50 years before Doklam, there was Nathu La: Recalling a very different standoff: 

50 years before Doklam, there was Nathu La: Recalling a very different standoff

Brief background

  • Around five years after the 1962 war, India and China had clashed militarily, a conflict the Chinese rarely talk about.
  • It took place at Nathu La, not far to the northwest of the Doklam plateau.
  • More than 300 Chinese were killed in four days, while India lost 65 soldiers.
  • By comparison, in the monthlong war in 1962, China lost only 722 soldiers. Nathu La, 1967 was the last military conflict between the two countries.

About Nathu La standoff

  • Nathu La is an important pass on the Tibet-Sikkim border through which passes the old Gangtok-Yatung-Lhasa trade route.
  • Chinese and Indian soldiers are deployed barely 30 metres apart, the closest they are anywhere along the 3,488 km Sino-Indian border.
  • The Chinese hold the northern shoulder of the pass; India holds the southern shoulder.
  • Through 1966 and early 1967, China continued its tactics of propaganda, intimidation and attempted incursions into Indian territory.
  • Indian Soldiers in the open were mowed down by Chinese machine gun fire. The Indians responded with artillery fire, and pummelled every Chinese post in the vicinity.
  • Taken aback by the strong Indian response, the Chinese threatened to bring in warplanes.
  • Having sent its message militarily, India, delivered a note to the Chinese offering an unconditional ceasefire across the Sikkim-Tibet border. This was rejected, but the situation remained largely peaceful for some days.
  • Chinese handed over the bodies of Indian soldiers with arms and ammunition, saying they were acting in the interest of “preserving Sino-Indian friendship”.


On October 1 the same year, another skirmish erupted at Cho La, but the Indians again repulsed the Chinese. At Nathu La and Cho La, some ghosts of 1962 had been laid to rest.

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