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China has made Mt Kailash pilgrimage more arduous, expensive for Indians, even Nepalis

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(TibetanReview.net, May09’23) – China has reopened several points on the Nepal – occupied-Tibet border after three years, but then added so many restrictions that travelling, especially for pilgrims, has become both costly and difficult, reported the kathmandupost.com May 8. It cited Nepali tour operators as saying the complex regulations were designed to control the entry of foreign pilgrims, particularly Indians, for Kailash Manasarovar Yatra, one of the most sacred journeys for devotees.

To begin with, “the charges fixed by China for Indians are higher than those for tourists from third countries,” a memorandum submitted to Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Chen Song by three prominent Nepali travel and tour operators — Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents, Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal and Association of Kailash Tour Operators Nepal — was cited as saying, urging him to help simplify the movement of pilgrims.

The Kailash Manasarovar Yatra is one of the lucrative tour packages for Nepali tour operators, the report noted.

Whereas Chinese authorities used to collect the biometric details of visitors at the immigration office at the border points, would-be Indian pilgrims are now required to visit New Delhi to submit their biometric details and get their visa for Tibet.

And as per the new rules, Indian pilgrims should be in a group of at least five people to obtain visas, and at least four of them should be present physically, the report said.

For Nepali workers entering Tibet, China has increased what is called the “grass damage charge” to $300 per person from $100. Such workers go to Tibet as guides, porters or kitchen staff assisting the pilgrims.

Besides, they too need to submit their biometric details from the visa facilitation services (VSF) centre since these are no longer being taken at the immigration offices at the border.

In addition, Chinese authorities are reported to have increased the visa fee for Nepali workers from Rs4,200 to Rs13,000 for a 15-day stay. This is seen as especially disappointing since Nepal has waived visa charges for Chinese entering Nepal, a travel agent who sends Indian pilgrims to Tibet has said.

Another hassle for Nepali firms operating tours to Kailash Manasarovar is that they have to deposit $60,000 or Rs 8 million each to send pilgrims to Tibet, as per the rule imposed by the Foreign Exchange Centre of Tibet, the report said.

Nepali tour operators have said they were inundated with bookings from Indian pilgrims as the destination has been reopened after three years. “But we are in a total dilemma due to the new rules which will discourage Indian pilgrims from going on the holy journey,” Basu Adhikari, managing director of Touch Kailash Travel and Treks, has said.

The holy travel season begins in April and lasts until October. Mid-June to early September is monsoon season in Tibet, but it is the peak season and the most expensive period to travel there, the report said.

India offers two routes for travel to Kailash Manasarovar – the Lipulekh Pass and Nathula, are the longest and most expensive. Only a few pilgrims travel on these routes as they need to get a special permit from the Indian government, the report noted.

India draws a lottery to issue a fixed number of permits each year for these routes and organizes and coordinates the pilgrimage with the Chinese authorities in Tibet. Ladakh offers the shortest and most convenient crossing but Chinese refuses to allow its opening.

Nepal offers three routes to Kailash Manasarovar through the Tatopani and Rasuwagadhi border points. After the Chinese government closed these border points, Nepalgunj became the key gateway.

The Nepalgunj-Simikot-Hilsa-Manasarovar route is the shortest, and the itinerary is affordable and easy. Travellers usually fly from Nepalgunj to Simikot by fixed-wing aircraft, and then take a helicopter to Hilsa on the border with Tibet, the report added.

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