AT A height of 14,000 ft, in sub-zero temperatures, there was a new warmth in India-China relations. On Thursday, as mist swirled and military bands played, Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling and the Chinese-appointed leader of Tibet, Champa Phuntsok, opened Nathu La to trade after 44 years.
It took just a snip of a red ribbon. And four decades of silent staring by soldiers across the border were forgotten. They brandished cameras instead of rifles. Indian and Chinese businessmen queued up to complete formalities before crossing the border posts at Nathu La to check markets on the other side.
"It is a historic day," said Chamling. "A contact that started centuries ago between our two civilisations is being re-established. The formal re-opening of this trade route will be a win-win situation for both countries."
The gathering of 400 people at Nathu La knew they were not just dusting an old caravan route but ordering business worth crores. A study says in four years, the trade through the pass can swell to Rs 350 crore.
“China views the pass as more than just a symbol,” said Sun Yuxi, Chinese ambassador to India. "This is just a first step. We hope to follow it up with tourism,” he said, before crossing to China.
Phuntsok too said they meant business. “It’s a major event for the two nations to expand economic cooperation.” And the signs are there: a bank, an internet cafe and an ATM centre — the last two touted as the highest in the world.