Nathu La Pass is one of major passes in India that was built to connect the Indian state of Sikkim
with Tibet. This is one of the ancient routes which were used as the silk route in ancient days. Built at an altitude of 4,310 m or (14,140 ft), it is one of the three trading routes that is located at the border of India and China. While the other two are Shipkils at Himachal Pradesh
and Lipulech in Uttarakhand
, Nathu La is one of the most important passes which was reopened in 2006 following numerous bilateral trade agreements. This is a major pass which was opened with an expectation to improve trade relations between India and China which shall give impetus to Sino-Indian trade relations. Also the route shall reduce the travelling distance between the well known Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage centres.
History of Nathu La Pass
Historically Nathu La Pass is an offshoot of the Old Silk Route which stretches upto 563 kms. The old silk route connects Lhasa in Tibet with the plains of Bengal. The significance of this route was realised in 1873 after which Nathu La played a key role in 1903-1904 during the British expedition to Tibet. In 1904 Yound husband, the commissioner to Tibet led a successful expedition through this pass to capture Lhasa. This led to setting up of a number of important trading posts in Tibet by the British Empire. Later on Sikkim has a new option of joining the newly independent India. On this Sikkim agreed to be a protectorate of India under which India was allowed to man the borders. Since then Nathu La Pass played a major role between India and China.
Geography of Nathu La Pass
Nathu La Pass is located at a distance of 54 kms from Gangtok
, the capital of Sikkim and 430 kms from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. During winters the pass is covered with snow. Surrounded with snow covered hills this place remains quite chilly and never exceeds 15øC. Nathula has moderately shallow, drained, coarse, loamy soil on a steep slope which has a number of sinking zones with a lot of depressions which are prone to landslides. Because of its difficult terrain the place is maintained by the Indian Army
Flora and Fauna of Nathu La Pass
Along with this the place is also known for the flora and fauna which is found in this region. Because of its elevation the region is largely covered with sub tropical forests and shrubs which are scattered over the region. Along with some major species of dwarf rhododendrons and junipers are found. The meadows include genera Poa, Meconopsis, Pedicularis, Primula, and Aconitum along with some medicinal herbs. The place is less populated. The region has some animals like nomadic Tibetan graziers or Dokpas herd yak, sheep and goats which are found in this region. Also some endangered species like Tibetan gazelle, snow leopard, Tibetan wolf, Tibetan snow cock, lammergeier, raven, golden eagle, and ruddy shelduck are found in this region. Among the Avifauna Blue Whistling-thrush, redstarts, and fork tails are found near waterfalls and hill-streams. Also mixed hunting species like warblers, tit-babblers, tree creepers, white-eyes, wrens, and rose finches along with Raptors such as black eagle, black-winged kite and kestrels; and pheasants such as monals and blood pheasant are found in this region.
Economy of Nathu La Pass
Economically Nathu La mainly depends on the trade relations which were built through the pass. Till 1962 sealed, goods such as pens, watches, cereals, cotton cloth, edible oils, soaps, building materials, and dismantled scooters and four-wheelers were exported to Tibet through the pass on mule-back. On a return silk, raw wool, musk pods, medicinal plants, country liquor, precious stones, gold and silverware were imported into India. To expand cross-border trade, the two countries have set up trading marts at Sherathang in Sikkim which is 6kms from Nathu La and Rinqingang in Tibet that is 10 km from Nathu La. About 100 traders along with 60 trucks were allowed pass the border and continue trade across the border. Along with this the place also earns a lot through tourism which is often visited by thousands of tourists every year.
Thus with its strategic location and scenic beauty it is pone of the most attractive sites in Sikkim.