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Coming up: Hordes of tourists

india Updated: Jul 07, 2006 00:48 IST

AT A height of 14,000 ft, in sub-zero temperatures, there was a new warmth in India-China relations. On Thursday, as mists swirled and military bands played, Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling and the Chinese-appointed leader of Tibet, Champa Phuntsok, opened Nathula 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 was forgotten. They brandished cameras instead of rifles. Indian and Chinese businessmen queued up to complete formalities before crossing the border posts at Nathula 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 Nathula knew they were not just dusting an old caravan route but ordering business worth crores of rupees. A study showed that in four years, the trade through the pass could 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, an ATM centre, the last two touted as the highest in the world.