Saturday, 1 October 2016

A Comprehensive Guide On Navigating Nathula Pass Sikkim: An Explorer's Account #SoloYolo

A Comprehensive Guide On Navigating Nathula Pass, Sikkim: An Explorer's Account.

Nestled in the midst of the greatest peaks in the world, Nathula Pass heights at an awe-inspiring 14,400 ft, links India with Tibet (Autonomous Region Of China). It was once a part of the historic pathways of the Old Silk Route, reopened on July 6, 2006 after a closure of 44 years and today used for imports & trades twice a year.

Surrounded by glistening snow, the chilling mountain breeze and the low lying clouds make Nathula Pass an enchanting destination.

The great Nathula Pass trip makes it a treacherous yet adventurous ride. The winding roads of the Gangtok- Nathula Highway is a breathtakingly beautiful sight to behold. Flanked by mountains on one side and deep dark cliff on the other, this sight is indeed ravishing.

Don't confuse it with just another trip to any Himalayan Pass or a Lake. As you drive uphill leaving Gangtok, the weather changes instantly, and you are literally up in the clouds, a place which one cannot afford to miss if visiting Sikkim. The journey is quite enchanting, where you can view a number of lakes & waterfalls en route. Have your pit-stop in the mid of the journey at 15th Mile & have Hot Maggie or Momos with Cup of tea & enjoy the panoramic picturesque surroundings (these heavenly feelings you won’t forget in your lifetime). Keep your camera fully charged with extra battery & memory card empty, so that later you don't feel you missed a few amazing shots!

At Nathula Pass, interestingly, there is no 'no man's land' at the Indo-China border, and the armies of both India and China guard their sides. You’ll get to see the Chinese army here at the China border. The border check post at Nathula Pass is marked by the border gates of India and China, and a war memorial and Exhibition Centre of Indian Army. Do visit the Watershed War Memorial (5 kms from the Pass), which is a befitting tribute to the brave soldiers of our country, who sacrificed their lives while protecting the nation in the post- independence period. This memorial reminds one and all of the great sacrifices made by the Army for the nation.

Almost the entire Nathula Pass Trip (56kms from Gangtok) falls under Army area & to visit this you'll drive through the Army base & may be lucky enough to see the Army parades or Practices up close. You will surely bump into jawans at these places.

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How to reach Nathula Pass?
Nathula is on the Gangtok-Nathula Highway, 56kms from state capital Gangtok, a 3 hrs drive. You can opt for shared jeeps or other reserved vehicles available from Gangtok. Vehicles only from Sikkim Govt. approved tour operators are allowed in Nathula. Since the condition of the road is not good, it is advised to take robust vehicles like Jeeps or SUVs like Scorpio, Bolero, Sumo, Xylo, Innova, etc.
Nathula trip is usually combined with visits to Tsomgo Lake and Baba Mandir. The cost can vary depending on season. During peak season (like April to June, and October to November) shared vehicle would cost about Rs. 700/- per person for Tsomgo lake, Baba Mandir and Nathula including permit fee. A reserved vehicle like Scorpio or Innova would cost around Rs. 7,000/- including all permits. Reserved Sumo or Max would cost Rs. 5,500/-. In low season, shared vehicles costs Rs.500/- per person & Reserved vehicles cost 20 to 25% lesser. Reserved vehicle cost for only Tsomgo Lake & Baba Mandir (excluding Nathula) will cost between Rs.2800 to Rs.3800 depending on season time (includes permit charges for 2 person as well).

Best time to visit Nathula Pass?
Best time to visit is from May to October when temperatures ranging from 6’C to 15’C,  
when you can enjoy the beauty of Nathula Pass without having to endure the extremes of the cold. During the winter months, Nathula Pass weather is raging with snowfall with temperatures falling to -25’ C, which makes it too cold to survive even, and the pass remains closed for these months. Note that due to the very high altitude of this region, the levels of oxygen here are low.  If you feel breathless or face altitude sickness, it's better to return and not stay longer. Also do not undertake any strenuous activity, and carry plenty of woolen clothes to beat the cold temperature. If you are visiting Nathula during Oct - Nov do not forget to pick up snow boots and heavy winter wear, also available on rent.
The travel from Gangtok to Nathula is tough owing to the tough terrain - road conditions, snow, and landslides. Best not to take very elderly people along.

