Gangtok, Oct. 17: The JN Marg, which leads to Nathu-la, Baba Mandir and Chhangu Lake, was opened for traffic today after the route was cleared of snow, enabling tourists to visit the high-altitude areas of East Sikkim blanketed in white.
The opening of the road also paved the way for the resumption of border trade between India and the Tibetan Autonomous Region at Nathu-la.
Nathu-la, Baba Mandir and Chhangu Lake, all in the East district, received two-feet of snow on Monday, the first of the season that happened earlier than usual because of the change in the weather. Following the snowfall, temperature at those places plummeted to –2°C.
“The snow had blocked JN Marg in areas above 17th Mile on Monday. But weather has been bright and sunny in the last two days and the snow started melting. Besides, workers of the Border Roads Organisation were pressed into service to clear the highway of the snow,” said a source at 2nd Mile police check-post along the JN Marg.
The check-post office in Gangtok today issued permits to 356 vehicles carrying tourists to proceed to Nathu-la, Baba Mandir and Chhangu Lake.
Tourists need permits to visit Nathu-la, Baba Mandir and Chhangu Lake as they are located close to the border with China.
Nathu-la is at 14,500 feet above sea level, while Baba Mandir and Chhangu Lake are at 13,500 feet.
The Met department here said the temperature in the three places remained at –2°C today also.
The early snowfall has brought smiles to the faces of tourists who thronged to the high-altitude areas which were still covered by a white blanket.
Kalika Ghosh from Malda in Bengal said she had never seen snow before and was excited as she reached the upper regions of East Sikkim this morning.“The snow around Chhangu Lake was amazing; a white blanket has covered some parts of the waterbody. We were told that this was not the season for snowfall. Maybe, it is because of the blessing of Ma Durga that we could see the snow,” she said.
The tour operators are keeping their fingers crossed and don’t know if they can make hay while the sun shines.
“The tourism season has started and the recent snowfall has come as a boon for the tour operators. We have been getting inquires from tourists on the snowfall. We don’t know how long the snow will remain there. As far as the tourists are concerned, they are eager to see the white blanket,” said Madan Gurung, a tour operator in Gangtok.