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MEA team to assess landslide-hit Kailash Mansarovar Yatra route

Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam that manages the Kailash Mansarovar yatra said it was unlikely that the route could be opened when the annual pilgrimage begins from June 8

dehradun Updated: Feb 25, 2018 21:57 IST
BD Kasniyal
BD Kasniyal
Hindustan Times, Dehradun
Kailash Mansarovar yatra,Lipulekh Pass,Nathu La
The Kailash mountain at first light of sunrise in Tibet. (File photo)

Days after China said it would allow pilgrims to reach Kailash Mansarovar through Nathu La, which it had shut after face-off with India at Doklam last year, question marks are being raised over the viability of the other route to the holy site — through Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand.

A team from Union ministry of external affairs (MEA) will assess a six-kilometre stretch between Nazang and Malpa in Uttarakhand to see if it could be used by pilgrims ahead of the annual Yatra that begins June 8, a senior official said.

TS Martoliya, general manager of Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam --the nodal agency that manages the Kailash Mansarovar yatra — said debris from a recent landslide has blocked the route and it is unlikely to open before the pilgrimage starts. The officials are now mulling whether to airlift pilgrims from Dharchula to Gunji or to build a temporary bridge over the Kali River that flows from Nepal and enters India.

Martoliya said the MEA has confirmed that it would assess the route in the first week of March.

“The alternate arrangement, if any, would be made only after the MEA team visits the site. The stretch is blocked by heavy boulders,” said Martoliya.

Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Dharchula, RK Pandey said the Pithoragarh administration has already written to the MEA to provide a standby facility of helicopter at Lakhanpur to airlift pilgrims in case the track was not ready by then.

“The landslide occurred last week. It was huge and it would be almost impossible to remove the debris by April this year. It will affect the pilgrimage as well as the annual Indo-China trade,” the SDM added.

The MEA had on February 21 started registration of pilgrims. It would continue till March 23. The yatra will be organised in batches from June 8 to September 8 this year through both Nathu La in Sikkim and Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand, the ministry had earlier said.

A total of 18 groups comprising 60 pilgrims each will visit the holy site in Tibet Autonomous Region governed by China.

As per Centre’s plan to strengthen the border road connectivity, a 75-km stretch between Ghatiabagar to the last Indian post at Lipulekh was scheduled to be completed by April this year. Of this 75-km stretch, the most challenging hard rock portion lies between Nazang and Malpa.

Major Rohit, Commanding Officer of Border Road Organisation (BRO), which takes care of the border roads, also said that that the route was unlikely to open anytime soon. Some earth moving machines that could cut through 7-8 meters of rock everyday are lying buried under the debris.

Matroliya added that a 1,600 m stretch of the road between Lakhanpur and Najan bordering Pithoragarh district was severely damaged in landslides. “The BRO is carrying out the road construction works but the earth moving machines that were brought for the purpose, are yet to be dug out of the debris.”

If the roads link is restored on time, then pilgrims will be taken from Dharchula to Najan by road after which they will have to trek on foot to the border, he said, adding that if the road link was not restored then the pilgrims will be taken from Dharchula to Gunji by chopper, he said.

The local traders and migratory villagers have also been hit hard by the landslide.

Pithoragarh district magistrate C Ravi Shankar said that he is in touch with the officials of neighboring Dharchula district in Nepal for making alternative arrangements.

“Nepal has insured that they will cooperate in case Indian traders opt to go to China through Nepalese territory,” the DM said.

First Published: Feb 25, 2018 21:57 IST