My trip to Nathula Pass finally materialised during my third visit to Sikkim. Not that I had not tried during the first two, it was actually bad weather that had stopped me from going to one of the coldest and most difficult tourist points that can be visited in Sikkim. Nathula Pass, located at a height of 14000 feet, is a border point between India and China. Biting cold, sudden rain / snowfall, and landslides are common occurences in this region that can disturb even the best laid out plans to visit Nathula Pass. Due to the difficulties that I experienced during this trip, my earlier North Sikkim Trip began to look like a piece of cake. The difficulties atually start even before one gets into a vehicle heading to Nathula. Tourist visits to Nathula Pass are restricted to Indian nationals only and that too requires a special permit that is issued one day in advance. A copy of one's photo-ID and two passport size photographs in addition to the permit "cost" are required to get the permit. This permit is arranged by your travel agent with whom you book the tour. There are several travel agents near the "Tourist Office" on M.G. Marg who conduct "shared" Nathula / Chhangu / Baba Mandir tours. The problem with this setup is that the cost of the tour depends entirely on the demand-supply situation on a particular day and your bargaining skills. Read more below...
|Trek to Border Gate at Nathula Pass Sikkim|
Approximately 10-11 tourists are stuffed in a "Bolero / Sumo" type of vehicle for these shared tours. The cost can be as low as Rs. 1500 for a couple or as high as Rs. 1200 for a single or third person in a group. Price is usually low if booking is done in pairs. Private vehicles can be booked with a travel agent located in the Tourist Office building below Rasoi Restaurant. A private vehicle would cost Rs. 3500 plus cost of the permits (around Rs. 300 per head) for the number of persons travelling in that vehicle. Shared tour operators ask tourists to report at the Chhangu Taxi Stand in Gangtok at 8.30 am. However, none of the shared vehicles leaves the taxi stand before 9.30 AM. The tour includes stops at Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir and Changu (Tsomgo) Lake on the way to Nathula Pass. The 70 KM journey upto Nathula Pass on a not so good road takes about 3-4 hours. Nathula pass cannot be visited every day of the week. I was told that the Pass remians closed for tourists on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. But I have heard and read conflicting information regarding the days of the week when the tour is allowed. Better confirm with your hotel in Sikkim before making your plans. April-May and October-November are the best months to visit Nathula Pass despite severe cold up there because the rainy months are more risky.
|Market stop on the way to Nathula Pass|
My single ticket for the trip cost Rs. 1100 in a shared vehicle. I was interested in a private vehicle but none was available that day. My travel agent did not give me the vehicle number at the time of the booking but instead told me to call him at 8.30 in the morning. I called at the designated time and several times after that. Finally he picked up his phone at 9.15 am. The vehicle he told me was already full. Then the driver of that vehicle called my agent and got another vehicle number. I was finally in the back seat of a crammed Bolero and the trip started. It had rained earlier that morning so most of the stretch was muddy. After about 2 hours, we stopped at a market sort of place for a break to have coffee or rent snow boots / gloves, etc. Thankfully there was a clean pay-per-use toilet there. It was very cold already. I wondered how it would be at Nathula Pass which was still a good one hour climb away. I had coffee (Rs. 30) in one of the shops but it did not taste very good.
|Trek to Nathula Border Post from Taxi Stand|
The driver told us that he wanted to first reach Nathula Pass. Chhangu Lake and Baba Harbhajan Mandir would be seen on the way back. He brought us to Nathula Pass at around 1 pm. Our allotted halt there was only 30 minutes. In those chilling conditions, it would perhaps be difficult to spend even 30 minutes. Our driver also warned us about not visiting the army canteen there because the crowd of tourists in the canteen would delay everyone. The initial trek from the taxi stand towards the border post was muddy. Then the snowy and slippery part came. There was a thick rope to hold on to while climbing upwards. Everyone was holding on to the rope still everyone seemed to be slipping every now and then. The problem was, there was only one rope for people going up and people coming down, which meant that after a while one was forced to let go of the rope to let a person coming from the opposite side pass.
|Nathula Memorial at Nathula Pass Sikkim|
The end of the rope came so the last bit of the stretch had to be completed without any support. I found myself close to the Nathula Memorial. The memorial had a Roll of Honour - names of the brave Indian armymen who had sacrificed their lives while defending the country's borders. We all keep reading, hearing, and worrying about Chinese incursions on the Indian side but those soldiers had actually faced the enemy while we watched TV sitting on comfy chairs. I gave them a silent tribute and started moving towards the border gates.
|China Border Gate at Nathula Pass Sikkim|
The view of the India and China gates was not very good. From the point up to which tourists were allowed to go, I could watch the tops of China's red gate and India's green one. The sky and the mountains on the Chinese side looked similar to those on the Indian side. There was no Chinese man or woman in sight anywhere. That was it. I spent the next few minutes talking to a jolly Indian armyman on duty there. The cold was getting unbearable. My talking also seemed to result in some shortness of breath. I started walking back to go sit in my shared vehicle so as to escape the shivering cold. The hardest part of my trip that day was already over. Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir and Changu Lake would be easy.
|Posted by Narinder Singh|