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It's Veni, Vidi, Vici at Nathu La
No amount of preparation can get one ready to travel to the historic pass. For an uninitiated like me, it was a trip that opened my eyes wider.
 
Visiting Nathu La is no less than a pilgrimage, but not of the religious kind. At 14,420 feet above sea level, one is struck by the sheer history that surrounds this strategic mountain pass which connects the northeast Indian state of Sikkim to the Chumbi Valley in China's Tibet Autonomous Region.
 
An off-shoot of the famous Silk Road which networked trade routes since 500 BC, the "listening ears pass" or Nathu La is about nature, history, beauty and sheer ingenuity all rolled into one.
 
No amount of preparation can get one ready to travel to the historic pass. For an uninitiated like me, it was a trip that opened my eyes wider. The overcast skies only added to the chill when we set off from Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, in an SUV at 8.30 a.m. The next four hours that followed made for one of the most unforgettable trips I have ever undertaken.
 
Just 54 km from Gangtok, Nathu La was a nodal point for commerce and exchange of knowledge between India, China and rest of the world. If history isn't what draws attention, the sights are enough to captivate your imagination.
 
As the stomach churning drive began, the Himalayan mountain range soon presented its sheer imposing complex edifice. Soon, the roads meandered to sights that make one cling on tightly to the seat.
 
At some hairpin bends, the valley below looks like a good dozen kilometres down; however, at another turn, it's a pristine waterfall that wakes a traveller's visual sense.
 
Sealed by India after the 1962 Sino-Indian War, Nathu La was re-opened in 2006 following numerous bilateral trade agreements.
 
Nathu La is one of the two open trading border posts between China and India, the other being Shipkila in Himachal Pradesh.
 
With the opening of Nathu La as the second route for Kailash Mansarovar Yatra pilgrims in June, the neighbours have gone a step ahead in strengthening confidence-building measures.
 
Our driver, Sonam, tells us that the new route has given him more business this year.
 
A visit to Nathu La is strictly monitored by the Indian Army and it's open on five days of the week, barring Mondays and Tuesdays.
 
Just as the gorges, valleys and streams begin to overwhelm one's senses, Sonam makes a much-awaited pit stop at a quaint monastery.
 
With a few shops selling woolens and a few curios, the break from the back-breaking road was a welcome relief.
 
Waving good-bye to the old couple there, the journey that resumed was one of sheer awe. As the imposing Himalayas presented their grace, one couldn't but feel humbled. However, the bad road made one return to the real world.
 
At certain places that we stopped to stretch our legs, what captured one's attention other than the beauty was the sheer silence that engulfed . After a few more jaw-dropping turns, we reached the Tsomgo Lake (also called Changu Lake).
 
The azure blue water seems to freeze time in its tracks. Capturing the skies and the mountains in its reflection, the water body, which covers an area of 60 acres, seemed like a vision from a scenic dream. The locals venerate the lake for its "power" to fulfil wishes.
 
Another sight that held my full attention was the yaks that were lined up to give tourists a ride. Looking straight out of a page from J.R.R. Tolkien, these beasts looked menacing but were utterly gentle. After clicking a selfie, standing at a safe distance from the animal, we began our final stretch to Nathu La.
 
Through the overcast skies, a glimpse of the Himalayan snowline was literally breathtaking. It was then that the advice of thin air struck and our driver chuckled to warn that air gets lighter as we approach the pass.
 
When we finally reached Nathu La, at a bone-chilling minus three degrees Celsius, a leather jacket hardly did any justice. A camp house at the top however provided much-needed relief.
 
Champa and her friend who runs the lone tea stall attached to the camp looked like a vision from the heavens with steam emerging from the pot of tea and momos she was preparing.
 
I made it to the foot of the 90 steps that takes tourists to the border fence, with clattering teeth and numb in cold. Nothing could be more apt than the famous Latin quote, "Veni, Vidi, Vici" as one reaches the Indian border post.
 
