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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China Blocks Thousands of Hindus from Tibet Pilgrimage

May 22, 2008

By Heather Timmons and Hari Kumar
The New York Times
May 21, 2008

NEW DELHI -- The Chinese government is refusing to issue visas to Hindus trying to make the traditional summer pilgrimage to what they hold to be the home of Lord Shiva in Tibet, forcing thousands to delay or cancel the trip.

Starting in June, Hindus from Nepal and India embark on a multiweek journey to the 22,000-foot Mount Kailash in the Himalayas and nearby Lake Mapam Yutso, known in India as Lake Mansarovar. The trip, a once-in-a-lifetime event for most who make it, includes treacherous off-road drives and several days of arduous trekking, and is believed to bring the traveler closer to the divine.

This year, though, the Chinese government is refusing to grant any visas for travel to the Tibetan sites from Nepal, tour operators in Nepal say. India's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that the Chinese government had cited unspecified "domestic reasons."

At the same time, Beijing has retracted permission previously granted to Indian pilgrims who were planning to make the trip in early June. The Olympic torch is scheduled to go through Tibet's capital, Lhasa, on June 20.

"I was planning for the last 10 years for this trip," said Rajendra Goyal, 48, a Mumbai-based hardware trader whose trip has been canceled. Mr. Goyal said he was on a rigorous diet and exercise schedule for the last two months to make sure he was fit for the mountain hiking involved.

"A pilgrim is a pilgrim, not an activist or a politician," he said. "I am going there for religious faith, not to do any violence."

Tour operators and pilgrims said they believed that the cancellations were a result of the turmoil and demonstrations in Tibet that started in March. "This could be because of protests in Tibet; in fact, that is the main reason," said Ripu Mardan, the information manager of Eco Trek International, a Katmandu-based tour operator. Eco Trek normally sends several hundred pilgrims a year to Mount Kailash and Lake Mapam Yutso.

Tour operators estimate that 5,000 to 6,000 pilgrims travel to the home of Lord Shiva, one of the six deities in Hinduism, from Nepal each year.

"This is our holiest of holy sites," said Gopal Vijay Ditya Singh, 62, a professor of electrical engineering in Lucknow, India, who had paid $5,000 to go with his wife. "How can they stop us from going there?"
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