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Nepal, China try to revive Kathmandu-Lhasa bus service

November 22, 2007

Posted on : 2007-11-20 | Author : Sudeshna Sarkar
News Category : Asia

Kathmandu, Nov 20 - Almost eight months after it closed, Nepal and 
China are trying afresh to revive the much-hyped Kathmandu-Lhasa 
direct bus service ahead of the Olympic Games in Beijing next year.

An eight-member Chinese delegation arrived from Tibet Saturday to 
hold talks with Nepal's transport officials on how to resurrect the 
bus service that halted primarily due to Chinese reluctance to issue 
visas to travellers.

Officials at Nepal's labour and transport ministry as well as Sajha 
Yatayat, the state-run bus service provider that operated one of the 
twice-weekly Kathmandu-Lhasa runs, said China's refusal to give visas 
to individuals caused the bus service to flounder.

Visas were issued only to groups after tight scrutiny. Even then, the 
groups had to spell out in advance which places they would visit in 
Tibet and any deviation from the original travel plan was viewed with 
suspicion.

On sensitive days -- like the anniversary of an uprising against 
Chinese rule in Tibet -- the Chinese side would close down the bus 
service.

Individuals were refused visas because of the difficulty in keeping 
them under surveillance. A journalist who wanted to go to Tibet by 
road was told that he would have to pay the fares of two 
'facilitators' who would be provided by the Chinese government to 
smoothen his journey.

Ministry officials in Nepal said they too had difficulties in 
obtaining visas.

The Nepali consulate in Lhasa had to vouchsafe for them and even 
then, when in Tibet, they were under surveillance.

However, with Beijing hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, which is also 
being promoted as the Visit China year, the Chinese government is 
trying to spruce up its image.

The delegation headed by Ram Shiping, deputy director general at the 
department of commerce, Tibet, is said to have assured Nepali 
authorities that his government would try to relax the visa regime 
and, if possible, approve individual visas.

Before the delegation leaves Friday, it will exchange drafts with 
Nepal on how to resurrect the service, following which a new 
memorandum of understanding could be signed, Khanegndra Mani Pokhrel, 
director general at Nepal's department of transport, said.

The direct Kathmandu-Lhasa bus service kicked off in May 2006 amidst 
much hype. However, it was halted within three weeks due to visa 
problems and other hiccups.
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