Marking a historic occasion, Nathu La, the famous Himalayan pass at 14,500 feet on the Sino-India border in Sikkim reopened after 44 years this morning for trade between the two neighbours.
With the ceremonial opening of the pass, which was once part of the historic 'Silk Route', Nathula became India's third point after Shipkila in Himachal and Lipulekh in Uttaranchal for border trade with China.
Chinese dignitary and Tibetan Autonomous Region chairman C Phuntsok, speaking in Chinese, said the reopening of the border should be viewed as a symbol of friendship between India and China.
Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, was the chief guest at the inaugural ceremony.
The trade through Nathu La would initially be confined to areas surrounding the border with only 100 Sikkim-based traders given licence to export 29 items, while China would export 15.
The reopening of the pass came a little over a year after China accepted Sikkim as an integral part of India.
The route had been closed since the Indo-China war of 1962.
According to a study by Sikkim's Nathu La Trade Study Group, business through the Himalayan pass would be Rs 353 crore (Rs 3.53 billion) in 2010, Rs 450 crore (Rs 4.5 billion) in 2015 and Rs 575 crore (Rs 5.75 billion) in 2020.
The border, despite inclement weather, bustled with activity as a huge crowd including political dignitaries from both countries gathered and members of national, international and local media poured in to witness the historic event, which signifies further warming of relations between the two most populous countries of the world.
The men in uniform were up and about since the small hours to control the crowd and ensure that the inaugural function, which fell on Buddhist spiritual head, the Dalai
Lama's birthday, passed off smoothly.
Soon after the opening, over 100 selected traders from Sikkim including some who traded over the border before its closure in 1962 were escorted by Chinese security officials to
Renquinggang, the Chinese trade station about 30 km from Nathu-la, to help familiarise them with the trading facilities available there.
Similarly, traders from across the border were escorted to Sherathang, the world's highest trading hub on the Indian side, to give them a feel of the facilities there.
While traders in India especially in Sikkim expected handsome gains in due course following resumption of business through the route, China looked upon it as a chance to make vital inroads into the vast south Asian market as Nathu-la is the shortest route for it to reach the ever burgeoning middle-class in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.
The 29 items to be exported through the route include agricultural implements, blankets, copper products, clothes, cycles, coffee, tea, barley, rice, flour, dry fruits, vegetables, vegetable oil, molasses and candy, tobacco, snuff, spices, shoes, kerosene oil, stationery, utensils, wheat, liquor, milk processed product, canned food, cigarettes, local herb, palm oil and hardware.
The 15 imports from China would be goat skin, sheep skin, wool, raw silk, yak tail, yak hair, china clay, borax, seaibelyipe, butter, Kashmir goat, common salt, horses, goats and sheep.
Chamling who declared the pass open said resumption of trade through the pass held great promises for people inhabiting the areas surrounding the border in both countries.
He said that reopening of the route was the result of his party, the Sikkim Democratic Front's, consistent efforts in that direction over the years.