|This article does not cite any references or sources. (December 2009)|
Jelep La Tibetan Frontier by Nicholas Roerich
|Elevation||4,270 m (14,009 ft)|
|Location||India (Sikkim) – China (Tibet Autonomous Region)|
Jelep-la, a Tibetan name, means 'The lovely level pass, so called because it is the easiest and most level of all the passes between Tibet and Sikkim.' (from the Bengal District Gazetteers Darjeeling, 1907, by L.S.S.O'Malley, Indian Civil Service.)
The pass is in Sikkim and the route connects Lhasa to India. The pass is 46 metres (151 ft) in length.
On the Indian side there are two routes to Jelep La, one through Gangtok and the other through Kalimpong. The Kalimpong route is an ancient one which was responsible for the boost in the local economy due to the trading of wool and furs early last century. The pass was closed after the Sino-Indian War in 1962. It passes through the towns of Pedong in northern West Bengal, Rhenok, and Kupup. The route from Gangtok passes through the towns of Sherathang, nearby Changu lake and alongside Nathu La and through Kupup.
The route is scenic with forests of rhododendrons blooming in spring. Numerous hamlets dot the bucolic surroundings which give a traveller a sybaritic experience. On the Tibetan side the pass leads to the Chumbi Valley of the Tibetan Plateau.
Jelep La was in use from early times as trade was flourishing between India and Tibet. After the appropriation of India by the British, the British started to construct roads into Sikkim around 1884. This was viewed with some apprehension among the Tibetans and in 1886 a small Tibetan militia occupied the region around the pass. In May 1888, they attacked the British but were warded off. Later in September the same year the British regained the area around the pass.
With the growing Russian influence in Tibet, a British expedition was sent via Jelep La to Lhasa in 1904 led by Colonel Francis Younghusband. This expedition was met by hostile Tibetan forces which were defeated by the British. A trade agreement was then forced on the Tibetans in the absence of the 13th Dalai Lama, who had fled to Mongolia.
After India's independence in 1947, Sikkim, which was then a monarchy, agreed to a special protectorate status and gave India the status of a suzerain nation and its defence and foreign affairs were managed by India. After the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 and suppression of the Tibetan uprising in 1959, the passes into Sikkim became a conduit for refugees from Tibet before being closed by the Chinese. During the 1962 Sino-Indian War, there were border skirmishes between the Indian and Chinese armed forces in and around the passes of Jelep La and Nathu La - this was despite Sikkim still being a separate Kingdom at that stage. After the war the two passes were closed permanently.
Sikkim became a part of India in early 1975 following a referendum. With the recent thawing in relations between India and China, plans are afoot to reopen the Jelep La Pass (following the July 6, 2006 reopening of the Nathu La Pass) which is projected to result in an economic boom for the region.