Everything about Nathu La in Sikkim
At an altitude of 4,500 m above sea level, Nathu La was on the legendary Silk Road between India and Tibet. On a clear day you can see this road winding through the valley. To your east is Bhutan’s magnificent Chomolhari Peak. You have to climb a long staircase to get to the fenced Indochinese border. The guards on the Indian side are quite friendly, behaving almost like tour guides, answering any questions from pesky tourists. The Chinese side, on the other hand, is quiet, with hardly any tourists. They obviously take their border more seriously than treating it as just a tourist spot.
The Indian side also sports exploded images of structures like the Bahai Temple and the Red Fort, and bhangra dancers, for whatever reason. Look for an engraved stone – it is called the Stone of Nehru to mark the visit of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, who visited in 1958. The affable guards on the Indian side will tell you that the mail is delivered from there ‘across the border on certain days of the week they will point to the gate that is open to let goods in from the Chinese side – limited trade between India and China’s Tibet continues with items such as wool , raw silk, yak hair, Chinese clay, horses, sheep from China and clothes, tea, coffee, rice exported to China.
The trade market operates for a limited time – June 1 to September 30, Monday to Thursday. You can see the Indian market at a place called Sherathang, about 3 km below Nathu La. It has a shopping mall and the highest internet cafe in the country. Near Sherathang is Kupup, which has the second tallest golf course in the world. And Gnathang Monastery and Gnathang War Memorial, built in memory of British soldiers who died in the 1800s war with Tibet.
Lately, there have been two incidents of conflict here – in 1965, gunfire occurred due to a dispute over the location of the fenced border. And in 1967 a major confrontation took place here between the two countries where many lives were lost. Look for the memorial built in honor of Indian soldiers who lost their lives.
At an elevation of 14,450 feet, the Nathu La Road is one of the highest motorable roads in the world. On the way to Nathu La, stop at Thegu to withdraw money from the highest ATM in the world. It runs on a generator with special fuel that does not freeze. Or just check your balance and take the slip as a souvenir.
When should we go
Nathu La is only open from Wednesday to Sunday. The best time to visit is between May and October, when you will have no snow and can see the whole pass and the landscape with towering peaks in the background. The road to Nathu La sometimes remains closed in winter when it begins to receive heavy snowfall. The snow stops around May.
Foreign nationals are not allowed to visit Nathu La. It is open to Indian nationals on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. To obtain the visit permit, apply to the Department of Tourism and Civil Aviation through a registered and recognized travel agency or tour operator. Your hotel can solve this problem for you. Taxi tax (2 people) Rs 6,500 includes transport and allows same day return. No overnight trip.
The high altitude means extreme cold and low oxygen levels. Children, the elderly, and people with heart or lung problems or other health conditions are advised to avoid making the trip. If you start to have breathing problems, get off immediately. You can travel with portable oxygen cylinders – collect them from medical stores in Gangtok. If you don’t have adequate clothing to fight the cold, you can rent hooded jackets, caps, and even snow gear from the roadside stalls.
The cold also means pressure on your bladder – several roadside restaurants have chargeable restrooms and use restrooms – basic, but clean. Avoid those in tourist spots like Baba Mandir – they are dirty and stink up to the heavens. It is the Indochinese border area and therefore photography and videography are not allowed.