Gangtok, May 12 (UNI) The mountainous Nathu La-Changu corridor is still the lifeline of Sikkim tourism despite the Himalayan state having other attractions.
Nowhere in the world can one travel from an elevation of 5000 ft (Gangtok) to the surreal heights of 14400 ft (Nathu La) in two hours, according to tourism stakeholders.
At least one lakh tourists (both international and domestic) have already arrived in Sikkim in the past two months. The flow of domestic visitors crossed three lakhs last year while a total of 19,844 people turned up from abroad.
The tourism season in the state begins in April.
Among the domestic tourists, a visit to Nathu La-Baba Mandir-Changu lake axis is a must.
While the Army has relaxed the number of vehicles visiting Nathu La from the earlier fifty, visits to the Changu and Baba Mandri, both located within the mountainous corridor, carries no ceiling.
More than 300 tourist vehicles make it to the last two destinations every day creating a festive look.
''Its all about snow and the breathtaking view of the mountains that attracts tourists in huge numbers to these areas,'' said Lokendra Rasaily, senior tour operator and member of Travel Agents Association of Sikkim (TAAS).
And the Nathu La corridor has been seeing a lot of snow on a daily basis despite an unusually warm summer here. Usually, the weather is sunny till the afternoon after which it starts raining brining the temperatures down and snow.
The Nathu La corridor still exhibits an unparallel beauty covered with the last remains of snow luring hundreds of tourists daily.
Apart from getting a glimpse of the mighty Chumbi valleys from the Nathu La border, the tourists are eager to get their pictures taken together with an official of the Red Army posted on the other side of the fence.
A few kilometers down the border, tourists make a detour towards the temple of the legendary Baba Harbhajan Singh at Kupup. The Indian Army has set up a cafeteria, a gift items shop and other facilities for the tourists in a manner that only the army can at an altitude of 13000 ft. There is also an ATM kiosk.
Further down, the pristine lake of Changu is another attraction where a yak ride around the lake is a must for the tourists. Rows of shops selling food and gift items at the lake premises are another attraction.
Sikkim tourism has set up a parking cum shopping centre few metres below the lake in an effort to curb pollution and overcrowding of vehicles at the lake. Shopkeepers at the lake have already occupied the centre and those few remaining will join them soon.
In this booming time for tourism along the Nathu La-Baba Mandir-Changu lake axis, stakeholders have also expressed their concern towards growing pollution.
''We request the tourists not to throw wastes carelessly on the road,'' said an Army official at the Nathu La border.
A Pokhari Sangrakshan Samiti by the locals has been formed to address the Changu lake pollution. Rs.10 is collected from every visitor by this Samiti. The amount will be used to maintain and protect the tourism hotspot. Rs.1800 is collected daily on an average.
Travel Agents Association of Sikkim (TAAS), the apex tourism body in the state, is also sensitizing tourists about proper disposal of garbage and following the standards of eco-friendly tourism.
TAAS will be giving disposal bags to each vehicle ferrying tourists, said Mr.Rasaily.
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