NATHU LA, East Sikkim
Nathula Pass is a mountain pass in Eastern Sikkim, on the Indo-Chinese border that serves as the trade link between India and China. Nathula Pass nestles at an elevation of 14,140 feet and ranks amongst the highest passes accessible by tourists via motorable road. The Old Silk Route through Lhasa, Sikkim and Eastern India used to cross through Nathula Pass. The other side of Nathula Pass is Chumbi Valley of Tibet. This mountainous pass is one of the oldest trading border posts connecting Tibet and India. The Nathula Pass is marked by Entrance gates of both countries (India and China) and military bunkers on both sides of the gates. On the Indian side, you would find some fortified military bunkers, a war memorial, an army exhibition centre, a military canteen serving hot tea and fresh snacks to tourists.
The winding Gangtok – Nathula Highway is one of the most beautiful mountain roads of the world. Nearly, 70 kms from Gangtok, crossing the azure blue Tsomgo Lake (also known as Changu Lake) and the new Baba Harbhajan Mandir, the road is an adventure itself. The border checkpost at Nathula Pass is marked by the Border Gates of India and China, a war memorial and an Exhibition Centre of India Army. On a clear day, you can also enjoy great views of Mt. Chomolhari from Nathula Pass. Even though Nathula Pass is a border checkpost, there is no “No Mans Land”. In Nathula Pass the border consists of a barbed wire where armies of both India and China, guard their side of land. Tourists need to abandon their vehicles, few paces away from the Nathula Pass to reach the actual border. Due to the Indo China War, this legendary trade route was closed down in 1961. Recently, after a negotiation between the two countries, trading on some commodities has been resumed recently.
You have to climb around 90 steps to reach the border gates and memorial. Climbing this high altitude pass is quite tiresome. So, it is advised not to rush up the stairs, as you may go out of breath after sometime. As you get close to the border, you can see Chinese armed forces shielding their side of the border. You can sometimes shake hands with the Chinese soldiers across the border. Contrary to popular belief, tourists are allowed to take photographs in and around this high altitude pass. Soldiers from both sides pose with the tourists. The Nathula Pass stays fully closed for tourists usually on Mondays and Tuesdays. However, on other days of the week, it closes by 1:30 pm.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
If you are looking for snow then December to March ( Temp: 8°C / -20°C ) is the best time to visit these places. During this time Changu lake that falls on the way and the surrounding hills will be covered in snow. However, if you are looking for beautiful views of Rhododendrons & Orchids in the way then April to May ( Temp: 18°C / -17°C ) is the best time to visit. During October to December ( Temp: 26°C / -10°C ) of the year weather is clear and you’d get to see the best views of the surrounding hills on the way. So plan your visit accordingly.
HOW TO GET THERE
Airways: The nearest airport is in Bagdogra, West Bengal about 5 hrs drive from Gangtok. Sikkim also has got its first commercial airport at Pakyong, East Sikkim but weather hampers the operation of this airport most of the time. If you are lucky enough you can get a flight directly to Pakyong.
Railways: The nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri (NJP) in West Bengal which is about 118 km from Gangtok. You can hire a taxi to reach Gangtok which takes about 3-4 hours.
Roadways: Gangtok is connected to the rest of India via NH10, which links Gangtok to Siliguri. You need to halt at Gangtok and book a taxi and leave early morning to visit Nathu La and adjoining areas.