For the first time I saw Chinese soldiers in flesh and blood. Boorish and non-responsive to our "namaste" and "hello", we felt more warmth when the Chinese tourists from the other side waved at us.
 
When I returned to my hotel at Gangtok at 4 p.m., besides sheer exhaustion, I was reminded that the same seven-and-a-half-hour journey I undertook may have taken a few days for traders using the Silk Route.
 
(Preetha Nair can be reached at [email protected] The writer was in Gangtok to participate in the fourth International Tourism Mart hosted by the Ministry Of Tourism)
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
Lockheed begins construction of US presidential choppers in India
Construction of the first lot of six VH 92 Super Hawk helicopters that transport the US president has begun in India.
 
The new generation helicopter is based on the Sikorsky S-92, whose cabin, some other parts and wire harnesses are made only in India in collaboration with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL) at Hyderabad. Work on the cabins, the initial building blocks for the VVIP helicopters, began recently at this facility, according to a report by India Strategic defence magazine (www.indiastrategic.in). 
 
The VH variant is a much advanced version of the civilian S-92 rotorcraft or its military version, the H-92 with more powerful twin engines, fly-by-wire systems and highly advanced communication and electronic warfare (EW) protection suites. The US president is perhaps the most protected person in the world, and appropriately, the Tata-made aluminum and metal cabin may be reinforced with Kevlar and strong composite materials.
 
Precise details are nearly impossible to get, and even timelines for the presidential aircraft are never disclosed.
 
In any case, all the fittings are to be done in the US itself, and what is delivered when and where is also determined there. In a couple of years though, after harsh tests and trials, the next US president may take off from the White House in one of these India-made cabins.
 
TASL makes 48 cabins a year, and which six of these cabins are selected for the VVIP helicopters will be decided by experts from the US Secret Sevice, the Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin in the US itself.
 
The presidential helicopter fleet is maintained by the US Marine Corps and any machine that the head of the state boards gets the call-sign Marine One. At least five of these aircraft travel with the President wherever he goes, even when abroad. He stays connected with his office through satellites or connectivity by other systems irrespective of wherever he is.
 
Sikorsky had won the $1.24 billion deal in May 2014 to develop and build six new generation VVIP configuration machines, with the number going up gradually to 23 over the next few years and their value going up to an estimated $3 billion.
 
The project envisaged cooperation with Lockheed Martin for onboard protection and communication suites. Its financial component is to be additional for all the space-age gizmos and tech suites that it will put on board those machines. 
 
Signnificantly, Lockheed is now in command and control of all of Sikorsky's famed flying machines as only recently, it acquired the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation from United Technologies Corporation (UTC).
 
Lockheed Martin is the world’s biggest military systems' giant, and the TASL project is now part of its own very impressive portfolio.
 
Notably, when Sikorsky won the deal for the VH-92, it was described as the world’s most advanced executive transport helicopter by its president, Mick Maurer.
 
Sikorsky has been flying US presidents since 1957, beginning with Dwight D. Eisenhower. The current versions that the president flies in are designated VH-3D and VH-69, based on the older generation of Sikorsky machines. 
 
It may be recalled that the Tata-Sikorsky (76:24) venture had rolled out is first cabin in 2010, about a year after the assembly line was shifted from Japan to India. Reliable sources told India Strategic that by now, tens of these cabins have been exported to the US for completion and deployment globally as required.
 
The construction of the VIP configuration variant incidentally is an example of how UTC initiated a venture in India with an eye on the future for the company and a vision for the growing US-India Strategic relations. This, in fact, has often been emphasized by Sikorsky’s India and South Asia Managing Director Air Vice Marshal A.J.S. Walia (retd).
 
The spacious S-92 is already being used for VIP travel in some countries, and is also on offer to India for both government and civilian roles.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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Uber rape: Cab driver convicted
A court here on Tuesday convicted Uber driver Shiv Kumar Yadav for raping a woman executive on the night of December 5, 2014 in the cab she hired to head back home in Delhi's Inderlok area.
 
According to the police, Yadav drove the woman to an isolated place and raped her.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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