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Unlikely partners in tourism

By Marcus Dam

KOLKATA, OCT. 12. Once a week, around 8 a.m., a postman from India walks nearly 75 metres through hostile terrain and often-rough weather at an altitude of 14,400 feet from Nathu La in eastern Sikkim into China. He carries a sealed mail bag to the nearest Chinese Army post. He returns with a bag of letters for distribution on this side of the border. Some other day each week, his Chinese counterpart does the same, only the destinations differ. Neither needs a passport.

The Indian postal authorities plan to make this unique trans-national postal exchange between the two countries an "event'' to be witnessed and photographed by civilians who are normally not given free access to such locations for security reasons. Permission has been sought from the Ministry of Defence. If it is granted, the event — on the lines of a similar postal exchange between India and Pakistan at the Wagah border post — could become a tourist attraction. This move comes ahead of the proposed re-opening of the Indo-China trade route through Nathu La, the pass.

Speaking to The Hindu from Gangtok today, the Post Master-General, North Bengal and Sikkim, John Samuel, said that each mail bag exchanged will have 100 to 200 letters. "Correspondence is mainly intra-family,'' for each side of the border has settlers from the other. There are also plans to convert the Nathu La post office, among the highest in the country and staffed by three, into a tourist centre. Special postal stationery with images from the area will be made available here.

Arrangements

Tourism promoters here have found an unlikely partner in the postal authorities, who are exploring ways to "make the existing post offices in the region relevant to local industry,'' according to Mr. Samuel. "We have reached an arrangement with the Darjeeling Planters Association and certain tea garden managements to display packets of quality tea in post offices across north Bengal and Sikkim, where a customer will get to send tea to a chosen destination through air mail, parcel or speed post.''

A survey carried out in Darjeeling showed that nearly 95 per cent of foreigners visiting the town visit the General Post office. "Sixty per cent of them buy Darjeeling tea and have their purchase sent to destinations of choice through courier or post if the consignment weighs more than a kilogram,'' he said.

There are also plans to make catalogues available in major post offices of the country from where customers could place orders for tea supplies through the postal delivery system. "We are also looking at the possibility of listing Darjeeling tea — given its world-wide appeal — in catalogues of post offices in Europe, Singapore, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States where such a facility exists. Some of those postal services are closely associated with the industry,'' Mr. Samuel said.

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