Nathu La: 'Sweetness and light'
It is worth mentioning another amusing anecdote.
In July 1949, the Tibetan cabinet decided to expel all the Chinese living in Tibet. The pretext was that the Chinese mission no longer had any relations with Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist government and was not accredited by Mao Zedong's new Communist government.
In fact, the Tibetan government was afraid that some (if not all) members of the Chinese mission in Lhasa would switch over to the new Communist regime in Beijing 'for bread and butter', as Richardson, the Indian head of the mission put it.
The Chinese were swiftly expelled and returned to China via Nathu La, Sikkim and Calcutta. That was the shortest way back to the Middle Kingdom.
During the first years of the Communist regime in China, the so-called 'liberation of Tibet' led to the building of new roads 'to defend our Western borders' as Beijing's propaganda machine put it. Priority was given to the western road known as the Tibet-Xinjiang Highway (or the Aksai Chin road) with a feeder road leading to Nathu La.
It had a strange consequence: India began providing food to the Chinese road workers in Tibet, sending tons of rice through this route. Distinguished Indian civil servant John Lall, then the dewan of Sikkim, witnessed long caravans of mules leaving in the direction of Tibet.
'Suddenly all was sweetness and light (between India and China). The reason became apparent when a request was made for shipment of Chinese rice through India and Sikkim to their troops in Tibet. This could, and indeed should, have been made the occasion for a settlement of the major problems with China,' he recalled.
Though that was not to be, as Jawaharlal Nehru's government continued to delay a decision, it shows once again the importance of the pass.
A Chinese and Indian soldier rearrange a barbed wire fence after a meeting of military representatives of the two countries at the Nathu La pass, which is some 52 km (33 miles) east of Gangtok, the Sikkim capital, on July 5, on the eve of the formal resumption of trade between India and China along the pass.
Photograph: Deshkalyan Chowdhury/AFP/Getty Images
Is the Chinese Dragon smiling?