Historical route into Tibet opens

The first group of Indian Buddhist pilgrims passing through the Nathu La Pass yesterday. The new land crossing will halve the pilgrimage time from more than 20 days. Its opening was agreed on by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister
The first group of Indian Buddhist pilgrims passing through the Nathu La Pass yesterday. The new land crossing will halve the pilgrimage time from more than 20 days. Its opening was agreed on by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a bid to improve ties. PHOTO: XINHUA

BEIJING - China inaugurated a new land crossing into Tibet yesterday for Indian pilgrims who wish to visit one of the holiest sites in both Hinduism and Buddhism, state media said, as the two countries seek to set aside differences and improve ties.

The first group of pilgrims entered Tibet via the Himalayan pass in the mid-morning for the 12-day trip to Mount Kailash, Xinhua news agency reported. The route also passes the holy Mapam Yumco Lake.

The new crossing, known as the Nathu La Pass, sits 4,545m above sea level and is wedged between Yadong County of Tibet's Xigaze Prefecture and India's Sikkim State, according to Xinhua.

"This new route is safer, more convenient and comfortable than the former one," said Mr Dong Mingjun, vice-chairman of the Tibet regional government.

It will shorten the pilgrimage time by about half from more than 20 days, he added

The opening of the pass was agreed on last year when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited India.

The move will "further promote religious exchanges between the two countries", Xinhua said.

Few Indian pilgrims make it to Mount Kailash despite its significance, not only because of its remoteness but also because of difficulties in getting visas for China's tightly controlled region of Tibet.

China and India have growing commercial links and long historical ties, but their recent history has been overshadowed by suspicion and they have yet to sort out a festering border dispute.

China and India proposed measures to resolve the border issues while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Beijing last month. Beijing has sought to clear obstacles to a relationship that it says could change the international political order.

REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2015, with the headline 'Historical route into Tibet opens'. Print Edition | Subscribe