Sikkim is a land of shimmering lakes and rolling hills In the Northeast region of India that is picturesque enough to fit right into a postcard. And when in Gangtok, a trip to Nathula Pass is almost customary. Located 54 km east of the capital, the Nathula Pass is not only popular for its surreal natural beauty but also because it is enriched in history. The Pass is an offshoot of the Old Silk Route that connects Sikkim to the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The Nathula Pass holds its importance as the crossroad between India and China. It passes through Tsomgo Lake and at one time, it served as an important trade route between Tibet and India.
Apart from its significance on the political front, the Nathula is nothing less than paradise with its gorgeous alpine flora. In fact, its beautiful terrain, the purity of nature and the lovely people will leave you in awe.
Temperature and the Best Time to Visit
Before planning your Nathula Pass tour, go through the following information regarding weather conditions to plan a hassle-free trip: –
Winters: The Pass, which is at a height of 4310m above sea level, experiences extremely cold weather conditions. Winters usually last from November to February with temperatures dropping the most in Nathula Pass during December. The temperature goes to the lowest of about -25° C during the winter season. Winters make it the best time to visit Nathula Pass as the snow-covered Nathula is a wonderful sight during the winters. At times, motorable roads might be closed for travelling due to heavy snowfall. For snow-lovers, Nathula Pass is at its best in winter but make sure to pack proper garments. The sight of snow-capped mountains and valleys is simply unexplainable.
Summers: The summers are cold too. However, during this time, temperatures range from 12 degrees Celsius to a maximum of 20 degrees Celsius. The months of June-September are off-season due to monsoon and the danger of frequent landslides. As a good practice, carrying woollen clothes even during summers is advisable as mountainous winds in higher altitudes make the area chilly throughout the year.
Monsoons: Monsoons result in bad road conditions due to heavy rains during this time. Landslides are also quite common during monsoons even though the routes are open for visitors.
The best time to visit Nathula Pass would be during the summers (April-mid June) and autumn (October-November). You will find suitable weather conditions in September with no snow in the region and the greenery surrounding the area at its best. You can see the snow till the third week of April and during May, the snow starts melting.
Visiting Days for Nathula Pass
The Nathula Pass is a protected area that is open for visitors five days a week – Wednesday to Sunday. It remains closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. However, visiting this Himalayan Pass requires a special permit. Furthermore, foreigners aren’t allowed and photography is strictly banned.
How To Get Nathula Pass Permit
Only Indian nationals with valid permits can visit the Nathula Pass. This permit can be obtained by applying to the Tourism and Civil Aviation Department. It is produced by the Sikkim Tourism Department in Gangtok. You can also request a registered tour agency or a hotel to help you through the procedure and get the permit. All you need to do is to submit a photo ID proof along with two passport-sized photographs. The charges will be informed to you by the agency and a minimum of 24 hours is required to get the permit.
How to Reach
Nathula is located at a distance of 56kms from Gangtok and is situated on the Jawaharlal Nehru Road. Only SUVs are allowed to be driven to Nathula Pass. Sturdy vehicles such as Innova, Bolero, and Scorpio are available for rent in Gangtok. You can also share a cab to Nathula Pass with other tourists. The road from Gangtok to Nathula Pass is decently maintained despite being steep, although it may get slippery in a few places. There are various options if you are wondering how to visit Nathula Pass:
- By Flight:Bagdogra Airport is the nearest airport which is located at a distance of 178 km from Nathula Pass.
- By Train: NJP is the nearest railway station which is connected to all other major cities in India.
- By Car:Since Nathula Pass is located 54 km from Gangtok, the only way is to drive along the way from Gangtok to Nathula Pass.
Make sure that the vehicle you are travelling in from Gangtok to Nathula Pass is authorized by the Sikkim Government. The vehicle fare depends on which season you are travelling to Nathula. The rates are higher during the peak tourist season and lesser during the off-season.
Sightseeing In and Around Nathula Pass
Apart from the natural beauty, there are several places in and around the Pass that one must visit for a proper exploration of the region: –
1.Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir
The Baba Mandir or Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir is a place of great importance in terms of tourism and is strategically located on the Indo-China border. The temple was built in memory of Baba Harbhajan Singh who was an Indian army man who died near Nathula in 1968. The new temple is situated at the Kupup Gnathang Road and is a famous sightseeing spot in Sikkim.
2.Staircase to Indo-China Border
The staircase along the steep mountain roads of Nathula leads to the International Indo-China border. You just need to climb the slope, climb the stairs slowly and take ample rest in between. The serene views will blow your mind! Once you reach, click some photos, make memories and enjoy the glimpse from the steep steps. The panoramic views of the entire Himalayan range from the stairs as you go uphill are breathtakingly beautiful.
3. Mandakini Waterfalls
Another beautiful stop in the journey of Nathula Pass is Mandakini Waterfalls. Get ready to eat some snacks and click selfies and even do a photoshoot to make this journey more entertaining. You can easily find tea and food stalls near this fall. It is a highly recommended place to visit if you’re a nature lover. Enjoy the glimpse of this waterfall and spend your precious time in the midst of nature.
4. Yumthang Valley Lachung
Yumthang Valley Lachung is amongst the most famous tourist destinations in Sikkim, popularly known as the ‘valley of flowers’ because of its unique location above the line where no trees grow. The road reaching this valley offers spectacular views of the varieties of rhododendrons on both sides. Due to its proximity to the China border, even this place requires an inner Line Permit which can be obtained from the Tourist Information Centre or through any registered tour operator.
5. Mera Bharat Mahan Hill
Mera Bharat Mahan Hill comes on the way to Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir. It is written prominently in the hilly part so that it could be seen from afar. The sudden emergence of these three words on rugged terrain will invoke patriotism in you. It’s a vast area which will amaze you with the history surrounding it.
6. Tsomgo Lake
The Tsomgo Lake also known as the Changu Lake is a popular tourist site in Gangtok that’s located on the Eastern side of the Sikkim District of Bengal. This lake is formed by the meltdown of the glaciers of the Himalayan Range. To visit this lake, one needs a special permit from the Tourism and Civil Aviation Department of Sikkim. It offers a refreshing delight to travellers. The lake reflects different colours and it remains frozen during the winter season with yak rides to enjoy the lake. This is one of the most beautiful lakes near Gangtok that is sure to leave you awestruck!
When planning a trip to Sikkim, make sure to witness the magnificence of nature around you; add this place to your Sikkim package while at it. So, plan a trip to Nathula Pass in Gangtok that will let you immerse yourself in the beauty and the serenity of this pass.