47–48: "There was only one Lhari in the area, and that was the stream joining the Indus near Demchok at Longitude 79° 28' E and Latitude 32° 42' N."
  7. ^ Fisher, Rose & Huttenback, Himalayan Battleground (1963), p. 39.
  8. ^ Chinese troops cross LAC in Ladakh again, India Today, 16 July 2014.
  9. ^ Ahmed, Monisha (2004), "The Politics of Pashmina: The Changpas of Eastern Ladakh", Nomadic Peoples – New Series, White Horse Press, 8 (2): 89–106, JSTOR 43123726
  10. ^ Handa, Buddhist Western Himalaya (2001), p. 156.
  11. ^ Claude Arpi, Demchok and the New Silk Road: China's double standard, Indian Defence Review, 4 April 2015. "View of the nalla" image.
  12. ^ Indian Report, Part 3 (1962), pp. 3–4.
  13. ^ Cheema, Crimson Chinar (2015), p. 190.
  14. ^ Bhattacharji, Ladakh (2012), Chapter 9: "Changthang: The High Plateau".
  15. ^ India, China admit to intrusion by Chinese herdsmen, Gulf News, 28 July 2014.
  16. ^ Emmer, the Tibet-Ladakh-Mughal War (2007), pp. 99–100.
  17. ^ Howard & Howard, Historic Ruins in the Gya Valley (2014), p. 90.
  18. ^ Fisher, Rose & Huttenback, Himalayan Battleground (1963), p. 55–56.
  19. ^ Lamb, The China-India border (1964), pp. 64–66.
  20. ^ a b Lamb, The China-India border (1964), p. 68.
  21. ^ Maxwell, India's China War 970, map opposite p. 40.
  22. ^ Lamb, The China-India border (1964), pp. 72–73.
  23. ^ Lamb, The China-India border (1964), p. 173.
  24. ^ Lamb, The China-India border (1964), p. 42.
  25. ^ Rao, The India-China Border (1968):
    • p.24: "But such an evaluation was seldom done and although most officials traced the boundary correctly along the watershed range running parallel to the river Indus, gross blunders were committed regarding the alignment in the Pangong and Demchok areas. This was apparently due to the unfamiliarity of some of the British officials with the traditional and treaty basis of the boundary and to their mistaking local disputes such as pasture disputes with boundary disputes."
    • p.29: "The Kashmir Atlas boundary conflicts also with the first-hand evidence provided by the 1847 Commission. In regard to Demchok, it conflicts with well-established facts of history and with revenue records for the very period that the survey was conducted."
  26. ^ Bray, The Lapchak Mission (1990), p. 75: "Many of these relationships had their origin in the distant past, and the British at first understood their full significance imperfectly, or not at all."
  27. ^ Bray, The Lapchak Mission (1990), p. 77.
  28. ^ See Atlas of the Northern Frontier of India, Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, Maps 3 and, 6.
  29. ^ Claude Arpi, The curious case of Demchok, The Pioneer, 16 August 2018.
  30. ^ Lamb, Tibet, China & India (1989), p. 360.