Dehradun: It may have been a parochial attitude of chief minister Harish Rawat when on the recent announcement of an additional route to Kailash Mansarovar through Nathula in Sikkim, he said that there was no need to change the existing Kailash Mansarovar yatra route and no point in allowing it to pass through the additional route.
But then he had reasons to be upset on the announcement of the additional route, as have been stake holders in the traditional yatra route that passes through Lipulekh Pass after crossing Dharchula on the India-China-Nepal border. It has been the traditional route,which finds mention in the ancient scriptures and it is said that Lord Shiva used this route. The Chotta Kailash and Om mountains, also fall on this route.
The Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN), an undertaking of the Uttarakhand government, which acts as a facilitator for the yatra which as of now is operated by the ministry of external affairs, will stand to lose about Rs 35 to 40 lakhs annually. Besides, small-time hoteliers, stall holders, porters and pony owners, would stand to lose should the yatra start from the additional route through Nathula, as anticipated, from next year.
This is perhaps why Rawat said the additional route was totally against the religious and commercial interest of not only Uttarakhand but the entire country and will considerably affect the religious tourism of this small hill state.
It is definitely going to hurt the state statistically as it classifies pilgrims and yatris to the various shrines as tourists, rather than developing and adding to the existing infrastructure to places which have the potential of becoming tourist destinations and attract actual tourists. This can be ascertained from the fact that because of the cold response to the char dham yatra in the state this time because of last year’s tragedy, Uttarakhand lost its place among the top ten tourist destinations in the country.
The economic aspect of the yatra can be gauged from the fact that former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal had written to the centre that it should pass through the tiny mountain state and Ladakh had made a similar request, but in 1981 when the yatra restarted following the normalization of Sino-Indian relations after the 1962 war, the ministry of external affairs stuck to the original route.
As of now the yatra starts from Delhi and reaches Narain Ashram in buses. From here starts the arduous trek to Lipulekh Pass where the pilgrims are assisted by ITBP personnel, while the boarding and lodging arrangements are made by the KMVN. The pilgrimage as of now passes 16 days through Indian territory and eight days in Chinese territory. However, after the opening of the new route the pilgrims will be able go right till the foothills of Kailash-Mansarovar on vehicles, making it less time consuming.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a point when he said that the additional route will mean that more and more Indians, specially the aged and children will be able to reach Kailash Mansarovar as transportation would be available and they will no longer have to do the days of difficult trek. This year there were just 18 groups totaling 910 pilgrims who did the yatra and their numbers are bound to go up manifold once the additional route becomes functional next year.
Despite chief minister Harish Rawat showing his displeasure at the announcement of the additional route, tour operators felt that the old route would still attract the adventure tourist with religious fervor. There is no dearth of people wanting to mix religion with adventure and a number of young enthusiasts will take the old route to the new additional route which will find favor only with the aged, women and those with less time, so not all is lost, they felt.