The iconic Nathu La Pass is a mountain pass located in the Indo-china border (Sikkim) at a height of 14,140 feet from sea level was a part of the famous and historic silk route between India and Tibet. It was a major trade route to carry silk, gold and other items of trade from Tibet to India. The route successfully flourished till in 1720s due to the collapse of the Safavid Empire.
“Nathu La” is a Tibetan phrase, with Nathu meaning “listening ears” and “La” means Pass. Located at a distance of 56 kms from Gangtok, it has easy road connectivity from it. It is a major tourist destination in the state of Sikkim. However, the entry to the pass is open only to Indian residents that too after obtaining a special permit.
History of Nathula Pass
The pass has significant historical relevance. It was held closed for around 4 decades after China’s Tibetan rebellion in 1959. Only after the order of former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003, it was resumed from the year 2006. Throughout its operation before its shutdown, it played a significant role in strengthening Sino-Indian trade and improving border relations between India and China. It was also a part of the pilgrimage route for Buddhist and Hindu people.
Geography of Nathula Pass
The pass is located in the Indo-China border at a distance of 430 km from Lhasa of Tibet. The temperature ranges from 10 degrees Celsius to -25 degrees Celsius in winters and summers, respectively. The whole area remains frozen during winters and remains inoperative.
Flora and Fauna of Nathula Pass
The flora species consist of sub-tropical forest, dry alpine trees, tundra desert with low vegetation, scattered shrubs, rhododendrons, junipers, meadows like Primula, Aconitum, Poa, Pedicularis, etc. Other plants include grasses, sedges, silver firs, endangered ground orchid, larks, finches, etc.
As far as fauna is concerned, there is no human settlement except defense personnel protecting the borders from outside attacks. In animals, yaks, sheep, goats producing pashmina wool are found in abundance. Others include snow leopards, Tibetan wolf, golden eagle, ruddy shelduck, etc.
Trek in Nathula Pass
Whenever you visit Nathu La Pass, whether, by motorbike or a vehicle, you will have to get down at the parking area from where vehicles are not allowed further. Hence, the journey to the top will be determined by a short trek. One has to climb a number of steps to reach Nathu La Pass. One is advised to climb slowly and patiently with breaks in between. As you will be at an altitude of 14000 feet, rushing might lead to breathing difficulties. Once you reach the pass, the sight is something to behold. You can have a glimpse of the entire Chinese territory from there.
Things to do in Nathula pass
There are plenty of notable tourist places to visiting in and around Nathula Pass. If you are thinking that all you can do in the pass is play around with snow and indulge in photography, then you are wrong. You also get to (which you should) explore the following tourist spots:
1. Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir
BaBa Harbhjan Singh was an Indian army personnel who was martyred near Nathu La Pass in 1968. To commemorate his death, a shrine was built in his memory at the junction of Kupup Gnathang. He is regarded as the Hero of Nathu La. The Mandir is considered as of high importance by the local people. They even believe that Baba Harbhajan Singh still guards the International boundary against outside invasions.
2. Tsomgo Lake
The beautiful Tsomgo Lake is located at an altitude of 12,400 feet from sea level and requires a special permit from Tourism And Civil Aviation Department of Sikkim for visiting. The lake is blessed with pristine turquoise water received from the melting snow of the exotic mountains beneath.
3. Mandakini Waterfalls
One of the most beautiful waterfall in the region amidst green vegetation. You can swim in its water and click some amazing pictures with the fall at the backdrop.
4. Mera Bharat Mahan Hill
There is a hillside near the Nathu La Pass, which has “Mera Bharat Mahan” inscribed on it. This majestic hill is sure to take your breaths away giving you Goosebumps and a patriotic rush through your veins. You should not miss visiting this spot and clicking some pictures to cherish forever.
5. Indo-China Border
The road near to the Nathu La Pass will also take you to a staircase leading to the fenced Indo-China border. There are plenty of steep stairs that one needs to climb to reach the top, which provides a majestic view of the Indo-China border. The views if the terrains surrounded by mountains will leave to spellbound.
Best Time To Visit Nathula Pass
The best time to visit Nathu La Pass is in summer i.e. from Apr to mid-June and Autumn i.e from October to November. This is because the average temperature during these times is somewhere up to 10 degrees Celsius, which is quite bearable. In winters, the temperature drops to as low as -25 degrees Celsius. During monsoon, the road to Nathu La Pass remains inoperative because of heavy rainfall, which causes landslides in the area.
How to Reach Nathula Pass from Gangtok
Nathu La pass is just around 56 kms away from Gangtok- the capital city of Sikkim. There are a number of shared taxi services available in Gangtok, which will take you Nathu La Pass. You can approach any travel agent in the city or ask the local people about it for guidance. Alternatively, you can also ask your hotel staff to arrange for it. But, the hotel staff may quote a higher charge on the service to include their commission.
So it is better if you directly approach a travel agent. It will depend on your bargaining skills as to how good deal you land yourself in. The road to Nathu La Pass is counted among the highest motorable roads in India. If you are a keen biker and have prior experience, you can also avail this choice.
How to Reach Nathula Pass from Kolkata
By Air : One can board a flight from Kolkata to Bagdogra, which takes about 1 hour 10 mins to reach. From Bagdogra, shred jeeps or private cabs will take you to Gangtok. From Gangtok, there are many options to visit Nathu La Pass.
By Train : One can board a train to New Jalpaiguri from Kolkata. From New Jalpaiguri, Gangtok is just about 122 kms away with numerous buses and taxis running regularly between the two.
