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Beijing Olympic hinder pilgrims' progress

May 11, 2008

Beijing Olympic hinder pilgrims' progress
The Economic Times (India)
May 9, 2008, 0421 hrs IST,Nirmala Ganapathy, TNN

NEW DELHI -- The Beijing Olympics have taken a toll on the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. China has cut by half the visas to be issued for the yatra to Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet this year.

Instead of the usual 16 batches of pilgrims, who are annually sent through the external affairs ministry, only eight batches have got permission from Beijing to visit Kailash Mansarovar, sources said. In another setback for devotees, Beijing is not likely to accommodate pilgrims who book their pilgrimage through private tour operators.

Annually private tour operators organise the visit of 7,000 to 8,000 pilgrims. "Pilgrims who go through private tour operators turn out to be the maximum source of income for Tibetans," said a tour operator on the condition of anonymity.

In the run up to the Olympic games, the Chinese side, sources said, is unwilling to allow foreigners, particularly Indians, into Tibet which has seen unrest in the last couple of months. New Delhi which has continued to accommodate Beijing’s sensitivities has also agreed to the Chinese request to cut down on the batch of 960 pilgrims. China is expecting Tibetan protests as the date of the Olympic games gets closer.

But the ministry is now faced with a logistical nightmare with this last minute change in plans by the Chinese. The ministry has already chosen 960 pilgrims in a computerised lottery system and now has the onerous task of cutting down the batches. A minimum of 40 and a maximum of 60 pilgrims can be accommodated in one batch.

Sources said that telegrams have been sent to the first three batches of pilgrims to report to Delhi to pay the fees by May 29. The only solution that the MEA has been able to come up with till now is to not accommodate pilgrims who report after the cut off date or are unable to pay the fees by that time.

The early cut off date is expected to create problems for pilgrims from outside Delhi who will now have to travel to Delhi during peak season. In previous years, only the first batch leaves on June 1 followed by the other batches within six day.

Meanwhile, the ministry of external affairs on Wednesday officially announced that the pilgrimage would start as usual. "The Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra that is conducted each year by the government of India will commence as scheduled on June 1, 2008. Government has begun preparations for this year’s Yatra along with China," said an MEA statement.

China watchers said that Beijing would have been more comfortable with calling off the entire pilgrimage. But that would have had an impact on India-China ties. Moreover, China is largely satisfied with the way India handled the Tibetan protests and ensured the smooth passage of the Olympic torch relay in India.
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