Beijing on Thursday accepted a long-pending proposal from New Delhi to allow an alternative route for pilgrims from India to travel to Kailash Manasarovar in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi signed a memorandum of understanding on opening a new route for India’s official pilgrimage to Kailash Manasarovar Yatra through Nathu La in Sikkim in addition to the existing route through Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand.
The new route through Nathu La is expected to allow elderly pilgrims to embark on the Yatra as it would lessen hardship and journey time.
“On behalf of the people of India, I thank (Chinese) President Xi (Jinping) for opening a new route through Nathu La to Kailash Manasarovar. This will be in addition to the existing route through Uttarakhand. The new route offers many benefits. It makes Kailash Manasarovar accessible by a motorable road, which is especially beneficial to the older pilgrims,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
Modi was addressing media-persons after he and Xi witnessed Swaraj and Wang signing the MoU at the Hyderabad House on Thursday.
“It (the new route) offers a safer alternative in the rainy season, makes the pilgrimage shorter in duration, and will enable a much higher number of pilgrims to go there,” said Modi. The Ministry of External Affairs has been organising the Yatra through the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam Limited, which, on self-payment basis, provides transport, accommodation and food to the pilgrims on the Indian side of the Yatra route.
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Uttarakhand Government provide security cover and basic medical assistance to pilgrims on the Indian side.
The MEA appoints one liaison officer for each batch, who is responsible for the safety and well-being of pilgrims. The liaison officer is provided with a satellite phone to stay in touch with Indian authorities and to seek assistance in case of emergency. A provision of air-lifting of pilgrims by helicopter is also made for medical emergency.
New Delhi has been discussing with Beijing the issue of opening additional routes to Kailash Manasarovar.
The Chinese side has been citing difficulty in opening alternate routes on the grounds that it would involve travel over longer distances on their side through difficult terrain, with poor road conditions and lack of proper infrastructure for accommodation and communication.