Warmest congratulations to the reopening of Sino-Indian Nathu La Pass border trade route

India and China made history on Thursday July 6, 2006, by reopening the old Silk Road along the Himalayas for border trade after 44 years, ushering in a new era in their warming relations.

Businessmen queued to complete formalities before crossing the border post at the 4,570m high Nathu La Pass - “the pass of the listening ear” - to visit markets on the other side. “Today is a historic day,” said Pawan Chamling, chief minister of India’s Sikkim state.

The crossings followed an inauguration ceremony held in driving rain and biting cold, during which the chairman of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, C. Phuntso, and chief minister of India’s Sikkim state Pawan Kumar Chamling jointly cut a red ribbon.

“The reopening of the 563-kilometre Silk Route marks the beginning of a new era of hope and prosperity and improving bilateral between the two nations,” Phuntso told the small gathering of officials, traders and soldiers.

“This is a historic day for both countries,” said Chamling. “It will lead to economic development and social prosperity of the people.”

Military brass bands played as a near-freezing drizzle fell on the crowd gathered at the border between the mountain peaks. Troops from both sides mixed freely. While trade through Nathu La will be duty-free, Indian exports are limited for now to an approved 29 commodities, mostly food items. The Chinese traders are restricted to bringing in 15 types of goods, including goat and sheep skins, wool and herbs.

Merchants were presented on each side with silk scarves symbolising respect and were greeted with music and folk dancing after crossing the border through a stone-walled passageway that has replaced the barbed wire that had kept them apart since 1962.

A red banner erected on the Tibetan side read, “Warmest congratulations to the reopening of Sino-Indian Nathu La Pass border trade route”, while on the Indian side a yellow banner simply said, “Welcome to Nathu La.”

In Tibet, the market at the village of Renqinggang has been reactivated but China plans to make the nearby town of Yadong, also known as Chomo in Tibetan, the biggest free-market border centre in southwest China.

Trade will start each year on June 1 and continue until September 30 after which heavy snow makes the cloud-shrouded area impassable.