Nathu La About this sound listen is a mountain pass in the Himalayas. It connects the Indian state of Sikkim with China's Tibet Autonomous Region. The pass, at 4,310 m (14,140 ft) above mean sea level, forms a part of an offshoot of the ancient Silk Road. Nathu means "listening ears" and La means "pass" in Tibetan. On the Indian side, the pass is 54 km (34 mi) east of Gangtok, the capital of Indian state of Sikkim on JN Marg and only citizens of India can visit the pass, that too after obtaining a permit in Gangtok.
Nathu La is one of the three open trading border posts between China and India; the other two are Shipkila in Himachal Pradesh and Lipulekh (or Lipulech) in Uttarakhand.Sealed by India after the 1962 Sino-Indian War, Nathu La was re-opened in 2006 following numerous bilateral trade agreements. The opening of the pass was expected to bolster the economy of the region and play a key role in the growing Sino-Indian trade but that has not happened. Currently, agreements between the two nations limit trade across the pass to 29 types of goods from India and 15 from the Chinese side. The opening also shortens the travel distance to important Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the region.
The pass is 54 km (34 mi) east of Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim and 430 km (270 mi) from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.In the winter, the pass is blocked by heavy snowfall. Because there is no meteorological centre in Nathu La, systematic measurements of meteorological data (such as temperature and rainfall) are not available for the region.However, it is known that in the higher reaches of the Himalayas around the region, summer temperature never exceeds 15 °C (59 °F).
Nathu La has moderately shallow, excessively drained, coarse and loamy soil on a steep slope (30–50%) with gravelly loamy surface, moderate erosion, and moderate stoniness.It has several sinking zones and parts of it are prone to landslides.To preserve the fragile environment of Nathu La on the Indian side, the government of India regulates the flow of tourists. Road maintenance is entrusted to Border Roads Organisation, a wing of the Indian Army.On the Chinese side the pass leads to the Chumbi Valley of the Tibetan Plateau.
Flora And Fauna
Because of the steep elevation increase around the pass, the vegetation graduates from sub-tropical forest at its base, to a temperate region, to a wet and dry alpine climate, and finally to cold tundra desert devoid of vegetation. Around Nathu La and the Tibetan side, the region has little vegetation besides scattered shrubs. Major species found in the region include dwarf rhododendrons (Rhododendron anthopogon, R. setosum) and junipers. The meadows include the genera Poa, Meconopsis, Pedicularis, Primula, and Aconitum. The region has a four-month growing season during which grasses, sedges and medicinal herbs grow abundantly and support a host of insects, wild and domestic herbivores, larks, and finches. The nearby Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary has rare, endangered ground orchida and rhododendrons interspersed among tall junipers and silver firs.
There are no permanent human settlements in the region, though it has a large number of defence personnel who man the borders on both sides. A small number of nomadic Tibetan graziers or Dokpas herd yak, sheep and pashmina-type goats in the region. There has been intense grazing pressure due to domestic and wild herbivores on the land. Yaks are found in these parts, and in many hamlets they serve as beasts of burden.The region around Nathu La contains many endangered species, including Tibetan gazelle, snow leopard, Tibetan wolf, Tibetan snowcock, lammergeier, raven, golden eagle, and ruddy shelduck. Feral dogs are considered a major hazard in this region. The presence of landmines in the area causes casualties among yak, nayan, kiang, and Tibetan wolf.
The avifauna consists of various types of laughing thrushes, which live in shrubs and on the forest floor. The Blue Whistling-thrush, redstarts, and forktails are found near waterfalls and hill-streams. The mixed hunting species present in the region include warblers, tit-babblers, treecreepers, white-eyes, wrens, and rose finches. Raptors such as black eagle, black-winged kite and kestrels; and pheasants such as monals and blood pheasant are also found.
On the Tibetan side two highways — from Kangmar to Yadong and from Yadong to Nathu La — were listed in the 2006 construction plans. Plans are also underway to extend the Qinghai-Tibet Railway to Yadong over the next decade.The nearest railheads are New Jalpaiguri in India and Lhasa in China.The Chinese government is planning to extend its rail service to Yadong, barely a few kilometers from Nathu La. In addition, the Government of India is planning an extension of rail services from Sevoke in Darjeeling district to the Sikkim's capital Gangtok, just 38 miles from Nathu La.