Himalayas Mountains

Nathula Pass – A Spectacular drive to China border in Sikkim!

Last updated on November 25th, 2023 at 11:58 am

Driving in the hills is always fun. Many a time it is the drive which is more enjoyable than the final destination. One of our agenda when we went to Sikkim during Christmas holidays was to drive to Nathula pass, the highest pass on Indo-China Border.
While driving in the Himalayas, it is always good to start early and we followed that dictum. We left Gangtok around 6.30 AM with Rifleman Gurung from Gurkha regiment accompanying us. Thanks to Poorna’s friends in Army, our breakfast was arranged at Changu lake in the Army transit mess.
Gurung started guiding us as we came out of Gangtok town and we stopped at the check post for checking the permit. In Sikkim, you are not allowed to drive your own cars beyond Gangtok. You need a permit to drive up the hills and you won’t get it. Thus, you have to hire a local taxi to travel around. We could get permit as Poorna had served in Army.
The road to Nathula is not a smooth drive. The road is at edge of the mountain. The valleys are deep and being a landslide prone area, many parts of the road especially till Changu lake is nothing but rock and gravel which only the SUVs can maneuver. The Border Roads Organisation is doing an amazing job in doing up the road and we could see lovely stretches of the road done by them in such adverse conditions. The road is curvy and narrow at times. Poorna was cautiously driving allowing the local drivers overtake with gusto.
As we continue our drive, hop on with us as we take you through a pictorial journey to Nathu La…..
Start of the Journey…..
Portion of the road in the landslide prone area before Changu lake is fit only for SUVs. 
Sentinels of our borders………Hats off to these guys
Look at the Army unit’s location……
First glimpse of snow…
We had our breakfast here. Some of the best Alu parathas we have ever tasted.
Changu Lake. It was half frozen. The setting was idyllic.
Brinda and her Yak….
The drive from here to Nathula was spectacular. Can you see the road anywhere here??
…….or Santa Claus and his reindeer…….
The vistas were so beautiful it looked as if it was made for the Christmas day
A Frozen Waterfall
Isn’t this lovely……
The Man, The Machine, The Snow
A Frozen lake on the way
Baba Harbhajan Mandir – Dedicated in the memory of Sepoy Harbhajan Singh who went missing while on a patrol. 
A strong belief among Army folks that Baba guides them during their difficult period while serving in these harsh conditions. Every visitor to Nathula has to take the blessing of Baba before going up.
For More details click on this link Baba Harbhajan Singh
The white and brown landscape of Nathu La
A Young Chinese soldier was cynosure of all eyes. He was the lone guard on duty and was obliging. The problem was the language. When Brinda spoke to him, all he could answer was “Ya”. So we kept his name as “Ya”!
A Chinese Guard Post
Ashoka Pillar – Indian National emblem
Army War Memorial – In the memory of those who laid down their lives so that we live in safety
A view of Chumbi valley of Tibet – On Chinese side
Jomolhari peak of Bhutan with Chumbi valley in foreground
As we left Changu lake and drove towards Gangtok, fog enveloped the whole valley…….Workers of Border Roads Organisation walking back to their barracks
The weather throughout was excellent. At Nathula the cold winds was numbing. We really salute these soldiers who works in such adverse conditions and keep their spirits high. On our way back we again stopped over for a hot cup of tea at Army detachment in Changu.
We bid goodbye to our friends in uniform and left Changu. Midway, the whole are got enveloped with a thick fog and it was a slow drive to Gangtok.
Travel Tips
a) The Drive is slow and 55 KMs will take 4 hours because of road condition. Hire a good taxi. Ensure that the agent gets all permits ready on the previous day itself. You need to provide a copy of passport size photo and address proof for getting the permit. The permit is issued at the police headquarters and all agents are aware of it.
b) It is a one complete day trip. Leave early. Return early. Sun rises early in North East. Make sure the driver drives safely. There is a tendency among the younger drivers to drive fast. It is definitely not needed.
c) Stop and enjoy the the vistas on the way.
d) There are only two villages on the way to Nathu La where you can get eatables and water.
e) Baba Harbhajan Singh mandir will close after 2 PM. Make sure you are there well in time.
f) Nathu La at 15,000 feet can impact some with symptoms of Altitude Mountain Sickness. Do not exert yourself at this place. No running or walking briskly.  If you find yourself out of breath, come down the hill and you will be alright.
g) Please wear woollen as it is very cold at top.
h) Carry a good Binocular along.
If you loved reading this post, you may be interested to look at the following drives in Himalayas.
Ladakh Diaries 2 – Manali to Leh, Day two
Ladakh Diaries 4 – Drive to Khardung La
Ladakh diaries 5 – Drive to Pangong Tso, lake at 15,000 feet!
A Monsoon Drive in western ghats
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