As villages along the international border in Uttarakhand face out-migration on an unprecedented scale, uninhabited areas lie open to territorial claims by the Chinese. Niti is among the last Indian villages, just 26 km from the China border, 3,600 metres above sea level. Years ago, it was a thriving village of about 250 families. Now, only 35 remain.
The village is 379 km from state capital Dehradun, 88 km from Joshimath. In the 35 families that remain, there are few young people. Many of those living here are elderly, with younger people moving away in search of livelihood opportunities.
TOI carried a report of village Barahoti in Joshimath, where district authorities regularly visit to mark territory with tell-tale signs of Indian presence - biscuit wrappers, newspapers, magazine covers, and large boulders marked 'India'. Chinese personnel undertake a similar exercise at regular intervals, arriving at the village that has been deserted to leave behind beer bottles and wrappers of edible things to make it appear like inhabitants are Chinese. This delicate balancing of territorial claims has continued for about eight years, ever since the village was deserted.
All families living in Niti are nomadic, moving to plains in Kodiyala and Bhimtala in Chamoli to spend six months of winter, starting end-October. They return to Niti usually in early June.