China eyes possibility of upgrading airport in TAR
China is looking at the possibility of upgrading an airport in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) to facilitate Indian pilgrims visiting Kailash Mansarovar by cutting travel time to the holy site, a Chinese official said on Tuesday.
“This is a proposal considering the convenience of the pilgrims but both China and India will have to work on this,” Ge Qingmin, deputy commissioner of Ali prefecture in TAR, said about the move to upgrade Gunsa airport.
The airport, located 40 km from Ali town, is 200 km from Mount Kailash and Mansarovar Lake that is visited by thousands of Indians during an annual pilgrimage from July to September.
Gunsa airport is currently operational and can be upgraded to an international airport so that pilgrims can fly there directly, Ge told reporters on the sidelines of an event. However, the proposal is at an initial stage and more work will be required to upgrade it, Chinese officials said.
During the event, pilgrims who had visited Mount Kailash shared their experiences and offered suggestions for improving the pilgrimage. Baimanyangzong, director general of the Foreign Affairs Office of TAR, highlighted the Chinese government’s efforts to improve infrastructure to facilitate the pilgrims.
Li Bijian, deputy chief of mission at the Chinese embassy, said issues such as visa-free travel by pilgrims will require bilateral consultations. Referring to demands from the pilgrim to be allowed to take a dip in Mansarovar Lake, he said this wasn’t allowed because of the Chinese government’s efforts to preserve and protect the fragile eco-system in the area.
“The local authorities are doing their best to protect the environment and that is why they are not allowing dips in the lake. However, the pilgrims are allowed to take some of the water,” he said, adding it was important for pilgrims to follow the local laws and regulations.
The Chinese officials said a lot of funds had been allocated under their country’s developmental plans to improve roads, electricity network and telecommunications in the area around the pilgrimage site. Li said funds had been provided to improve facilities, including a reception centre and medical centre. “It takes time to build facilities because of the harsh weather and high elevation. We understand the concerns but it will take time to improve the infrastructure,” he said.
Li said Baimanyangzong would present the suggestions made by Indian pilgrims to Chinese authorities so that solutions could be found. At the same time, he called on India to do more to develop the older route to Kailash Mansarovar via Lipulekh pass in Uttarakhand. “We have laid tarmac on the road on our side and India should improve facilities on its side,” he added.
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