Beijing: India's ambassador to China is on a rare visit to Tibet to make preparations for the opening of a new route through Sikkim for Indian pilgrims to travel to the holy site of Kailash-Manasarovar which was agreed during last month's visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to India.
The new route through Nathula Pass in Sikkim is expected to substantially reduce hardships for the pilgrims.
During the week-long visit, Indian envoy Ashok K Kantha would also study the scope to improve the bilateral border trade being conducted through the Nathula Pass, official sources here told PTI.
Accompanied by a team of Indian officials, Kantha reached Golmud in the neighbouring Qinghai province today from where he would travel to Tibet's provincial capital Lhasa tomorrow by train.
After a series of meetings with local officials in Lhasa he would travel to Kailash-Manasarovar, the revered site considered to be the abode of Lord Shiva by Hindus.
From there he would travel close to Nathula Pass, from where China had agreed to permit pilgrims to enter Tibet during Xi's visit.
Officials say that this is perhaps for the fist time an Indian envoy will be visiting areas close to the border from Chinese side in recent years.
Kantha's predecessor, S Jaishankar had visited Kailash-Manasarovar in 2012. But Kantha will be going almost up to Nathula even though he will not be crossing to the Indian side of the border.
An MoU signed during Xi's visit provides for conducting the annual Kailash-Manasarovar Yatra through Nathula Pass in addition to the existing Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand.
According to the MOU, the route through Nathula will augment the capacity and reduce the hardship and journey time enabling many more pilgrims particularly aged ones to undertake the yatra.
Unlike the Lipulekh Pass route which was regarded as more difficult as it involved trekking or travel on horseback, the Nathula route provides for direct travel by pilgrims to Kailash by buses through well laid out roads and highways.
As per the plan being explored, Indian pilgrims travel from Delhi to Jalpaiguri by train and from there they would go to Nathu La Pass base camp by road and board buses to Xigaze in Tibet and from there to Kailash-Manasarovar.
Currently, the yatra being organised by the External Affairs Ministry goes through Lipulekh Pass, a Himalayan pass connecting the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand in India with the old trading town of Taklakot in Tibet.