The Kailash Mansarovar Yatra is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites of the world. Situated in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), Mt. Kailash is at an altitude of 6,683 mtrs. Mansarovar lake is located in same region just approx. 45 kms ahead of Mt. Kailash at an altitude of 4,590 mtrs.

Mt. Kailash is not only the highest locations of the world but also the main source of four mighty rivers of the region, which are, the Brahmaputra, Sutlej, Ganges and Indus. The Kailash Mansarovar Yatra is said to be one of the holiest form of expeditions as it is believed to be Lord Shiva’s abode. It is considered holy by the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains who in hundreds of number undertake the pilgrimage tour every year.

The route via Nathula Pass in east Sikkim was resumed in the year 2015
amid a grand state level see-off / flag-off programme held for the first batch in June of that year. The team of spiritual travelers was earlier flagged off from Delhi by the then union foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj. The programme in Gangtok was attended by officials from the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), team of NDRF and officials from the Tourism Department, Government of Sikkim.

Historical Background
As per the Hindu mythology, the lake was first conceived in the mind of Lord Brahma, the creator. Hence, in Sanskrit it is called Manasarovar, which is simply a combination of the two words ‘Manas’ (mind) and ‘Sarovar’ (lake).

The mountain is known as “Kailāsa” in Sanskrit. The name also could have been derived from the word “kelāsa”, which means “crystal”. In his Tibetan-English dictionary, Chandra (1902: p. 32) identifies the entry for ‘kai la sha’ (Wylie: kai la sha) which is a loan word from Sanskrit. The Tibetan name for the mountain is Gangs Rin-po-che. Gangs or Kang is the Tibetan word for snow peak analogous to alp or hima; rinpoche is an honorific meaning “precious one” so the combined term can be translated “precious jewel of snows”.

Religious Significance
The Kailash Mansarovar Yatra is a lifetime experience for every mortal soul, it is said. Located in the range of the Himalayas at a height of 21,778, this pilgrimage site provides inner peace and holiness to its pilgrims. As per the mythology, Kailash is the sojourn of Lord Shiva. The lake itself is majestic and divine and is the source of four rivers considered holy by the Hindus. Opinionated as an experience of lifetime the Yatra is something that cannot be described in words, the devoted visitors say. Every year
thousands of devotees book Kailash Mansarovar Yatra packages which
include more than a day’s trip.

The major attraction of Kailash Yatra is the holy parikram (circumambulation) of Kailash parvat and the holy dip in the Mansarovar Lake. The mesmerizing view of the mountains with a breathtaking view of lake gives a sense of happiness; it is said, therefore leaving the pilgrims with a feeling of purity. The mountain is located in a particularly remote and inhospitable area of the Tibetan Himalayas. A few modern amenities, such as benches, resting places, and refreshment kiosks, exist to aid the pilgrims in their devotion. According to all religions that revere the mountain, setting foot on its slopes is a dire sin. It is a popular belief that the stairways on Mount Kailash lead to heaven. Stupas, with the north face of Mount Kailash (background). Because of the Sino-Indian border dispute, pilgrimage to the legendary abode of Shiva was stopped from 1954 to 1978.

Walking around the mountain—a part of its official park—has to be done on foot, pony or domestic yak, and takes some three days of trekking starting from a height of around 15,000 ft (4,600 m) past the Tarboche
(flagpole) to cross the Drolma pass 18,200 ft (5,500 m), and encamping
for two nights en route. First, near the meadow of Dirapuk gompa, some
2 to 3 km (1.2 to 1.9 mi) before the pass and second, after crossing
the pass and going downhill as far as possible (viewing Gauri Kund in
the distance).

Yatra via Nathula and its speciality. The route through Nathula, augments the capacity and reduce the hardships and journey time enabling many more pilgrims in particular, the aged, to undertake the Yatra, as informed by the Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation (STDC) Manager, Tejpal Pradhan. Previously there was only one route in India which was via Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand. This route is said to be dangerous and time consuming as one needs to trek for long. Hence, the Nathula route in comparison is more comfortable and safe. It takes a total of 19 days from Delhi till the destination via Nathula.

