The Old Silk Route to Nathula happens to be one stretch of the Indo-China border where you will not find anything but tranquility: here Chinese army personnel are huddled together with their Indian counterparts sharing cups of tea. Yes, Nathula’s significance is underlined by the fact that the much-hyped war practices by the Chinese army or Chinese administration are totally absent here; rather you get to view peaceful and serene hillocks and memoirs depicting Indian and Chinese heroics. In order to reach Nathula, one needs to traverse the historic Old Silk Route which connects Lhasa in Tibet, via the Jelep La Pass, to India and onwards to the rest of the world. In the travel circuit, this territory is marked as East Sikkim and has been opened to tourists relatively recently in July, 2006. Most part of the route is forbidden area due to its international boundary with China and is under watchful vigil of the Indian Army.
The salient part of going to the Nathula Pass is the travel itself. Once you start your journey from Gangtok, it is virtually a journey through heaven. On the way, you can also see Tsongo or Changu Lake; a picturesque place, sitting in solitude on the banks of which, it is enough to uplift and rejuvenate your mood. The mist and snow-cloaked peaks, the zigzag roads, boisterous waterfalls – yes, everything will accompany you on the way! As you get closer to Nathula Pass, the area becomes dotted with Army settlements and you have to leave your vehicle a few hundred meters away from the exact border post. From there you have to climb several steps to reach Nathula Pass. The notice at the entrance warns people to not rush up these steps as, at 14,200 ft, there is less oxygen to breathe; heart patients and people with high blood pressure should think twice before making a trip to Nathula. You will be surprised to see that both Indian and Chinese soldiers greet you, so don’t forget to get a photo clicked with them. If you fancy conversing with the Chinese soldiers, there is a board on which common Chinese phrases and their translations in English are printed. Don’t forget to keep a memoir of your visit to Nathula by purchasing a certificate of your visit by paying a mere 50 bucks, an initiative by the Army Wives’ Association.
Another reason awaiting you to visit Nathula is the Baba Mandir. Built in the memory of Late Harbhajan Singh, a sepoy in the 23rd Punjab Regiment, this temple lies between the Nathula and the Jelep La Pass. According to the legend, Baba Harbhajan Singhji, as he is known, appeared in a dream of one of his colleagues a few days after he went missing after slipping into the waters while patrolling the border. In the dream, he expressed a desire that a samadhi be built in his memory. So, all the ranks of 23 Punjab decided to build a monument that has, over the years, acquired the status of a pilgrimage centre.
Believers leave a bottle to be collected a week later and then consume it for 21 days, without taking non-veg food; this is used for its healing powers. The belief in Babaji is so real that the food served to him at 5 pm is supposed to be consumed by him wholeheartedly. Another astounding belief is that Babaji is said to go for a vacation during heavy snowfall days, so seats get booked for him in AC 2 tier in Railways and what’s more, a pickup car moves to New Jalpaiguri Railway Station to drop and bring him back. Even the Chinese keep a chair for him during their timely meetings with their Indian counterparts. In hindsight, Nathula is a wonderful place to behold nature’s splendour and an opportunity to admire the armed forces who stoically stand without the fear of sun or rain or snow to safeguard their country.
The author is Nodal & Regulatory Head of Idea Cellular Ltd for Assam & NE circles