Mansarovar dream turns nightmare for hundreds of Indian tourists

June 1st, 2009 - 6:20 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 1 (IANS) Their dream to visit Mt Kailash, one of the holiest pilgrim spots in the world, and take a dip in the revered Mansarovar lake in Tibet has turned into a nightmare for hundreds of Indian tourists who remain stranded in mountainous northern Nepal for four days.

More than 1,000 pilgrims and tourists, mostly Indians, now face either losing large sums of money or landing in Chinese jails as a disruption in north Nepal has led to the blockade of the highway connecting Nepal with Tibet.

Prakash Lohani, who manages a tour agency in Kathmandu, is running from pillar to post, trying to either persuade his 86 clients to return from Sindhupalchowk district, where they are stuck, or cut short their cherished plan to visit both Mt Kailash and the highest freshwater lake in the world.

“Most of my clients are from Chennai,” Lohani told IANS. “They left Kathmandu Saturday and were scheduled to reach Mansarovar on June 4. However, they are stuck in Nepal’s Sindhupalchowk district.”

The Arniko Highway, that connects the Nepali district with China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, has been blocked by the locals since Saturday over running a hydropower project.

“There are few hotels in the area,” said Lohani. “So we have had to split the group. We can’t rescue them by flying them out in helicopters since that will be too expensive. If they are delayed further in Nepal, they will run out of their visa.”

The Chinese authorities issue Mansarovar-bound travellers with a 16-day visa. They have to exit Tibet within that time or face being jailed. With vagaries of weather ruling the mountainous north, tour agencies try to keep two days in hand for emergencies and wrap up the trip within a fortnight.

Lohani’s agency has charged each traveller Rs.65,000 for the trip. Now it seems they will either have to forego the money and come back once the highway re-opens or do a lightning tour abandoning all but the essential sightseeing.

The blockade is a new deterrent for Mansarovar journeys.

In the past, it had been health hazards. Many tour agencies neglect to include doctors and there have been several cases of pilgrims dying in Tibet after developing breathing difficulties due to the high altitude and thinning air.

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