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Nathula Pass

Discussion in 'Sikkim' started by ChaiNashta, Apr 25, 2016.

  1. ChaiNashta

    ChaiNashta Active Member

    Nathula pass is a mountain pass that connects Sikkim with Tibet. Nathula pass served as an offshoot of the famous silk road until 1962 when Indo-China war broke out and since then the India-China border remained closed until 2006 when trade agreements between China and India were signed. China border is just a few kilometers from Nathula pass where both Indian and Chinese solders are deployed all year round.


    Nathula pass is at an altitude of 4310m above sea level and is one of the highest passes. Nathula pass can be reached from Gangtok in less then two hours by road as it is just 55Km from Gangtok.

  2. briannagodess

    briannagodess Well-Known Member

    Nathu La - The Border Between Tibet and Sikkim

    Nathu La (Image Courtesy of Tiranga - Proud 2B Indian)

    Overview of Nathu La

    After more than a few a decades, the Nathu La, a high altitude pass in the Himalayas, was opened for both tourism and economic purposes. Nathu La was once an important silk trading route between Tibet and India. In the advent of the Sino-Indian War during the middle of the 19th century though, the pass was closed from both sides and has remained closed for many years. It was only in 2006 that the pass was opened but it still remains a restricted area as only Indian national tourists and permitted businessmen are allowed to pass through it. It also remains guarded, on both of its sides, by the Chinese army and the Indian army.

    Best Time to Visit Nathu La

    Evidently, the best time to visit Nathu La would be during the summer season, which is from April until the middle of June. During these months, temperatures don't go lower than 10ºC and can go as high as 15ºC. These temperatures are bearable but you can still bring your light woollens and jackets if you're not used to the cold. During the month of April, you might also still be able to see snow in the region. Snow is negligible during the months of May and June though but you would still feel a bit of the chill.

    The monsoon season, from the end of June until September, might pose challenges for visiting Nathu La. Check the weather in advance if you intend to visit the pass during this time. Heavy rainfalls can lead to landslides, which can then lead to road blocks. Further, the roads can get very muddy and bumpy too due to rains. This is not a good time to visit the high altitude pass as the rains can also lower the temperatures further and make the climb slippery.

    The last season is the winter season, from October until March. October is a good time to visit, but make sure that you check the weather reports since rainfalls can still occur especially at the start of the season. With the onset of November, temperatures start to become lower, reaching below 10ºC. The end of December and January sees heavy snowfall with temperatures reaching below -25ºC even. Most of the roads leading to Nathu La are blocked by this time as well due to heavy snowfall. It's not a good time to visit the region but if you would like to experience snowfall, then you can consider this time if you check the weather conditions beforehand.

    The months of February and March are still relatively cold but bearable as compared to December and January. During these months, the region is still covered by thick blankets of snow so make sure that you bring heavy woollens plus snow shoes with good grips and mittens. If you would like to play with snow, then these months are good options especially the month of March.

    Where is Nathu La?

    Nathu La is located in the state of Sikkim, about 57 kilometres from its capital, Gangtok. It is located at an altitude of about 4,610 metres above sea level. It is also just about 17 kilometres away from Tsomgo Lake, also known as Changu Lake. On the opposite side, the Nathu La is about 430 kilometres away from Lhasa in Tibet. It also the gateway to the Chumbi Valley located also on the China side, in the Tibetan plateau. Usually, the high altitude pass is approached from Gangtok and combined with day trips from Tsomgo Lake and Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir. From Gangtok, Nathu La is about a three- to four-hour bumpy ride away.

    Restricted Area Permit (RAP) for Nathu La

    As mentioned above, only Indian nationals and permitted traders are allowed on the Nathu La. For obtaining a Restricted Area Permit (RAP), you can get the help of a licensed tour agency. There are plenty of licensed tour operators around Gangtok though so you can easily find one. But for convenience, below are some of the best licensed tour operators around Gangtok.

    Licensed Tour Operators for Obtaining RAP for Nathu La

    Name of Tour AgencyAddressContact Number
    Blue Sky Tours and TravelsMG Marg, Gangtok, Sikkim, India+91 87983 04933
    Yak & Yeti Travels and ExpeditionsZero Point, National Highway 31A, Gangtok, Sikkim 737101, India+91 94341 17418
    Khangri Tours and TreksMG Marg, Gangtok, Sikkim, India+91 35922 06050
    Dikcha Tours and TravelsChurch Road, Gangtok, Sikkim, India+91 35922 00131
    World Marco PoloPS Road, Upper Sichey, Arithang, Gangtok, Sikkim 737101, India+91 35922 04116
    So these are some of the licensed tour operators that can get the RAP for you. These operators also have packages that combine Tsomgo Lake and Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir into a trip to the Nathu La, since they are on the way already. The RAP costs Rs. 200 per person and you would need at least two identification proofs plus two passport sized photographs as requirements. Make sure you apply for the permit at least a day in advance though. If you're taking a child below four years of age with you, he or she won't be paying any fees at all but do keep in mind that the higher altitude and the climb can be challenging for them.

    How to Reach and Costs Incurred

    Only Sikkim-registered vehicles are allowed to reach up to the road leading to Nathu La so you cannot bring your own vehicle. Even if it's allowed, the bumpy road can damage cars with lower ground clearance. Most travel agencies would provide the vehicle for the journey but of course, the rates would be higher. You can also opt to just obtain a permit and from Gangtok, ride a shared vehicle to reach Nathu La. Or you can also hire a reserved vehicle, if you want privacy or there are plenty of members reaching Nathu La from Gangtok.

