“We have received the military permit. We are visiting Indo-China border at Nathu La pass tomorrow” announced our tour leader and all of us were overjoyed.
Nathu La pass is on the border of Sikkim and Tibet at 4310 m (14,140 ft) above sea level. It forms part of the old silk route. We were on a tour of Sikkim and visit to Nathu La was subject to receiving the military permit. We were at Gangtok , the capital of Sikkim, situated at 1650 m (5,410 ft) above sea level. We were to start early next day morning, climb all the way to Nathu La and return by the evening. The journey was arduous. The roads were in bad shape. And clouds had descended down the mountain.
It had rained up in the mountain. The roads were muddy and almost non-existent at some places.
Roads were blocked at many places due to landslides and road clearance work was in progress.
And the vehicles were sliding away from the road and getting stuck.
As our vehicles were steadily climbing up, the altitude sickness started setting in. Our breaths were becoming heavy. Altitude sickness is a reaction to the lower amounts of oxygen availability at high altitudes (due to the lower air pressure). Our bodies respond in various ways to this – difficulty in breathing is a common symptom of altitude sickness. One needs to take time to acclimatize, which we had not.
After one sharp turn, the other side of the mountain became visible to us. There was a strong fortification on the top of the mountain in front of us.
“That is the Chinese fortification. Chinese military post is on the upper side of the mountain than Indian military post.” – informed our tour guide.
Some more climbing up the mountain and we reached the Indian military post at Nathu La.
We could see Chinese fortification on all the mountain peaks surrounding Indian military post. Just imagined if, even by some mistake, a skirmish has to break-out here at this moment, and a pang of fear and vulnerability passed through our hearts just by that thought.
A soldier was standing guarding the barbed fence of the Indian military camp. We started chatting with him. We asked him about his daily routine at the camp. He explained his rough and tough routine to us. He told us how he misses his family, yet he was happy because he was guarding our nation’s border.
Our children were highly impressed by the story of the soldier and personal sacrifices that each soldier was making to keep our lives safe. They asked for his autograph. He was perplexed by their demand.
“What will you do with my autograph? It will not buy you anything.” He said. “Just the way you are doing your job and contributing to our nation, I am doing my job and contributing my bit to our nation”.
We did not know how to tell him our gratitude. What could we do with his or any other soldier’s autograph? We just rolled back the tears from our eyes and said,
“Friend, we owe our freedom to you. How can we explain the value of your autograph to us? It is more than our lives!”