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Wait over, time for business

Nathu-la (TAR, China), July 6: Formalities of the inaugural ribbon-cutting ceremony, speeches and exchange of greetings over by half-past nine this morning on the open border located at 14,400 feet, the human barricade of the People's Liberation Army gave way to officials of the Indian side led by Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling who crossed over to interact with their new-found friends.

A little further inside, within the 50-metre radius where 10 Indian journalists ' among them this correspondent ' were allowed, a line of 89 Tibetan traders dotted one side of the road clad in their traditional attire braving the freezing drizzle and mist. They had reached here early from hamlets and towns located within 30 km, among them Shyasima, Thomu, Yadong, Renquinggang (Rinchingang in Chinese) and Chumbithang.

The arrangements here looked more organised than the chaos and confusion that reigned on the Indian side, where media personnel jostling for space to get their share of the coverage often entered into squabbles in full glare of the PLA soldiers and traders. The civil administration, army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police worked hard to control the swelling crowd that thronged the Line of Actual Control to set foot on Chinese soil.

Another 30 metres inside, a PLA band played Chinese tunes. Smoking 'Chill Out' brand cigarettes manufactured by the Chengdu cigarette factory, two traders Tashi and Tshering said they were very happy to be part of the trade after 44 years since it was closed in 1962. They, however, did not have any items to carry for their first journey to Sherathang, seven kilometres on the Indian side where the trade mart is located.

'We have come to see the prospects in India so we know what we can sell among the 15 items listed for export from our side,' said Tsering Chedu, a stocky woman who owns a provision store in Shyasima and leader of the delegation of 89 traders to Sherathang.

Unlike the traders from Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), who wanted to see for themselves before making deals in hard cash, the Indian side already saw foreign exchange transactions worth $10,000 on Day 1. Some 57 of the 100 traders who headed for Rinchingang today had purchased $10,000 from State Bank of India's Gangtok branch and the branch at Sherathang since yesterday, according to SBI manager Tenzing Chewang.

Among the entourage of traders from Sikkim was octogenarian Motilal Lakhotia, who, after a gap of 44 years, walked down memory lane. 'I am very happy to be going back. I plan to locate old friends, business partners and also check if my old account at the bank in Yatung still exists,' said Lakhotia, the proprietor of Sikkim Tibet Trading Company, who exported items on mule caravans since 1954 before the route closed.

Accompanying him is second generation traders like S.K. Sarda, the president of the Sikkim Chamber of Commerce. Sarda, who hails from one of the oldest Tibet-trade families in the state, plans to continue his father P.C. Sarda's business.

Earlier at the inaugural function, Chamling said the event was the 'realisation of a dream' and it would mark the beginning of a new era in the relationship between the two economic powers.

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