Things are progressing at a very fast pace and that the Centre and the Sikkim Government are aiming at having the first batch of pilgrims visiting Kailash Mansarovar using this new route in June 2015, the official claimed.       

India and China had signed a bilateral agreement on the Nathula alternative route September 18 this year. The agreement provides for conducting the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through Nathula in addition to the existing Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand.

The route through Nathula will augment the capacity and reduce the hardship and journey time enabling many more pilgrims, in particular aged pilgrims, to undertake the Yatra, the official said.

More than 1,600 pilgrims, moving in ten batches, are expected to take the Sikkim route to Kailash-Masarovar next year and preparations are underway to ensure that the June deadline is met, the official informed.       

Two senior officials from the Ministry of External Affairs were recently in Sikkim to examine state’s
infrastructural preparedness and to finalise other nitty-gritties.

They are reported to have identified two places - 17th Mile and Sherathang – on the JN Road as acclimatization centres for pilgrims.

As per a proposal floated by the MEA, the pilgrims will be required to halt at least for two days in Gangtok and then proceed to 17th Mile and Sherathang for further acclimatization before they proceed to the thinner air of the Tibetan plateau beyond Nathula, the official said.

The alternative route from Nathula will reportedly proceed through Shigatse in TAR and then move on to Kailash-Mansarovar.

There is reportedly already an agreement to monitor the Nathula-Kailash Mansarovar Yatra on G2G [Government-to-Government] basis. Once the G2G plan is finalised, the Sikkim Tourism Development Cooperation will be shouldered a bigger role in sending pilgrims to Kailash-Mansaorvar and coordinating their travel and return to India upto Gangtok, the official said.

A seven-member team comprising of state government representatives and MEA officials is expected to travel across Nathula to Kailash-Mansarovar on a trial run in March next year. This tour is expected to provide them with an even better understanding of the feasibility and further
requirements of this pilgrimage.

The Nathula route is considered a comparatively easier route to the ones currently being used. The existing routes are through Uttarakand and Nepal, and both involve heavy-trekking through grueling terrain at altitudes up to 19,500 feet.

The new route will allow pilgrims to be driven all along, travelling first from Gangtok in Sikkim to Shigatse in Tibet from where they can take vans and buses on the existing road to Mansarovar and Kailash directly.     

Facilities for proper weights and measures, warehouses, inspection posts, rest houses, improved transportation facilities, proper roadway, and better opportunities for traders as well as for tourists need to still be provided for further growth and trade benefits.

Sacred to Hindus, Jains and Buddhists, the journey to Mount Kailash and Mansarovar Lake located in the Himalayan mountain ranges of the remote Southwestern corner of the Tibetan Autonomous Region is usually undertaken from Uttarakhand via Lipulekh Pass or overland from Nepal.

While the Nepal route takes 10 days, the arduous trekking option via Uttarakhand takes 27 days. The Nathula option, as per projections, will take only 8 days to complete the yatra, the official said.

While the Nathula route is usually open from March to November, the Lipulekh route is only open for four months in a year from June to September.

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