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How to get permit for Nathula Pass?
The Nathula Pass is a restricted territory, with only Indian citizens having access to it after obtaining the required permits. Non-Indian tourists are not allowed. Permits are issued by the Sikkim Tourism Dept. at Gangtok M.G. Marg and can be obtained through a registered tour agency. Some hotels also provide this service. For the permit, one needs a photo ID proof (PAN card not accepted) and two passport size photos each. For a hassle-free visit, one needs to apply for the permit, at least, one day prior to their planned visit. The Nathula Pass permit cost is Rs. 200/- per person (though you may find that Travel agents are asking for more). Permits are not required or issued to children below 4 years. However you can take an infant at your own risk.
Note that Nathula Pass being an Indo-China International border area, photography and videography are not allowed. Nathula Pass is closed on Monday & Tuesday, two days every week.  

Other attractions in a Nathula Pass Trip:

Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple or Baba Mandir
The shrine built in the memory of Baba Harbhajan Singh, an Indian army personnel who died near Nathula in 1968, is a popular sightseeing spot in Sikkim. The new temple is situated at the junction of Kupup Gnathang road and the trail leading to Menmecho Lake. Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir has a fascinating history and legend associated with it. The local people are of the opinion that Baba Harbhajan Singh still guards the international boundary between India and China.

Lord Shiva statue in the vicinity of Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir (#BabaMandir). Located 52kms from Gangtok at an altitude of 13,123 ft between Nathula and Jelepla Pass Sikkim, also a must visit on Nathula Pass Trip.
Mera Bharat Mahan - Hill
On the way to Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir is a hillside with the words “Mera Bharat Mahan” written on it. The font size is reasonably big and enough to give you a sudden patriotic rush.

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Tsomgo Lake or Tsongmo Lake
Also known as the Changu Lake, this place offers idyllic scenery and is a travellers’ delight, a place to cherish the moments with your beloved ones. This oval-shaped deep blue lake is a treat to the eye from a distance. The lake reflects different colours with different seasons and is revered by the locals. It is frozen during the winter months. #Tsomgo or #Tsongmo Lake, which means “source of water” in Bhutia language, is a glacial lake in #EastSikkim. Located at 38 kms from #Gangtok on Gangtok-Nathula highway, at an elevation of 12,400 ft, the lake is surrounded by steep mountains covered with snow during winter. The lake which remains frozen by snow-cover in winter season, sometimes extending upto April, gets melt during summer and forms the water source for the lake. The lake reflects different colours with change of seasons. After winter season in mid-May, surrounding of the lake has scenic blooms of flower species of rhododendrons, primulas, blue & yellow poppies and irises so forth.

A small bridge at lake entrance will take you to a viewpoint cum cafeteria, from where you can view the complete lake & its surrounding mountains. You can trek along the lakeside in deep snow during winter or even try Yak ride at the Lake-side. Get the best panoramic view of the lake after crossing it on the way to New Baba Mandir. Carry warm clothes and shoes because of cold (temperature can be in range of 0–18’C). The lake is oval shape & surface area of 60 acres. The lake is highly revered by local Buddhists & Hindus as a sacred lake and is the venue for the Guru Purnima festival when faith-healers of Sikkim, known as Jhakhris offer prayers. From the Lake, Chinese border is only 5 kms east-northeast in a straight line across the mountains (by road some 18 kms).

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“Traveling is not just seeing the new; it is also leaving behind. Not just opening doors; also closing them behind you, never to return. But the place you have left forever is always there for you to see whenever you shut your eyes.

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