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China delays annual pilgrimage

China delays an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a mountainside shrine in Tibet by three weeks.

delhi Updated: May 20, 2008 18:27 IST

China is delaying an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a mountainside shrine in Tibet by three weeks, India's foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

China gave no specific reasons for the delay, saying only that "on account of domestic reasons, they would not be in a position to receive pilgrims before June 21," the ministry, which organizes the trips, said in a statement.

The delay may be connected to the Olympic torch relay, which is scheduled to go through the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on June 20. Taking the torch to the top of Mount Everest earlier this month was criticized by Tibetan activist groups. Security for the event was tight, with all of Tibet sealed off to foreigners since anti-government riots broke out on March 14 in Lhasa. Climbing Everest from the Nepal side was suspended as authorities sought to head off any of the protests that have periodically plagued the flame on its around-the-world relay ahead of the games' August 8 start.

Each year, about 1,000 Indians trek across the Himalayas and into Tibet crossing passes up to 19,500 feet (5,940 meters) high to visit the revered Hindu shrine of Kailash Mansarovar. Mount Kailash, where the shrine is located, is believed to be the home of the Hindu god Shiva.

This year's pilgrimage, originally scheduled to begin in late May, will now begin in mid June, the foreign ministry said. There was no immediate comment from Beijing.

Apart from Hindus, Mount Kailash is also considered holy to Tibetan Buddhists, Indian Jains and the Bon, who follow a religion that predates the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet.