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China cool to Nathu-la show
Business as usual' An Indian and two Chinese guards keep vigil
at Nathu-la. (PTI)

Nathu-la, July 9: Charlie Company’s bugler Madan Gopal has to catch his breath here after blowing the long and short notes of the “reveille” to signal the hoisting of the flag and the start of trade on this border.

In the evening, at 3.30 Indian time and 6 pm Chinese, from Monday to Thursday every week till September, constable (general duty) Madan Gopal from the Thundering Thirteenth battalion of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) will have to catch his breath again after blowing the notes of the “retreat”, this time in descending order, to signal the lowering of the flag and the end of the day’s business.

His colleagues of the ITBP in ceremonial uniform will give the two-by-six guard in accordance with the Indian Drill Manual as company commander Nima Dorjay Sherpa from Darjeeling will keep an eagle eye for anything amiss.

On the Chinese side, the formalities will be kept to a bare minimum. Three soldiers of the Border Guards Regiment will hoist and lower the Chinese flag without much fuss.

Just what kind of a border crossing Nathu-la will become in the near future is difficult to guess. The routine will begin tomorrow and will be improvised over the next few weeks. Much of the ceremony on the border will also be shaped by the kind of messages that New Delhi and Beijing want to convey. Many third-country visitors to Wagah find the competitive hard-snapping of jackboots by the BSF and the Pakistan Rangers a parody of Delhi-Islamabad diplomatic ties.

The Indians in Nathu-la can do with much more ceremony, like Wagah, where the Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers goose-step in the mornings and evenings to jingoistic cheering by the crowds that gather.

R.C. Baijwan, the ITBP’s commander for the Sikkim sector, says that on June 30 and July 5 notes on what drill should be followed were exchanged with the Chinese at border personnel meetings. The Chinese spoke a completely different language ' the Indians discovered ' than the Pakistanis. This meant that they also ideate differently.

“For example,” explains deputy commandant Raj Kishore, “both Indians and Pakistanis understand what a ‘two-by-six guard’ is ' since we both learnt it from the British ' but the Chinese do not.”

The Nathu-la border crossing that was opened on Thursday will be like no other that India and China have. The reopening of the pass after 44 years is an experiment in international boundaries that is not paralleled. The Chinese want to keep formalities to a bare minimum while the Indians prefer colour and pageantry.

But the difficult conditions in this 14,400-ft-high pass, where thick fog, sleet and thin air make physical exertion arduous, can restrain the Indians from adding as much pomp as the Wagah crossing to the ceremonies here. The ITBP, of course, is a little dampened in its enthusiasm after having at first suggested an elaborate drill.

Nathu-la is open to tourists four days a week and the ITBP’s personnel who are tired of serving in remote and desolate posts are eager for the public attention that this posting promises.

The ITBP’s proposal has been made despite such ceremonies being absent at the two other border crossings between India and China ' at Shipki-la on the Himachal border and at Lipulekh in Uttaranchal. Neither Shipki-la nor Lipulekh ' unlike Nathu-la ' is motorable.

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