India is preparing to allow its government employees to travel to Nepal under leave travel concession (LTC).
According to news reports, the India is mulling a proposal to provided LTC for government employees to four countries – Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka – to boost tourism in the neighborhood. “The LTC will be modeled on the schemes for the north-east and Jammu & Kashmir which helped increase tourism and fueled economic improvement in the two regions,” a news report in Times of India states.
Under LTC, the Indian government provides different facilities to government employees to travel to different parts of the country as part of incentives.
“Introducing LTC for 2 million government employees could encourage greater people to people exchange among the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries. But there will have to be some reciprocal arrangement. We are working on that,” the newspaper quoted an official with India’s tourism ministry as saying.
Speaking at the SAARC Summit held recently in Kathmandu, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had emphasized on better connectivity in the region. “It is still harder to travel within our region than to Bangkok or Singapore; and, more expensive to speak to each other,” he had said.
Arrivals from India account for about one-third of total tourist arrivals in Nepal.
The government is preparing to sign Air Service Agreement (ASA) with five countries and review existing ASAs with three others.
The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) is preparing to sign ASAs with Australia, Vietnam, Combodia, New Zealand and Iceland. Similarly, preparations are underway to review ASAs with Oman, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.
Officials say the ministry was preparing to sign ASA with Australia taking into consideration rising air traffic, especially students, between Kathmandu and different Australian cities.
Number of Australian tourists increased by 16.5 percent to 18,746 in 2012.
Similarly, officials say ASAs with Cambodia and Vietnam will help to bring more tourists to Lumbini as these countries are considered predominantly Buddhist nations. They say ASAs with New Zealand and Iceland might be helpful in bringing tourists from these counties.
The government is reviewing ASAs with Saudi Arabia, Oman and Malaysia to make available more seats between Kathmandu and designated cities of these countries. Oman Air is flying between Kathmandu and Muscat. Similarly, Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) had started preparations to fly to Dammam of Saudi Arabia in the past. But it couldn’t materialize.
ASA with Malaysia is being reviewed due to growing demand for air seats between Kathmandu and Malaysia. The existing ASA allows designated airlines of both the countries to operate a maximum of 21 flights a week. Malaysian airlines are already operating 21 flights a week.
At present, NAC, Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia X are operating on Kathmandu-Malaysia route. Another Malaysian carrier Malindo Air has already received temporary permission to operate daily flights on the sector. Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) will make the temporary permit permanent once more flights are allowed on the route by revising the existing ASAs.
Nepal has signed ASA with 36 countries and European Union (EU) so far. At present, 26 international airlines link Kathmandu with different cities across the world.
India is preparing to allow its pilgrims to visit Kailash Mansarovar area in Tibetan Autonomous Region of China through the Nathu La route in Sikkim from next year.
According to a Press Trust of India (PTI) report, the union and Sikkim governments were aiming at having the first batch of pilgrims visiting Kailash Mansarovar using the new route in June 2015.
India and China signed a bilateral agreement on Nathu La route on September 18. As per the agreement, Indian pilgrims can visit Kailash Mansarovar area through the Nathula route in addition to the existing Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand.
As the Lipulekh Pass route is extremely difficult, many Indian tourists come to Nepal and embark on Kailash Mansarovar area via Tatopani (Sindhupalchowk) or Hilsa (Humla) entry points.
According to PTI, two senior officials from India’s Ministry of External Affairs recently visited Sikkim to examine the state’s infrastructural preparedness. The officials have reportedly identified two places — 17th Mile and Sherathang – on the JN Road as acclimatization centers for the pilgrims, the news report stated.
The route through Nathu La will pass through Shigatse and then move toward Kailash-Mansarovar area. Through the new route, pilgrims can drive all the way to Kailash-Mansarovar.
Meanwhile, India is sending a team of officials to Kailash-Mansarovar via Nathu La Pass on a trial run in March next year.
The opening of new route could hamper business of Nepali trekking companies who send large number of Indian pilgrims to Kailash-Mansarovar via Tatopani and Hilsa points during June-August. It takes around eight days to travel to Kailash-Mansarovar via Nathu La. Form Nepali side, the tour can be completed in around 10 days.