NEW DELHI: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping, “on behalf of the people of India,” for opening a new route through Nathu-La to Kailash Mansarovar, he also fulfilled a promise he had made to the people of Gujarat as the Chief Minister of the state.
Largest number of pilgrims making the arduous journey to the abode of Lord Shiva is from Gujarat.
Seen as a major diplomatic gain for India, opening of the alternate route through Sikkim had been its long standing demand. The gesture by the Chinese President also reflected the special bonding between Modi and him. Modi had raised the issue of opening the additional route via Sikkim with President Xi in July when the two had met in Brazil ahead of the BRICS summit. The Chinese President had given an assurance to consider the request.
Opening of the new route, in addition to the existing one through Uttarakhand, will make the journey safer for hundreds of pilgrims, who brave adverse weather conditions and threat of landslides, every year. Like Modi said in a statement after holding the bilateral talks with the visiting dignitary — “The new route offers many benefits. It makes Kailash Mansarovar accessible by a motorable road, which is especially beneficial to the older pilgrims. It 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.”
The new route, though longer, will be more comfortable as the pilgrims could travel in vehicles up to Mansarovar and then Kailash directly. Nathu La pass was being used for limited border trade with China. Now the pilgrims could cross Nathu La to Shigatse, the second biggest city in Tibet after provincial Capital Lhasa by road.
Former external affairs minister Salman Khursheed welcomed the opening up of the alternate route. “China has collaborated with us on this front to some extent, and it fits into the long term plans we had with China,” he told ET. However, he cautioned that the issue of Line of Actual Control (LAC) still needed to be resolved, and the “dichotomy of conduct and behavior needs to be addressed.”
Former IPS officer Uday Sahay, who has served as the liaison officer for the government of India for the Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrimage said this is the best thing that could have happened for the benefit of the yatris. “The other route is extremely treacherous. The vehicles can go only till Pitthoragarh district in Uttarakhand, and from there it is a trek of about seven days through Lipu pass, into Taklakot, a Chinese cantonment town. Major mishaps have happened during the last leg,” Sahay told ET.
The route was badly damaged due to the floods in Uttarakhand last year. Only one batch could reach Kailash Mansarovar. This year, the latest yatra ended earlier this month with 18 batches of pilgrims completing it successfully. From a total of 910 pilgrims, this year too, highest number of 193 was from Gujarat. As the CM of the state, Modi used to make it a point to felicitate the pilgrims when they returned from the yatra. In 2012, for example, he even presented each of them with Rs 20,000 as encouragement.