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Location: Sikkim
Major Passes: Jelap La Pass, Nathu La Pass, Donkia Pass, Chiwabhanjang Pass

Three mountain passes lead to the Tibetan valley, commanding, with their high altitude, a magnificent view of the mountain ranges.

Passes In SikkimA Tibetan world, 'La' means pass and Jelap La - the lonely, level pass. Nearly 46m in length, situated at an altitude of 4,267m, it is passable for most of the year. The journey from Darjeeling is via Pedong to Ari, Sendochen and Gnatong to Jelap pass. The road from Kalimpong to Rhenok, 8-km from Pedong, is through a pastoral setting; a frontier town, Rhenok is the gateway to Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet.

One road, passing through a secluded region of peace and bliss reaches air in Sikkim. The other leads to Tibet and Bhutan. Sendochen is steep stiff 19km away. Magnificent forests of Rhododendron lead to Gnatong. On the way to the pass is the Bidong Tso Lake, with very little signs of life - a forerunner of what to expect at the pass - bleak, barren and desolate, where the wind howls all night, all year round.

The summit, though, offers a wonderful view looming large in the distance, is the yellow and brick dust Tibetan plateau. Beyond, lies the world's most beautiful peak, Chomal Hari, never failing to bewilder the awe-struck visitor.

5-km to the North of Jelap La pass, on the same altitude on a range that runs into Tibet, is the rarely used Nathu la pass on the Sikkim - Tibet frontier. The zigzag track becomes steeper as it leaves Gangtok, but makes up in the changing landscape, which becomes more sublime with every inch of ascent till it reaches the calm waters of the lake, Nuk Tanyi in a region, bleak and dismal.

From the summit, two roads, from both Jelap and Nathu la passes unite in a track leading to the Chumbi Valley of Tibet. On the one side stands a chain of imposing peaks dividing Sikkim from Tibet, on the other yawning abyss of ravines and gorges.

At Nathu la, the Chinese and Indian troops face each other almost at breathing distance. It was in the news quite a lot when skirmishes between the two countries occurred in this pass. Jelep la was used by Younghusband to attack Tibet in 1903 and to commemorate this the path through Jelap-La is called the Younghusband track. Nathu la and Jelap-la passes formed a part of the trade route between India and Tibet till 1962.

It takes ten arduous days and an iron will to reach this pass from Darjeeling, the route starting from Gangtok and taking a circuitous track, where even bridle paths do not exist. At 3,059m mountain sickness sets in, but where nature takes it also invariably gives, on reaching the summit, all queasiness vanishes and nature unfolds her secrets-the vista of a new world lies before the gratified and bewildered beholder. Away, visible in the distant horizon is the Great Tibetan Plateau, seamed with undulating coloured hills; on the north side of the plateau, standing at an altitude of 5,181m, is the calm and placid Cholamo Lake, 6.5-km long and 2.5-km wide. From the sublime heights of this calm sheet of water, with the shadow of mountains over 7,315 metres high 'sleeping on its bosom', rises the turbulent Teesta River.

In the north one of the important passes are Chorten Nyimala, which at 19,000 ft is also the highest usable pass in Sikkim, and Kongra-la. Lonak-la connects the Lachen valley to the Lonak valley in North Sikkim. Donkyia-la pass is another pass in north Sikkim that links up the Lachen valley to the Lachung valley.

Chiwabhanjang, which forms a pass to Nepal, is about 3 hrs walk from Phalut. At Chiwabhanjang are two small lakes known as Bhut-Pokaris. An inspection bungalow stands in ruins at Chiwabhanjang as a mute testimony of the British presence here in the old days to keep off the Nepalese from attacking Sikkim. It is also possible to reach Chiwabhanjang from Uttrey in Sikkim in about 3 hrs, but the trek from Uttrey to Chiwabhanjang is very steep.

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