When 45 Indian pilgrims cross over to China from the Nathu La pass in Sikkim on Monday on their way to the Kailash-Mansarovar site 1,500 km away, they will become the first Indians to do so through the new route.
Till now, 18 batches of 60 Indians each undertook the journey through the Lipulekh pass in Uttarakhand every year between May and September — an arduous route that involves trekking through tough terrain.
The new route — to be inaugurated on Monday, and that will be administered by the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government — will cut short the trekking time; pilgrims will now be able to make the journey on buses.
During his visit to China in May, PM Narendra Modi had referred to the opening of this route. “The Nathu La route for Indian pilgrims to visit Kailash-Mansarovar will become operational in June. I want to thank China for that,” Modi said in Beijing
On Sunday, a convoy of SUVs carrying Chinese officials, diplomats and journalists rolled into the small trading town of Xiasima to prepare for the first batch of pilgrims expected on Monday.
Located around 50 km from Nathu La – and nearly 500 km from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) capital Lhasa – the town and Yadong county borders both Sikkim on one side and Bhutan on the other and is at a height of around 10,000 feet, surrounded by mountains.
Le Yucheng, China’s ambassador to India, was one of the VIPs to arrive in the town late on Sunday night. He had flown from New Delhi to Bagdogra and then taken a bus to Nathu La to cross over to the Chinese side.
“I had lunch in Gangtok and I am having dinner in Yadong (county),” Le said, adding that the opening of the new route was an example of expanding “people to people and cultural exchanges between China and India”.
He said Modi had discussed the possibility of opening the new route with Chinese President Xi Jinping during multiple meetings. Details were arrived at during foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Beijing in February.
Le said the plan for the first season – between now and September – is to allow 250 Indian pilgrims in five batches to cross through Nathu La. “It will be increased over the years,” he said.