China has opened a new land crossing into Tibet for Indian pilgrims heading to the holy Kailash-Mansarovar area.
According to Chinese news agency Xinhua, the first group of pilgrims entered Tibet via Nathu La Pass for a 12-day trip to Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar.
The two countries had agreed to open Nathu La Pass (4,000 meters) during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India in September last year. The opening of Nathu La was formally announced during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China last month.
This is the second land crossing between China and India after the Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand.
Forty-four pilgrims entered Tibet through Nathu La Pass on Monday. “The pilgrims, who form the first batch of 250 people permitted to crossover to China this year to take part in the Yatra regarded as the most important pilgrimage for Hindus, appeared excited and cheerful,” Indian news agency PTI reported.
The opening of new route could hamper business of Nepali trekking companies who send large number of Indian pilgrims to Kailash-Mansarovar via Tatopani (Sindhupalchowk) and Hilsa (Humla) entry points during June-August. It takes around eight days to travel to Kailash-Mansarovar via Nathu La. From Nepali side, the tour can be completed in around 10 days.
The government has reopened most of the cultural heritage sites in Kathmandu Valley that were damaged by the earthquake of April 25 in its efforts to lure back foreign tourists to the country.
Six of the seven UNESCO World Heritage sites closed after the quakes have reopened from Monday. Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Kripasur Sherpa announced reopening of the sites at a function organized at Bhaktapur Durbar Square on Monday morning.
The UNESCO World Heritage sites which reopened for tourists from Monday are Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Kathmandu Durbar Square and Patan Durbar Square, Pashupatinath Temple, Swoyambhunath Stupa and Bouddhanath Stupa.
Changu Narayan Temple will open after some time as the temple complex has suffered significant damage.
Speaking at the program, Minister Sherpa said the government would urge tourists to come to Nepal for holiday to help rebuild the country.
Similarly, officials of Department of Archaeology (DoA) said necessary measures have been taken to ensure that tourists are safe. There are plans to provide safety helmets to visitors in some places,” they added.
According to the department, altogether 741 heritage structures have been damaged. The department has estimated the cost to renovate such structures US$ 18 million.
Tourist arrivals, which took a severe beating during Maoist insurgency, was gradually picking up after the beginning of the peace process. But the Everest avalanche of April, 2014, blizzards in Annapurna region of October, 2015 and recent earthquakes is expected to affect tourist arrivals. Last year, Nepal had welcomed around 800,000 foreign tourists.
Last week, UNESCO had raised concerns over the government’s plan to reopen heritage sites. It had asked the government to restrict access of visitors to locations considered unsafe.