China has asked the Indian government to put off the annual pilgrimage to Kailash and Mansarovar (in Tibet), citing “domestic reasons”. According to official sources, no reason for the postponement of the pilgrimage, scheduled to begin from June 1, was given, leading to speculation that China’s decision was related to its sensitivities regarding Tibet.
The visit by the first two batches of pilgrims has been called off and the pilgrimage will begin from June 13, with the third batch of yatris reaching the Chinese border on June 22. According to a senior official, negotiations are on with the Chinese to try and ensure that all the 960 pilgrims selected (by draw of lots) to travel can be accommodated.
Sixteen batches, each consisting of a maximum of 60 pilgrims, were scheduled to undertake this year’s pilgrimage. The duration of the pilgrimage is 26 days and the last batch is expected to return on September 24.
According to the MEA spokesman, “The Government of People’s Republic of China conveyed to the Ministry of External Affairs that on account of domestic reasons they would not be in a position to receive pilgrims before June 21, 2008. In view of this, the MEA had to cancel the batch numbers one and two,” the spokesman said on Tuesday.
China's recent crackdown on Tibet in the wake of intensified anti-government protests have evoked strong concerns in the international community including India. Official sources said, however, the more pressing reason appeared to be last week’s devastating earthquake.