A month after India and China decided to conduct the Kailash Mansarovar yatra via Nathula Pass in Sikkim, a debate is raging with several experts saying that the existing route via Uttarakhand is more convenient than the one through Nathula Pass.
There had been hue and cry in Uttarakhand when the two nations decided to start the pilgrimage via Sikkim in the North East.
Chief minister Harish Rawat had officially protested against this decision and local traders also protested in Dharchula which is a stopover on the Mansarovar route.
India and China conduct the annual Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage in the Tibet Autonomous Region in China.
The pilgrimage passes through Pithoragarh district and besides a stopover at Malti, the pilgrims have to scale remaining route in Indian side on foot.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hinted that he is in favour of having a convenient route for pilgrims and India and China decided to conduct the pilgrimage via Nathula Pass during the Chinese premier's visit to India last month.
However, experts feel that Nathula route is not feasible for pilgrims to visit Kailash as it is connected by motorable road whereas Lipulekh route of Uttarakhand entails trekking through a hazardous high altitude zone.
"If road connectivity was so vital then government should have considered easier and shorter route via Shipki La Pass in Himachal Pradesh," said SS Pangti, a retired IAS officer who has toured the hills in Uttarakhand and neighbouring countries.
Pangti claims that Britons built the India-Tibet road through Shipki La to Mansarovar and Lhasa.
This pass connected by road is only 12,000 feet above sea-level as compared to 15,000 high Nathu La in Tibetan plateau and the distance is less than one fourth of Nathula route.
Moreover, the road journey of about 1,500 km on cold desert of Tibetan plateau cannot be comfortable.
Pilgrims from Haryana, Maharashtra and other north and central Indian regions will have to cover an equal distance in India too by rail and road.
Experts also raised questions about security.
Uttarakhand shares international boundaries with China and Nepal.
"The bone of contention in Indo-China diplomacy — Barahoti — is on Uttarakhand border. Also Uttarakhand has much longer international boundaries than Himachal and Jammu and Kashmir so from strategic point of view annual affairs like Kailash yatra give locals an opportunity to remain in their homeland," Pangti said.
In fact, the ministry of external affairs handles annual Kailash pilgrimage.
This year ministry gave nod to total 18 groups to visit Kailash Mansarovar situated at 19,500 feet.
Kailash yatra dates back to 1981 when India and China agreed to start the pilgrimage.
There were no restrictions on the movement of pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar till 1962 war.
Post war, relations between the two nations soured and as a result, the yatra was cancelled.
It took the Chinese government two decades after the war to give permission to Indian pilgrims to visit Mount Kailash.