Nathula Pass: Abode of whispering mountains and whistling winds

The ideal season to visit Nathula Pass is the spring (March-May) season. Photo: iStock/Rupam Mandal

Nathula Pass, a mountain pass on Sikkim's Dongkya Range is a dream destination for many travel buffs. It is also a test of physical fitness as well as mental strength. The Jomolhari Peak of Bhutan, known as the bride of Kanchenjunga is visible from the spot. Nestled on the Northern tip of East Sikkim, Nathula Pass is situated at a height of 14,140 ft (4,310 metres) from the mean sea level.

Except at the peak of summer, here, the temperature always remains in the sub-zero level and during the night it may dip to -25 degrees Celsius. Winter with snowfall begins in October in Sikkim and ends in February. January is the coldest month when most educational institutions remain closed for the winter holidays when the average temperature drops to -7. The ideal season to visit the region is spring (March-May).

Where to stay?
The nearest town to Nathula Pass is Gangtok, the Capital of Sikkim, which is 56 km away. There are many hotels and lodges available here. The rate starts at Rs 100 for a good room with double occupancy. For backpackers, there are comfortable dormitories and hostels, where one will get a bed space for Rs 600 onwards. The normal travel time under ideal weather conditions is 1.5-2 hours but one has to be prepared for traffic blocks due to shooting stones and landslides.

Travel preparations
You need to secure ‘passes’ from the Department of Tourism with the clearance of the Army, to enter the high altitude border regions. It is better to seek the assistance of hoteliers/lodges to arrange transportation and permits. Only taxis are available. The paperwork should start a day in advance. The application with your ID card and a photograph should be submitted online. Remember, the Aadhaar card is not valid.

The permit fee is Rs 200 per person. Normally, the facilitators charge Rs 1200 to Rs 1500 per person including travel, parking fee and permit fee. The Mountain Pass is open only five days a week
(Wednesday to Sunday). The vehicle would be on a steady climb from 5410 feet (1650 meters) of Gangtok to 14140 feet (4310 meters). The atmospheric pressure would drop after 8000 feet and it may cause high altitude sickness.

Buy some chocolates
Ensure that you have a stock of Dark Chocolates which have flavonoids (substances found in vegetables, flowers, tea and wine) that increase the production of nitric oxide which can help dilate blood vessels and increase oxygen flow to the brain and body. Those with respiratory issues should opt out.

Renting out winter gear
Here, the eateries double up as renting spots for winter gear which is essential for the roughly 100-meter-long ice field trekking to Nathula viewpoint.

Jawaharlal Nehru Road- a strenuous Journey
The ideal time to start is at 8 am from Gangtok as you can reach 11 am at Nathula after having food on the way and some sightseeing en route. A strategic highway, the road serves both the army personnel deployed along the China border and tourists who travel to the various destinations of the Himalayan ranges including Nathula Pass, Zero Point and Kailash Manasarovar. One can't miss large boards of Border Roads Organization with catchy slogans on road safety. It was freezing when we reached the Nathula pass. Atop an ice-covered hillock, there is a viewpoint and the army posts. In front of us, we could see people jostling each other to climb up, many of them losing balance and slipping down the ice.

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