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Quota system worries Kailash tour operators

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Krishna Prasad Gautam, KATHMANDU / NEPALGUNJ

May 10, 2017-

China has introduced a quota system for pilgrims travelling to Kailash Manasarovar through Nepal which is likely to stifle growth in arrivals, tour operators said.

The pilgrimage, known as Kailash Manasarovar Yatra, is widely popular among Indian pilgrims. Nearly 31,000 Indians have booked trips to the sacred mountain and lake this season which begins in May and lasts till September, industry sources said.

Last year, 19,000 Indians visited Kailash Manasarovar. The pilgrimage spot is most crowded on the day of Buddha Jayanti which falls on Wednesday this year.

“There has been a phenomenal growth in bookings this year,” said Bimal Naharki, director of Eco Trek Nepal. “Unfortunately, China has imposed a quota system under which only 100 visitors are permitted to enter daily,” he said. “We do not know how long the quota system will last.” 

Naharki said that the issue should be settled through diplomatic channels as the policy has been affecting the business of many tour operators. Dhurba Ratna Tuladhar, managing director of Ying Yang International Travels & Tours, said that Chinese policy keeps changing every year. “Chinese authorities do not issue policy in writing, it is verbal.”

According to him, the quota system has been affecting the business of Nepali tour operators who receive 100 to 150 clients daily.

Prices for the 10-day package start at IRs150,000 and go up to IRs200,000. Travel trade entrepreneurs said that the Kailash Manasarovar region was severely affected by the 2015 earthquakes. Last year, bad weather had slightly affected tour operations. 

There are five routes to Mt Kailash and Lake Manasarovar. Two of them, Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand and Nathula in Sikkim, are in India. They are the longest and most expensive routes. It takes nearly three weeks to reach the holy place using these routes, and the trip is difficult too.

Moreover, only a few pilgrims travel on these routes as they need to get a special permit from the Indian government.

Nepal offers two routes to Kailash Manasarovar through the Tatopani and Rasuwagadhi border points. However, after the Chinese government closed these border points following the 2015 earthquake, Nepalgunj in western Nepal has become the key gateway.

The Nepalgunj-Simikot-Hilsa-Manasarovar route is the shortest and the itinerary is affordable and easy. Travellers usually fly from Nepalgunj to Simikot by fixed-wing aircraft and then take a helicopter to Hilsa on the border with Tibet, China.

After crossing Karnali, pilgrims are taken by motor vehicle in China. “Due to the high altitude, pilgrims acclimatize for one to two days in Purang, also known as Taklakot, the first city in Tibet.” Lake Manasarovar lies at an elevation of 4,556 metres.

Tourism entrepreneurs said that the number of pilgrims visiting Kailash Manasarovar had swelled this year after newly appointed Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh announced that his government would provide a IRs100,000 grant to pilgrims.

As Nepalgunj has become a major gateway, more than a dozen luxury hotels have sprung up to cater to Indian visitors. The Soaltee Crowne Plaza is expanding its portfolio with a four-star property in Nepalgunj, its first hotel outside Kathmandu. The hotel is expected to come into operation soon. All hotels in Nepalgunj and Simikot are packed during this season. 

For the last three days, Nepalgunj airport has been busy with the crowd of Indian visitors. Last Sunday, there were 15 flights carrying 250 passengers from Nepalgunj to Simikot, according to airport authorities.

Due to the rush, airport authorities have been issuing notices to passengers to reach the airport on time. “The airport has become busy due to the rush of pilgrims,” said Pratap Babu Tiwari, chief of the airport.

Riddhi Prakash Sitaula, Chief District Officer of Humla, said that all hotels in Simikot were full due to increased arrivals. He said that Simikot added four new big hotels this year. These hotels have 40-80 rooms. Hoteliers said that visitors preferred special days like the new moon or full moon to visit Manasarovar.

Published: 10-05-2017 09:07

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