New Manasarovar route to boost Sino-Indian ties

New Manasarovar route to boost Sino-Indian ties

India and China, whatever their differences on the border and in their worldviews, are cooperating on beginning a new route that is short, less hazardous and along a motorable road to Kailash Manasarovar, the mythical home of Lord Shiva, located in Tibet.

India and China, whatever their differences on the border and in their worldviews, are cooperating on beginning a new route that is short, less hazardous and along a motorable road to Kailash Manasarovar, the mythical home of Lord Shiva, located in Tibet.

Word has come from Beijng during the current visit of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj that the two sides are exploring the possibility of a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Kailash Manasarovar during his China visit in May.

It was on the agenda of bilateral talks and Swaraj has said that if it works out, it would be “a big thing.”
The journey to Mount Kailash and Manasarovar lake, located high in the Himalaya and at the remote southwestern corner of the Tibetan autonomous region, is usually undertaken from Uttarakhand via Lipulekh Pass or overland from Nepal.

After Modi made a strong pitch with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year during the BRICS summit, the latter promised to work on it when he was in New Delhi last September.

For the last few months, officials from two sides are working on the new route envisioned in the joint statement during that visit. Indian ambassador Ashok K Kantha visited Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in October and met Jiang Jie, vice chairman of the Government of TAR in Lhasa.

The present route of the yatra on the Indian side includes Dharchula, Tavaghat, Mangti, Gala, Budhi, Gunji, Kalapani and Navidhang.

The new route is through Nathu La pass in Sikkim, already a meeting point for India and China at military and commercial levels. The only route used now – Lipulekh Pass in Uttzrakhand – was badly damaged in the floods in 2013.

The External Affairs Ministry conducts the pilgrimage since 1981 taking more than 1,000 pilgrims a year in 18 batches involving a 22-day journey. While the Nepal route takes 10 days, the arduous trekking option via Uttarakhand takes 27 days.

The new route would 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 Manasarovar and Kailash directly.

It is still early in the day and several loose ends have to be tied before Modi can undertake that journey. If that works out, Modi would be opening this new route from Nathu La in Sikkim. Down the ages, Kailash Mansarovar has been integral to the beliefs and sentiments of the people, and part of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions. For the same reason, it has been coveted as a place for pilgrimage.

As per Hindu scriptures, Lake Manas Sarovar is a personification of purity, and one who drinks water from the lake will go to the Abode of Lord Shiva after death. He is believed to be cleansed of all his sins committed over even a hundred lifetimes. Buddhists also associate the lake with the legendary lake known as Anavatapta in Sanskrit and Anotatta in Pali, where Queen Maya is believed to have conceived Buddha.

The principal place for pilgrimage is Lake Manasarovar that lies at 4,590 metres above mean sea level, a relatively high elevation for a large freshwater lake on the mostly saline lake-studded Tibetan Plateau.

The word "Manasarovara" originates from Sanskrit, which is a combination of the words "Manas" "sarovara" manas meaning mind and sarovara meaning lake. According to the Hindu religion, the lake was first created in the mind of the Lord Brahma after which it manifested on Earth.

The pilgrimage was conceived under the Panchsheel Agreement signed in 1954, that provided for economic and cultural interaction between people of India and Tibet. However, the Sino-Indian ties worsened after Dalai Lama fled from Tibet to India in 1959 and three years, the two fought a bitter war.

The idea of pilgrimage was revived by Dr Subramanian Swamy in the late 1970s when the Morarji Desai Government was in office. After three years of his efforts with the Chinese leadership whom he knew well, the first pilgrimage began in 1981. Swamy was part of it.

The pilgrimage has become an annual affair since then, being undertaken between June and September each year. The number of pilgrims has increased, but the journey has been hazardous and prone to calamities.

There have been casualties and one of the pilgrims to die was dancer-actress-celebrity Protima Bedi.

The government imposes strict conditions, allowing only able bodied people who conform to certain health conditions between the age of 18 and 70. The place has its own geophysical importance. Manasarovar has been viewed as being near the sources of four of Asia’s greatest rivers of Asia -- Brahmaputra, Karnali, Indus and Sutlej. Thus it is an axial point which has been thronged to by pilgrims for thousands of years. The region was closed to pilgrims from the outside following the Chinese annexation of Tibet. No foreigners were allowed between 1951 and 1980.

Even after allowing the Indian pilgrims since 1981, the Chinese, ostensibly for security reasons, have been cold to the idea of making it better accessible. In that, the road from Nathu La marks a major departure and a significant step forward in Sino-Indian ties.

By: Mahendra Ved

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