Friday, June 08, 2007

Nathu La-Changu Lake lifeline of Sikkim tourism

Gangtok, June 4: After two months of overflow in tourism in the state beginning from April with different tourist hotspots locked in a fierce battle, the mountainous Nathu La-Changu corridor still stands out as the lifeline of Sikkim tourism.

Nowhere in the world can one travel from an elevation of 5,000 ft (Gangtok) to the surreal heights of 14,400 ft (Nathu La) wihtin two hours flat, tourism stakeholders basking in the after-glow of a bumper season said here.

According to the figures provided by the State Tourism Department, around 1.7 lakh domestic and 6763 foreign tourists had already arrived in Sikkim in the past four months. The figures of the peak month, May have yet to be accounted by the department.

Among these tourists, especially the domestic tourists, a visit to Nathu La-Baba Mandir-Changu Lake axis is a must. Fifty tourist vehicles are permitted by the Army per day to visit Nathu La border, while a visit to Changu Lake and Baba Mandir carries no ceiling.

Around 300 tourist vehicles make it to the last two destinations every day creating a festive look.

''It's all about the snow and the breath-taking view of the mountains that attracts tourists in huge numbers to these areas,'' said Lokendra Rasaily, senior tour operator and a member of Travel Agents Association of Sikkim.

Despite an unusually warm summer here, the Nathu La corridor still exhibits an unparalleled beauty covered with the last remains of snow.

Apart from getting a glimpse of the mighty Chumbi valleys from the Nathu La border, the tourists are fanatical of getting their pictures taken with an official of the Red Army posted on the other side of the fence.

A few kilometers down the border, tourists make a detour towards the temple of the legendary Baba Harbhajan Singh at Kupup. The Indian Army had set up a cafeteria, a gift items shop and other facilities for the tourists in a professional manner that only the Army can at an altitude of 13,000 ft. Those desirous of getting an extra kick can also draw cash from an ATM at the site which is the highest in the country.

Further, the pristine lake of Changu is another attraction where a yak ride around the lake is must for the tourists. Rows of shops selling food and gift items at the lake premises are another attraction.

--- UNI