|The road to Jelep-la at Zuluk in Kalimpong. The pass is about an hour’s drive from Zuluk. File picture
Darjeeling, Aug. 7: Bimal Gurung today sought from central ministers the reopening of the Jelep-la, a pass to Tibet which has been shut since the Sino-Indian border conflict but which could put Kalimpong back on the border trade map.
Gurung and his delegation of GTA members in Delhi met Union foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari and tourism minister Shripad Yesso Naik.
Morcha leader Roshan Giri, who was present at the meetings, said the GTA’s list of demands also featured the requirement of a passport seva kendra in Siliguri, heritage status to a hydel power plant commissioned in 1897 and repairs to NH55 that has been closed for three years after landslides.
Giri, the Morcha general secretary, asked if the Gorkhaland demand came up for discussion, said: “We discussed what I have mentioned.” He said: “The response from the ministers was very encouraging.”
The demand for reopening the Jelepa-la is a long-standing one from the people of Kalimpong, a subdivision which before the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict was a trade hub. When Nathu-la was reopened for trade in 2006, there was a demand to re-open Jelep-la, too.
The Kalimpong Chamber of Commerce had submitted a memorandum to then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004 when he visited Gangtok. In 2007, Congress MP from Darjeeling Dawa Narbula raised the issue of reopening the Jelep-la in Parliament.
Kalimpong was the station for loading and unloading commodities brought from Tibet and also for packaging and re-shipment of export goods from India to Tibet before 1962.
The Jelep-la is an all-weather pass — it does not get blocked with snow — unlike the Nathu-la in Sikkim which is at a higher altitude and open only from May to November each year. The Nathu-la is operational at this time for trade between India and China.
Trade through the Jelep-la started in 1871 and flourished more after Colonel Francis Younghusband’s visit to Tibet via Kalimpong in 1904. Following the improvement in ties between British India and Tibet, a British agent was stationed in Shigatse in Tibet for the purpose of aiding trade and transit.
Most of the godowns on the Indian side were set up at a place called 10 Mile in Kalimpong. The Jelep-la starts from Kalimpong and passes through Algara and Pedong in the subdivision and passes through Rhenock, Arithar, Zuluk and Kupup in Sikkim. The pass, which meets the Chumbi Valley in Tibet, is at an altitude of 13,999 feet above the sea level.
The GTA memorandum of agreement also stated that the reopening of the Jelep-la route was one of the proposals that the GTA would take up with the state and the Centre.
Giri said the Morcha team also spoke of the need for a passport seva kendra in Siliguri. Hill residents now have to travel to Calcutta. He said: “We also made a demand to Union tourism minister S.Y. Naik that the Sidrapong hydel project be declared a national heritage. During our meeting with Nitin Gadkari, we also demanded immediate steps to repair NH55.”