Arun Pandey, a Kathmandu native, has already traveled to the Manasarovar Lake in Burang County, Tibet, with the majority of his family. In the 1990s, his father visited the revered lake as a pilgrim. When the father returned home, he told his other family members a lot about the pool.
Abijit Pandey, Arun Pandey’s son, wanted to see if the area was exactly as his grandfather described it after hearing so much good about it. In 2014, he was able to carry out his strategy.
Arun had shown an interest in accompanying Abijit. But, owing to a variety of circumstances, he was unable to do so, and has been attempting to do so since 2018. He was kept busy by work for the majority of the years, but in October 2019, he booked a trip to go there in May 2020. However, China closed the border as a result of Covid-19, and he has been unable to travel since then.
“It seems that I am not lucky enough,” says Arun Pandey, who adds that he has no hope of making it in 2021.
Every year, tens of thousands of people plan a pilgrimage to Kailash Manasarovar. The lake is worshipped not only by Nepalis, but also by Indians, who flock to Nepal in droves to visit Manasarovar. Over 100,000 Indian nationals visited Manasarovar Lake via Nepal between 2014 and 2019. They bring money and jobs to Nepal’s tourism industry, which thrives even during the lean months of May-August, with each tourist spending at least $1,200 and up to $3,000 for a week-long journey.
However, since Tibet remains closed until December 2021, tour operators have reluctantly declared that the Manasarovar yatra will not take place this year. They claim that this would result in a loss of income for tour operators, people who depend on this tour package, and the government, which receives a million dollars in tax per year.
The magnitude of the loss
According to Mohan Lamsal, managing director of Makalu Adventure, “Nepal earns about a billion rupees per year from this kit alone.” “This is a significant loss for us.”
Three locations in Nepal provide access to Kailash Manasarovar. The most common route is from Rasuwa, Nepal, to the Kerung border crossing between Nepal and China, where the lake is 700 kilometers away. Another choice is to travel from the Kodari border to Lhasa. This is not, however, a popular trip because it can take up to three weeks to travel and return. The final option is to travel through Hilsa, then through Simikot to Hisla, where you can cross the border and enter the lake.
Hardip Singh, from Noida, had been planning this trip for years, just like Pandey. He saved enough money for a year to be able to fly to Hilsa in a helicopter. However, his trip was canceled at the last minute, and he was unable to attend.
“The tour agents said that they would take me to any location in Nepal that I desired. They suggested Gosainkunda, Kala Patthar, and Lumbini, but I’m not interested. I can do these whenever I want,” Singh says, adding that he hopes to travel to Kailash with this family in early 2022 to fulfill a lifelong dream.
The pilgrimage’s cancellation is having a greater impact than normal. Although tour operators continue to be harmed, those who depend on this trip are suffering even more. Hotels in Syabrubesi, Hisla, and, to a lesser degree, Kodari, say the decision has left them with a difficult decision to make.
Jeet Tamang of Dhunche, near Kerung, says, “I started this hotel because I saw thousands of people coming here every year.” “However, the last two years have been bone dry. I haven’t been able to find someone to stay in my hotel, and with loans to repay, the only option is to sell it.”
Things are similar in Bajhang’s Talkot, where people depend solely on tourism to survive. Pilgrims traveling to Manasarovar via Hilsa used to stay there in the past. In addition, many Indian pilgrims have their own hotels in Tibet’s Taklakot.
However, after China closed its borders in late 2019, many people have been waiting to see if things will be okay and if they will be able to return to work.
“In the past, I could earn a million rupees in three months. After all my expenses and taxes to China, this was profit,” says Rabi Chhetri. “For the time being, I’m fine. However, another year of this will be difficult for me. I’m not in any other business.”
Even though talks have taken place, Lamsal claims that there hasn’t been much good news about reopening borders. He claims that his Chinese sources have advised him that he can only schedule trips after April 2022, which he claims has cost tour operators a lot of money.
“We have to stick to the rules. We won’t be able to do anything about it.”
Looking for alternatives
However, some are considering a Kailash Manasarovar alternative. Despite Nepalis’ efforts to sell Indian tourists a package that includes visits to Janakpur, Pashupatinath, Lumbini, and Gosainkunda, there is also talk of a trip to Surma Sarovar in Bajhang.
“It’s not as large as Manasarovar, but it has almost the same significance,” Lamsal says. “We need to start looking for alternatives, and if Surma Sarovar can be sold this year, it will benefit a lot of people.”
The Tourism Ministry, on the other hand, acknowledges that the country will lose millions, but has yet to devise a strategy to replace Manasarovar.
When asked if any steps are being taken to promote places like Surma Sarovar, the ministry’s spokesperson Taranath Adhikari says that nothing is planned because officials claim that Covid-19 will not attract many visitors.
“Perhaps in the future,” Adhikari says, “but for now, we don’t have plans to promote destinations like Surma Sarovar in place of Manasarovar.”