    Rates for Reserved and Sharing Basis from Gangtok to Nathu La

    BasisTo Nathu LaTo Nathu La, Baba Mandir and Tsomgo Lake
    Shared Jeep/SumoRs. 700 (With Permit)N/A
    Reserved Jeep/SumoRs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000 (With Permit)Rs. 5,500 to Rs. 7,000 (With Permit)
    If you're merely reaching Nathu La, you can opt for a shared jeep which costs just Rs. 700 per person, with permit already. You can also hire a reserved jeep or sumo but this costs more at Rs. 3,000 and above. You can find tour operators that cost less though so do check a bit around. If you would like to include the Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir and Tsomgo Lake into the trip, you need to hire a reserved jeep or sumo which costs around Rs. 5,500 to Rs. 7,000 for a full-day trip.

    Stairs Leading to Nathu La (Image Courtesy of Roots Vida)

    Once you reach Nathu La, you would need to climb about 90 slippery steps to reach the peak. It can bit a bit slippery and you need to wear shoes with good grip especially when you're visiting during the winter or monsoon season. Do take your time with this one as the high altitude plus the steep climbs can tire you out.

    Places to See in Nathu La

    Nathu La is the attraction itself, a barren land where there is no civilisation except for the brave soldiers that have the courage and strength to defend the country and be away from their family. Therefore, just seeing these soldiers living here is quite a spectacle in itself. Coupled with the views of snow-capped mountains, the valleys below and the surrounding landscapes, you can certainly enjoy your time here. Do note that photography is not allowed at the pass itself although it is allowed at a distance from the Nathu La. Here are a few more places around the pass that you can view:
    • The Nathu La Martyr's Memorial - At the peak of the Sino-Indian war, there were soldiers who sacrificed their lives just to defend the country from the invaders. The Nathula Martyr's Memorial is dedicated for these brave soldiers. You can find the memorial at the last stretch of your climb from the staircase. It greets you and as such, it's a must to pray for these soldiers and pay tribute to their bravery and courage. The memorial also has a Roll of Honour, wherein the names of the soldiers who died are listed. The quote listed in the memorial is very touching too, When you go home, tell them of us and say, 'For your tomorrow, we gave our today.' It's a very fitting quote that will tug at any Indian's heart.
    The Nathu La Martyr's Memorial (Image Courtesy of Alen)
    • India and China Border Gates - Once you reach the border point, you can find the red gate of China and the green gate of India. This is the border point and also where you can spot the Indian army guarding the area. It is rare to spot the Chinese army though but if you're lucky, you might be able to spot some. At this point, there's not much you can do, just enjoy the views of the mountains around. You can also have little chats with the soldiers as they are very friendly and accommodating.
    Usually, tour operators and shared vehicles give an allowance of 30 minutes for you to explore the area. After that, you would be taken back to Gangtok or explore the nearby places.

    Excursions Out of Nathu La

    As mentioned above, there are two more places you can visit close to Nathu La, which are the Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir and Tsomgo Lake. If you got your permit from a tour operator, you might have chosen a package which includes these places.
    • New Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir - Lying between the Nathu La and the Jelep La is the Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir. Revered so holy by his fellow Indian soldiers, they built a shrine just for the brave soldier. Harbhajan Singh was an Indian army soldier, once posted as a border personnel in the 19th century, at the peak of the Sino-Indian war. He died though when he drowned while escorting mules into the border. According to local legends, he appeared on the dream of a fellow soldier and wanted to have a shrine built for him. And so the Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir was built upon his honour. Did you know that even the Chinese soldiers believe that his spirits still roam the region that they setup a chair for him during meetings? And in his shrine, there's a complete setup of rooms with food supplies and a bedroom with bedsheets and ironed clothes. Such is the importance of Harbhajan Singh, so a trip to his shrine would complete your visit to Nathu La.
    • Old Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir - You can also visit the Old Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir, located in Tuku La Donchi La. It is about 10 kilometres north of the newer Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir. You would need at least 30 minutes to reach the place. This is the original shrine of the Baba Harbhajan Singh, where he requested for his shrine to be put up. The journey to reach the shrine is as beautiful too, with valleys, flower-covered meadows and streams of waterfalls. Along the way, you can also stop to visit the Elephant Lake. You can pay your respect to the Baba Harbhajan from here as well.
    • Tsomgo Lake - The last attraction you can visit is the Tsomgo Lake, about 17 kilometres from Nathu La. The lake remains frozen during the winter months and sometimes extends up to April or May. During the remaining months, the different hues of blue form in the lake which is a beautiful sight to see. The surrounding greenery adds to the beauty of it as well. Some tourists enjoy a yak ride around the lake while others just enjoy taking pictures of the lake. You can also visit the nearby Shiva temple from the lake.
    Tsomgo Lake (Image Courtesy of Global Travel Service)

    Other Important Things to Know
    • The Nathu La remains open only five days a week, from Wednesday to Sunday. Thus, the remaining days, Monday and Tuesday, the pass is closed to tourists. On some days, the pass even closes as early as 1:30 pm for tourists so make sure you reach it as early as possible.
    • The climb to reach the border area is about 90 steep steps so make sure you take your time and also bring water to hydrate yourself. If you're bringing children or elderly with you, the climb might be challenging and difficult for them. The higher altitude might pose some issues as well so climb slowly or consult your doctor prior to reaching the pass. He or she can prescribe some medications to ease the high altitude sickness you might experience.
    • There are only a few eateries on the way to the pass so it's best to bring your own snacks and water. There's a working ATM too but it's better to bring your own money as this ATM is mainly for the use of the Indian soldiers. It's interesting to see the ATM though, considered as the highest Automated Teller Machine in the world.
    • There are a few clothes rental shops along the way too, if ever you forget to bring warm clothes. But as much as possible, bring woollen clothes, especially for smaller children as the cold temperatures can be uncomfortable for them.
    Enjoy your trip to Nathu La.:)