Packets of milk biscuits and Nescafe, shelves packed with colourful incense sticks, shops with ‘Made in India’ boards in Chinese and the customary posters of Shahrukh, Salman and Aishwarya in convenience stores.
A group of 38 Indian pilgrims crossed over to China for the final leg of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra at Nathu La in Sikkim on Monday with the land route reopened after over 50 years following the 1962 Sino-Indian war. Officials said the new track was much easier and safer for pilgrims, who had to trek in tough terrain through the treacherous Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand until now.
There are splashes of Indian influence across this small town where residents were ready with smiles for the rare foreigner, especially the Indian.
The remote town, located some 500km from Lhasa and known to be circled by military posts, is the closest town to the Nathu La border trading post between China and India, opened in 2006. Every week between Monday and Thursday, licensed traders from both sides trade their wares at a mart located some 50 km from the town.
The India-China trade through Nathu La is gaining pace slowly, though it is still just around Rs 17 crore.
However, in the last nine years, trade has not picked up along this route. While China allows Indian traders to sell 29 items, only 15 are allowed for Chinese traders. But the situation might be changing, according to China’s ambassador Le Yucheng. Le was in town for the inauguration of the new Kailash route for Indian pilgrims.
“I met Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling and talked to Chinese officials. The trade mart is very busy, they said. More people are coming to do business,” Le told Indian journalists covering the inauguration of the route.
“We need to increase, double the number of items. Soon, this trade mart will be booming,” he said. The place is 54 km from Gangtok.
The volume of trade through Nathu La is reflective of the overall trade between India and China, which now stands at $71 billion, far below the expected $100 billion that was aimed for 2015. “Chinese investors are looking for the red carpet in India, not red tape,” Le said.
He said the trade is set to grow with more Chinese investment in India.
(HT was among a group of Indian journalists invited by the Chinese government to cover the new route opening)