From K J M Varma (With pics) Naiduila (China), Jun 22: China today opened the second land crossing in Tibet via Nathu La to allow the first batch of Indian pilgrims undertaking the arduous Kailash- Manasarovar Yatra, in the latest confidence-building measure between the two neighbours.
The opening of the second route through the Himalayan pass of Nathu La in Sikkim, 4,000 metres above sea level, was officially announced during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to China last month and will allow more Indians to undertake the pilgrimage. The new route is in addition to the existing Lipulekh Pass, the only route that was badly damaged in the floods in Uttarakhand in 2013.
A total of 44 pilgrims crossed over from the Indian side of the border in Sikkim today as the first batch of the annual Yatra through this border route and were warmly welcomed by Chinese officials in Tibet.
The pilgrims belonging to different age-groups and hailing from various parts of India made their way to the Nathu La pass after a two week-long journey acclimatising themselves for the high-altitude journey to Kailash which stands at an altitude of about 6,500 metres in Tibet.
The pilgrims, who form the first batch of 250 people permitted to crossover to China this year to take part in the Yatra regarded as the most important pilgrimage for Hindus, appeared excited and cheerful. "It is a lifetime opportunity for me to visit the Kailash-Manasarovar.
There is nothing more in life I look for," Bharat Das, one of the pilgrims, told PTI. The pilgrims, several of whom were middle-aged and retired, said they have been looking for this kind of an opportunity since long.
They said it was good fortune to undertake the Yatra through a comfortable route and went on to thank the Chinese authorities for facilitating the new route.
The route through Nathu La Pass will facilitate comfortable travel for Indian pilgrims by buses, especially for elderly Indian citizens, though conditions in the Himalayan region with less oxygen levels still pose a challenge. Yesterday, Chinese Ambassador to India Le Yucheng arrived here from the the Indian side, becoming the first Chinese official to cross the border through the new route.
Le, along with Councillor in the Indian Embassy Beijing Shrila Dutta Kumar and top Chinese officials of Tibet, welcomed the pilgrims as they crossed over. Chinese President Xi Jinping had promised opening the new route for the Yatra to Modi during the former's maiden visit to New Delhi in September last year.
Modi wanted the second route for the Yatra, keeping in view the terrain difficulties through the existing routes through Uttarakhand and Nepal which involve arduous journey, including heavy trekking and travel on the backs of mules.