In a major boost to religious tourism, the government is hopeful of completing by next April the construction of highways through Uttarakhand for Kailash-Mansarovar to make it easy for people to visit the abode of Lord Shiva.
The highways will make the arduous journey to one of the most revered treks at high altitude easily accessible from next year onwards as tough Himalayan rocks are being cut to make highways for reaching Kailash-Mansarovar — a famous Hindu pilgrimage site in Tibet, Union Road and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said on June 19.
Kailash-Mansarovar in the high altitudes could be reached only through the arduous Lipulekh Pass route and Nathu La Route, opened by China in 2015 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to the Chinese President Xi Jinping.
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“Kailash-Mansarovar is the identity of our rich ancient culture and heritage. We want to enhance tourism including religious tourism. We are cutting rocks through Himalayas to make a new alignment of highways through Uttarakhand for going to Mansarovar. It is my sincere effort that the highway is built by April next year,” Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari told PTI.
He said it is a difficult task to build highways in rugged terrain of Himalayas cutting through its rocks but the work is in full swing.
“We cannot go there …It has a history. Now are building a new road from Pithoragarh (Uttarakhand) for reaching Mansarovar. Himalayan alignment is very difficult. To cut the rocks, we have brought machines from Australia,” the Minister said.
Kailash-Mansarovar is believed to be the seat of Hindu God Lord Shiva and Yatra is organised by Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) annually with pilgrims requiring to travel to high altitudes through inhospitable and rugged terrains, with a part of the journey overseen by Chinese authorities.
“It is my vision that next April this road will be clear. We can reach Mansarovar directly through Uttarakhand,” he added.
He said the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is engaged in the project and cutting ice in the Himalayas for the purpose.
Asked about the proposed expenditure on the project, Gadkari said, “We will do whatever expenditure it will entail and I will take the Prime Minister to Mansarovar from this route, which hopefully will be built by April 2017.”
The Minister said the 75.54 km route through Ghatiabagarh-Lipulekh Road in Uttarakhand is under construction by the BRO.
The work on this road is being done from Ghatiabagarh at 0km and also from air maintained detachment at Gunji at 45 km.
The connectivity has been achieved up to 62 km towards Lipulekh and up to 29 km towards Ghatiabagarh side. The formation cutting from Ghatibagarh side also been started and reached up to km 2.90. The work on this 10-km stretch was outsourced during December 2015, according to an official.
The adjacent sector stretch of 10 km to 20 km also has been outsourced but work has not yet started on this stretch due to non-connectivity of this stretch from either end, he added.
In order to speed up the work on the stretch, a flat ground of 25×22 metre at Budhi has been identified and trial landing of ALH helicopter has been carried out during April 2016.
Air Force authority has given an additional requirement for development of this plot which is in progress and another trial of MI-17 helicopter is planned, the official said, adding that on successful trial, landing resources will be inducted through airlift to have an additional attack point for expediting the formation work.
Sources said, once the highway is complete, pilgrims can offer prayers at Kailash-Mansarovar and return the same day barring those who want ‘parikrama’ of the holy mountain.
At present, pilgrims reaching there through Lipulekh Pass route have to brave inhospitable terrain and harsh weather including freezing temperatures. Moreover, it takes up to 25 days for the whole journey.
This season, only about 1,430 pilgrims in 25 batches are expected to undertake the pilgrimage to Tibet in China. Eighteen batches of 60 pilgrims each will take the Lipulekh Pass route while seven batches comprising 50 pilgrims will take the Nathu La route.
The yatra, which began this month, will continue for the next four months till the last batch of pilgrim completes the religious exercise.
For this year’s yatra, more than 2,260 pilgrims had moved their applications and shortlisting was done through a computerised process. Last year, 999 pilgrims had undertaken the yatra in 23 batches via the two routes.
China and India opened the Nathu La border point in Sikkim on June 22 last year to enable pilgrims to travel to Kailash-Manasarovar by bus from the border without the ordeal of trekking and travelling on horse backs.
The agreement to open the second route was reached during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India as Prime Minister Modi wanted a second route for the Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra, keeping in view the terrain difficulties through the existing routes via Uttarakhand and Nepal.
The Nathu La route enables pilgrims to travel 1,500 km long route from Nathu La to Kailash by buses.
Nathu La, which means “Mountain pass with listening ears”, was closed after 1962 Sino-Indian war.