The Nathula Pass, Sikkim and its History

Last summer vacation I visited one of the most beautiful states of India, Sikkim. I got a chance to learn so much about Indian history that our school text books did not cover, during the trip. I would like to share some information with you about one of the places I visited there.

At Sikkim, I got the opportunidarj_i000287.jpgty to see Nathu La, the mountain pass that connects the Indian state of Sikkim with China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. The Nathula Pass, a trade route between India and Tibet, is located at a height of 14,140 ft and is about 50kms away from Gangtok . It is the place through which the Silk Route used to operate till 1943 and opened again for trade in 2006. You can see Indian and Chinese soldiers guarding the fenced Indo-China border only a few meters away from the pass.

The Nathula Pass


The Nathula Conflict-

At Nathu La, the Indian and Chinese forces are separated by a distance of 30 yards and it is the closest distance between the entire Indo-China border of India. Here, violations of the border were common tactics used by Chinese Army to instigate the Indian Army. It was then decided by the Indian Army to lay wire, thereby making a clear and distinct border. As soon as the fencing work started on 11th September 1967, Lt. Col. Rai Singh (CO of the regiment holding this operation) was approached by the Chinese Commissar and asked to stop the fencing. After having a heated conversation, the Chinese Commissar returned to his post and soon responded with heavy gunfire.This led to the beginning of an artillery duel which carried on relentlessly for the next three days. The Chinese troops were finally repulsed by the Indian Army and a barbed wire fence was installed.

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After the humiliating defeat, the Chinese army was deep in shock and started another unplanned attack on Cho La, Sikkim on 1st October 1967. By 10th of October Chinese had to withdraw nearly three kilometers away from the border to a feature named Kam Barracks where the Chinese Army is deployed till date.[1] During the Cho La and Nathu La incidents, Indian losses were 88 killed in action and 163 wounded, while Chinese casualties were estimated to be 340 killed in action and 450 wounded, until ceasefire was implemented in the regions.[2]

Cho-La.jpgThese victories marked as important events for India, after it’s huge loss in Sino-India War in 1962 . The Nathu La and Cho La passes have been under India’s control and the Sino-Indian border has remained peaceful ever since. Today the Chinese soldiers and their Indian counterparts at Nathu La share cigarettes, rum and tea, mail is exchanged twice in a week in a beautiful BMP hut constructed specially for this purpose and border personnel meeting takes place there twice a year. [3]

More on the pass:

A memorial was constructed at the pass in honor of the Indian soldiers who lost their lives in the battle when this major confrontation took place between the two countries.

The Memorial

You will also find an engraved stone there called The Nehru Stone, which marks the visit of former Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1958 enroute his trek to Bhutan.

When to visit:
The best time to visit Nathula would be between May to October. This is the time when the temperature is between 10°C to 15°C and on a clear day one can see the entire pass.

Things to keep in mind before visit: 

nathula-pass.jpga) The oxgen level at Nathula is quite low since it is at a very high altitude, so one should consult a doctor before their trip, especially if they have any problem in breathing or other health problems.

b) Nathula is a restricted area. Indians require a valid Protected Area Permit to visit Nathula and foreign tourists aren’t allowed there. The Permit is issued by the Sikkim Tourism Department in Gangtok.

 I would highly recommend you to visit Sikkim once, not just because of it’s history or it’s natural beauty but also to understand it’s beautiful people, culture and heritage.


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