This is part of a series of posts about our trip to Darjeeling and North Sikkim. You can read about
Day 5 – Nathulla Pass
Nathu La – “La” means, “Pass” in Tibetan language. This pass is at a distance of around 60 km from Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim and is one of the high altitude passes in Himalayas at a whooping 13000+ ft. It is one of the most important passes on Indo-tibetan silk trade routes and a strategic location for Indian Army as well.
Owing to the road’s bad conditions, despite continuous efforts by the Border Roads Organization (BRO), the 60-odd km journey from Gangtok takes more than 2 – 3 hours one way. These roads are known for their notorious landslides and frequent traffic jams. Certain places we felt little adrenaline rushing when the roads were so eroded. We had obtained permission from Indian Army to visit the pass. The travel agency that you book your car with can arrange permits. Visitors from India are allowed to visit the place on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. The other days, the traffic is open from the China side.
Roads on the way
Initially, we started seeing green mountains, slopes, small waterfalls on the way and suddenly the mountains started to become bare, rocky and the wind was very cold too. We realized we had climbed a good deal of altitude from Gangtok when we started seeing white patches on far away mountains and on the road. It took a little while for us to realize that we were actually looking at small patches of snow. And then, it was just like Christmas for us. Roads, mountains, army camps, jeeps, anything and everything around us were just covered in white!!
Our Christmas 😀 😀
Ever ready BRO people on work.
Our jeep reached the parking lot of Nathu La and we climbed a few steps to reach the top of the pass.
There is a military canteen providing hot tea, coffee (the highlight here being hot), which just tastes awesome in such harsh cold conditions. We took customary photos playing with snow, with military soldiers, thanked them for everything they do to protect us, saw a similar establishment by the Chinese military, waved at Chinese soldiers, amazed by learning that there are actually land mines which are under the snow for security reasons. We also got ourselves certified by getting our names written on a certificate, which states that we visited one of the highest passes (at a small cost ofcourse)
Photos from Nathu La totally covered in snow
Note – One has to be properly acclimatized before visiting Nathula or any high altitude place for that matter. Otherwise, we might feel nauseous, short of breath, giddy or even worse hit by AMS. Please take precautions for AMS since we climb a very high altitude within a short frame of time. AMS hit my mother and we had to take her to an army medical camp. She was provided with oxygen supplies and an injection. The army people took great care of my mother at no cost. The service of these people was so humbling.
A few parting shots
On the way back from Nathula, we visited Baba Mandir, had some hot tea and soaked in the serene location at which this mandir was located.
Later we stopped at Tsongmo Lake, again another high altitude lake in the Himalayas. The lake is completely frozen during deep winters. The lake itself is a sight to behold to, frozen or not. While we visited, it had started freezing partially. Yaks are available plenty around the lakes and they charge as minimum as 50 rupees to 150 rupees to take photos by sitting on it or going on a leisure Yak ride around the lake.
A small lake on the way
We also visited the Kyongnolsa Waterfall while returning to Gangtok. This waterfall is right on the road and a nice place to refresh and take a break from the long journey. Traffic jams are frequent on this route and here is a photo of a jam when we were returning.
The best leg of our journey comes later when we visit Gurudongmor Lake and Yumthang Valley (even more snow here). More details on it in my next post here…