To an average Tibetan the name of Nathula evokes the memory of the exodus in 1959 when several thousand Tibetans may have crossed over through that pass, from Tibet, to seek refuge in Sikkim and India.
Prior to 1959 Nathula symbolised the trade relationship between Tibetans and Sikkimese and Indians, for this was the main entry point for foreign goods to enter Tibet from India, as also for Tibetan traders to enter into commerce with Indian traders in Gangtok and mostly in Kalimpong.
Following the Tibetan political tragedy of 1959 this route was closed for several decades until its reopening in recent years. Today there is news that the Nathula route has opened for this year.
Despite all such efforts, things are not the same as they used to be. Today, the trade relationship is driven more by political considerations than by actual desire of people on both sides of the border. They have in fact become more of a photo-op with photos of traders smiling to the camera, carrying their trading permits or something similar.