Nathula Pass route is approximately 4,000 metres above sea level. The shortest land pass for trade between India and China, Nathula sits
perched between Tibet’s Yadong county, and the Indian state of Sikkim.
Located about 56kms from Gangtok at an altitude of 14450 ft, the road
to Nathula passes through the beautiful Tsomgo lake and is one of the
highest motorable roads.

The Lipulekh route in comparison is a bit tiring as the commuters have to through rough terrains in Uttarakhand and Nepal while trekking about 200 kms at an altitude of 17,500 ft and crossing over to Tibet on foot. The journey starts from Delhi. The trek via Nathula is only 35 kms.

Geographically, Lipulekh is wedged between India, Nepal and China connecting the north-western Byash valley of Nepal and Uttarakhand state with the old trading town of Taklakot in Tibet. The travel takes a total of 22 days.

Yatra through Nathula Pass
On June 18, 2015 a group of Indians, mostly pilgrims on their way to Kailash Mansarovar, crossed the India-China border at the Nathula pass in Sikkim. Pradhan, the STDC Manager, says that the Yatra via Nathula have two identified places, 17th Mile and Sherathang, on the JN Road as acclimatisation centres for pilgrims. These have been identified by the MEA, Government of India.

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 acclimatisation before they proceed to the thinner air of the Tibetan plateau beyond Nathula. It may be mentioned here that the STDC under the Tourism & Civil Aviation Department, Government of Sikkim is the Nodal agency to look after the pilgrims of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra via Nathula. “The STDC looks after everything including logistics, hospitality and other support to the pilgrims once they reach Gangtok”, informs Pradhan.

After the clearance from the MEA in Delhi, the pilgrims reach Gangtok,
where briefing programme for them are organised by the STDC. The ITBP officers brief the pilgrims about various security aspects including does and don’t’s during the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. They also brief about health issues, food, and other important topics. “We started in 2015 and now with more responsibility and experience we are catering more number of yatris with increasing batches as compared to 5 batches in the initial stage. Now we have 10 batches this year” informs the Manager.

Impact on Sikkim Tourism
The Kailash Mansarovar Yatra via Nathula Pass in Sikkim has put the state’s tourism industry under major highlight. “The Kailash Mansarovar Yatra via Nathula has really impacted and boosted tourism in Sikkim”, states Pradhan.

“A lot of domestic and foreign tourists come to the state for this spiritual journey and we (STDC) offer all the logistic support to the pilgrims and while their return after the completion we arrange a tour of Sikkim for them if time permits,” he informs.

Though the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra has not directly benefited the local tourism but it has many indirect impacts on the state and its stake holders as hoteliers, local taxi are occupied and get business, says the Deputy General Manager, STDC, Amit Kapil Chettri. “This is how the local people are benefited out of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. And also after the completion of the Yatra some stays back for local sight seeing and Sikkim tour,” he adds.

How to book for the Yatra
For a hassle free journey the Yatra registration can be made easily
via online booking through the website of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India. Kailash Mansarovar booking is both cost effective and efficient. Keeping in mind the travel troubles and the long journey, the tour operators provide comfort and other facilities like tour map and camping.

The Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through Nathula in Sikkim remained cancelled in the year 2017. The decision came in the wake of a face-off between Indian and Chinese troops along the Sino-Indian border. The move turned to be a disappointment to the 400 devotees who were hoping to go for the pilgrimage.

However, the pilgrims travelling through the Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand have continued as scheduled, as per the government official report. Eight batches, each comprising around 50 pilgrims, were scheduled to have taken the Nathu La route. The first batch was to have crossed over to Tibet through Nathu La on June 20, 2017 and the last batch on July 31, 2017. China had issued visas for first two batches and applications for the other pilgrims were put on hold because of the tension along the border.

The first batch of Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims had to return from the Nathu La border post as the stand-off between India and China showed
no signs of easing. The pilgrims returned to Gangtok on June 23, 2017
after staying in Nathu La for three days awaiting permission from the
Chinese side for the onward journey. The second batch of pilgrims did
not move from Gangtok and was eventually told to return home. The
Sikkim route to Mansarovar was thrown open to the public in 2015.