By Road : One can also choose to travel by bus from Kolkata. Buses are available till Siliguri, which is only 93 kms away from Gangtok. Once you reach Siliguri, take a shred jeep or a taxi to reach Gangtok, from where Nathu La Pass is just 56 kms away.
Many people also prefer to drive on their own vehicle, the distance between the two is around 680 km. Driving is recommended only if you have experience of driving in hilly terrains.
How to Reach Nathula Pass from Bagdogra
Bagdogra is located just at about 125 kms from Gangtok that means it takes only about 4-5 hours. There are many private and government-run taxis and buses that operate from Bagdogra to Gangtok. Once can opt on of these to reach Gangtok and then easily visit Nathu La Pass. It is better if you opt for a Sikkim state bus rather than of Bengal state. Private cabs take around Rs. 3000 to 4000 and is better if you are travelling in group. However, for solo travellers, shared taxis will be cheaper.
How to Reach Nathula Pass from Mumbai
By Air : One has to board a flight from Mumbai to Bagdogra. Popular carriers like GoAir, Air Asia, Indigo, SpiceJet, and more operate daily. The distance can be covered within 3 hours. From Bagdogra, one can go for shred jeeps or private taxis as per one’s budget and convenience.
By Train : There are a few trains from Mumbai operating till New Jalpaiguri. But the journey by train takes too long and can get tiring and uncomfortable. Flight is the best option.
How to Reach Nathula Pass from Hyderabad
By Flight : Flight is the fastest option to reach Sikkim from Hyderabad. Hyderabad has no flights to Gangtok. Hence, one has to board a flight to Bagdogra first. There are many non-stop flights available between these destinations. From Bagdogra, there are many bus and taxi services, that will take you to Gangtok is just 3-4 hours.
By Train : Travelling by train is a cheaper option. One has to board a train to New Jalpaiguri. But there are very few trains to New Jalpaiguri (NJP) from Hyderabad, hence availing a reservation is difficult. Alternatively, one can board a train to Kolkata and then again board a train to NJP. From there, state or private transports or nearby taxicabs can be boarded from the station to reach Gangtok. But train journeys take too long and tends to get tiring.
How to Reach Nathu La Pass from Chennai
By Air : There are numerous flights available from Chennai to Bagdogra in popular carriers like Indigo, SpiceJet, Air India, Vistara, Go Air, AirAsia that take about 2 hours 35 mins to reach. No flights are available to Gangtok. Flight is the fastest option. From Bagdogra, reaching Gangtok and Nathu La is not a big deal due to the availability of numerous shared jeeps or private taxis.
By Train :To travel by train, one has to board a train to New Jalpaiguri first. From NJP, you can take a private or shared cab to reach Gangtok from where Nathu La Pass is just 56 kms away. After reaching Gangtok, all you need to do is approach a travel agent or local person. But train journeys are not muchpreferred, as they are very exhausting and time-consuming.
How to Reach Nathu La Pass from Delhi
By Air : There are numerous flights available from Delhi to Bagdogra in carriers like Indigo, SpiceJet, Air India, Vistara, Go Air, AirAsia that take about 2 hours to reach. This is the fastest option, which costs max Rs. 3000 if booked early. From Bagdogra, reaching Gangtok and Nathu La is not a concern cause there are numerous road transport services available ranging from buses to taxis.
By Train : You can also travel by train, by first boarding a train to New Jalpaiguri. There are around 16 trains available from Delhi hence getting a reservation will not be difficult. The journey takes around 21 hours to 1 day depending on the train and route. From NJP, you can take a private or shared cab to reach Gangtok from where Nathu La Pass is just 56 kms away. After reaching Gangtok, all you need to do is approach a travel agent or local person.
How to Reach Nathu La Pass from Guwahati
There are many ways to reach Nathu La Pass from Guwahati, as mentioned below:
By Air : the fastest way to reach Nathu La Pass from Guwahati is to board a flight to Gangtok. Major carriers like Indigo, Air India, SpiceJet have flights to Gangtok. After reaching Gangtok, the rest of the journey could be done by road via taxi.
By Train : Guwahati has many trains operating to New Jalpaiguri and Siliguri. Gangtok does not have a railway station; Hence, you have to board a train to one of these stations. These are located at a distance of 122 kms and 117 kms from Gangtok, respectively. The train journey will take around 7-10 hours depending on the train. After reaching Jalpaiguri or Siliguri, you can take a cab to reach Gangtok before starting your journey to Nathu La Pass.
By Road : There are many private and Assam government (ASTC) run buses that run from Guwahati to Siliguri. The distance between Guwahati to Siliguri is something 152 km and takes about 11 hours. Many people also prefer driving in their own car. However, it is recommended only if you have the experience of driving in hilly terrains.
How to Reach Nathu La Pass from Bangalore
By Air : There are numerous flights available from Bangalore to Bagdogra in popular carriers like Indigo, SpiceJet, Air India, Vistara, Go Air, Air Asia that take something between2.35 hours to 5.30 hours to reach depending on the routes. No flights are available to Gangtok. Flight is the fastest option. From Bagdogra, reaching Gangtok and Nathu La is quite easy due to the availability of numerous shared jeeps or private taxis.
By Train :To travel by train, one has to board a train to New Jalpaiguri first. From NJP, you can take a private or shared cab to reach Gangtok from where Nathu La Pass is just 56 kms away. After reaching Gangtok, all you need to do is approach a travel agent of local person. But train journeys are not much preferred, as they take about 65 hours and are very exhausting and uncomfortable.