It may be mentioned here that each year 5 batches of 50 each go for the Yatra via Nathula. But sometimes some selected candidates are found to be medically unfit and some are rejected in the second level of the medical test in Sikkim at acclimatization centre. There for the number of pilgrims who completes the tour varies in number each year. As per the information received from the STDC, a total of 851 pilgrims have successfully completed the tour via Nathula since its inception, which includes 26 pilgrims from Sikkim state itself. The 851 pilgrims include 599 males, and 283 females.

Prime Minister Modi on Kailash Mansarovar Yatra via Nathula
The Ministries of External Affairs of India and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2014 that enabled Indian pilgrims to enter and pass through the Tibet Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic of China. After signing the MoU with the Chinese President, PM Narendra Modi through media said then that the new route via Nathula will offer many advantages to pilgrims. The best of them is this route allows the access to Kailash Mansarovar through a motorable road. This means the yatra will be shorter and convenient, which will make it easier for thousands of pilgrims to go there. It was one of the 12 agreements that were inked during Xi Jinping visit to India. India and China had signed a bilateral agreement on the Nathula alternative route September, 2014. The agreement provides for conducting the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through Nathula in addition to the existing Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand.

One of the best outcomes of the meeting between PM Narendra Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping is that China has allowed Indian pilgrims going to Kailash Manasarovar yatra to use Nathula Pass in Sikkim. The pilgrims currently go through Lipulekh pass in Uttarakhand. And the new route will take them from the city of Shigatse, which comes under the territory of Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Thereafter, a limited number of Indian pilgrims have been allowed to visit the place, under the supervision of the Chinese and Indian governments either by a lengthy and hazardous trek over the Himalayan terrain, travel by land from Kathmandu or from Lhasa, and now people can go for KMY via Nathula route in Sikkim which is considered as one of the most easiest and comfortable route for Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. The journey takes four night stops, finally arriving at Darchen at an elevation of 4,600 m (15,100 ft), a small outpost that swells with pilgrims at certain times of the year. Despite its minimal infrastructure, modest guest houses are available for foreign pilgrims, whereas Tibetan pilgrims generally sleep in their own tents.

Contribution made by the State Government and the then Chief Minister of Sikkim
The state government and the then Chief Minister of Sikkim, Pawan Chamling made efforts to convince the Prime Minister and the Central Government in opening of the new route to Kailash Manasoraval Yatra
via Nathula. It is learnt that Chamling had been advocating the opening the route via Nathula since long time which is now a reality and has boosted the tourism of the state.

Feedbacks from the Yatris
Ram Ratan Goyal, 67, who hails from Delhi, is one of the pilgrims who traveled via Nathula this year. This is second trip to the pilgrimage site. “This is my second time. Earlier I went via route in Kathmandu in. Nepal. Nathula route is comfortable specially for the aged people,” he adds.

He has expressed his gratitude towards the Central Government, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Government of Sikkim for having opened this route.

At the same time he has urged the union government to increase the number of batches via Nathula as there are many pilgrims who are
waiting for their turn.

Sudip Tiwari, 42 is also a second timer. He is from Lucknow. “We should give something spiritual and teach the future generation. Our experiences are to encourage more people to travel to this auspicious place,” he states.
They have also appreciated the efforts made by the state tourism department, STDC for their good service, logistic support and good hospitality provided to all the pilgrims.

Umesh Kumar Bhardwaj, who accompanied the first batch in 2019 as a liasoning officer says that the jounrey is all about spiritual energy. The Kailash Mansarovar Yatra 2019 via Nathula was flagged off on June 16, 2019, from Gangtok by Dr. K Jaikumar, the Additional Chief Secretary and the Principal Secretary Tourism & Civil Aviation Department, Government of Sikkim. The batch consisted of total of 31 yatris including 2 liasoning officers. This batch includes 20 male and 11 female yatris.

TS Mangang, Commandant of the 48th Battalion of ITBP, briefed in details about the various security aspects and presented a power point presentation on do’s and dont’s during the yatra. The Additional chief secretary who was the chief guest of the function while addressing the function said that the yatris are lucky to go for this yatra of Holy Kailash Parbat. He wished all the yatris for a wonderful journey and hoped that everyone will complete the yatra successfully.

Referrences:
1. 
https://www.thekailashmansarovar.com/?gclid=
2. 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Kailash
3. 
http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/kailash/pdf/kailash_19_0102_full.pdf
4. Inputs from the Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation (STDC),
under Tourism Department, Government of Sikkim

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