Kailash Manasarovar is undoubtedly the “Mother of Pilgrimages” for the 1.2 billion Hindus globally. Why only Hindus? This sacred high Himalayan pilgrimage has touched the hearts, souls, and minds of discerning world travelers, irrespective of their religious beliefs. The majestic Mount Kailash is the residence of Lord Shiva and Lake Manasarovar is where his holy consort Mata Parvati dwells, thereby creating an atmosphere of serenity and peace, unmatched by any other spiritual destination.

In the past Indian pilgrims had to endure a lot of hardships – difficult terrain, sketchy wayside amenities, and the ignominy of entering the site through the Nepal-China borders. What is more, China has imposed stringent Visa rules and increased the Parikrama expenditures, thereby making it a costly pilgrimage to undertake.

However, the untiring efforts of the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways and Honorable Cabinet Minister Nitin Gadkari’s focus on constructing the Kailash Manasarovar Highway Project in record time deserves kudos. Gadkari declared

Ninety-three percent work on the Kailash Mansarovar project has been completed.

This means that the much-awaited Highway Project passing through Uttrakhand’s Pithoragarh district could be dedicated to the nation anytime.

Earlier traveling to Kailash Mansarovar used to take around two to three weeks through the Nepal or Sikkim route, but, once the Highway becomes operational, there will be a significant reduction in travel time and the Parikrama will be less arduous; in fact, a complete avoidance of the strenuous and treacherous trek! The Dharchula to Lipulekh road in Uttrakhand will connect to the Pithoragarh-Tawaghat-Ghatiabagarh road and will terminate at Lipulekh Pass, considered to be the gateway to Mount Kailash Mansarovar. As you drive on this treacherous 80 km. terrain, the altitude rises dramatically from a comfortable 6000 feet up to a rarefied height of 17,060 feet, which used to cause a lot of hardships/fatalities earlier.

Kailash Manasarovar Highway is a testament and resolves of a “Resurgent India” as it inches its way closer to donning the mantle of a global powerhouse/Vishwaguru. India’s Minister of Road Transport & Highways – Shri Nitin Gadkari has shown the world that one can overpower China’s hegemonic tendencies through well-thought-out infrastructure plans that penetrate deep into the border areas, thereby encouraging tourism to flourish. After all, isn’t tourism too vast an industry to be swallowed by terror campaigns and intimidation?
India has truly arrived on the world stage and in the words of Shri Nitin Gadkari

By 2024 India's highway infrastructure will be at par with that of the US roads, for which work in time-bound 'mission mode' is on, including construction of green expressways and rail over bridges.

By the way, the Bharatmala Project, which is India’s Road to Prosperity Programme, is a whooping Rs.5.35 trillion investment and one of the world’s largest highway infrastructure projects.

Crossing over to Tibet – the roof of the world

Tibet is an autonomous region of China and Lhasa, the charming mountain town is the capital of Tibet. The magnificent Potala Palace used to be the Winter Residence of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of the Tibetan Buddhist congregation worldwide. Tibet has been under the jurisdiction of the Chinese ever since the annexation of this region by the Chinese Army in 1951.

True to India’s role as the world’s spiritual melting pot, the present Dalai Lama (14th ) has been an honoured guest of India since 1951, when he sought asylum in India, in the aftermath of the brutal Chinese annexation of Tibet (1951); he along with his entourage entered into Indian territory through the minuscule mountain town of Tawang in India’s remote North Eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh and ever since then has been living in exile at McLeod Ganj, located in India’s northern state of Himachal Pradesh, from where he runs the Tibetan Government in Exile.

Landscape & topography

The Tibetan plateau that rises to 4000 metres above sea level is popularly referred to as the “Roof of the World” and is blessed with the highest mountain ranges on the earth – Mt.Everest (8848mm), Kangrinboque Peak (6638mm), Manaslu (8481m), Shishapangma (8013m) to name just a few.

The Tibetan topography is unlike any other landmass on Planet Earth. First-time visitors to Tibet are stupefied by the awesome Trans Himalayan vistas with the average altitude being 5000 m. Tibetan landscape is not just rugged and rarefied; it is plain simple daunting! It invites the mountaineer in you to come and explore the incredibly diverse flora and fauna of this fabled, spiritual land of emancipation.

The quintessential features of the awe-inspiring Tibetan plateau are the endless prairies to the North and the vast woodlands to the southwest. If you are visiting Tibet in the summer months, the Prairies up North take on a majestic glow in a carpet of greenery. The tall and sturdy Tibetan herdsmen can be seen grazing the cattle and visitors find their exotic costumes, cuisines, and folklore to be unbelievably amazing. Bear in mind that the Prairies get exceedingly cold and the Trans Himalayan rivers remain frozen for eight months in a year.

Tibet’s woodland region is the habitat of rare Trans Himalayan wildlife species - Tigers, Leopards, Bears, Deers, and Orangutans. The Tibetan flora is a veritable storehouse of exotic plants like Cordyceps Sinensis, Fritillaria Thunbergii, Chinese Angelica, etc., all of which are much sought-after ingredients in Chinese medicines.

The nomadic way of life

Tibet is one of the world’s last remaining habitats of the nomadic herdsmen, who for centuries together have raised livestock and engaged in high-altitude farming, thereby guarding Tibet’s fragile ecology as sentinels. Their unique lifestyle has been the subject of many documentaries. BBC, NatGeo, and National Geographic have rather brilliantly showcased the highland nomads of Tibet in documentary format. I particularly liked the BBC Studios’ The Nomadic Existence of a Mongolian Herding Family and I feel this is one great pre-Visit documentary, that every wannabe visitor to Tibet must watch before his/her departure.

Tibetan nomads are renowned for their survival skills in extremely high altitudes and are often compared to the Sherpa mountaineers of Nepal. Yaks are an indispensable part of the nomadic herdsmen and visitors are stupefied by the intricate embroidery skills of the womenfolk as they weave those magic fabrics – blankets, rugs, and warm clothing from the Yak wool.

Every time the nomads move to a new place, their abiding belief in Tibetan Buddhism comes into play; and, they request the services of a wizened Lama who after immense research will recommend the most auspicious day to commence the journey!

Visitors who are desirous of having a date with the Tibetan nomads would do well to coincide their visit with the grazing season (April – October), which is when the nomads set up tents. The quintessential features of the nomadic tents are – a cooking stove in the middle, butter candles, and Buddhist scriptures on a makeshift altar.

Visitors are treated as honourable guests and servings of Yak Butter Tea or Barley Wine are served to the discerning guests.

The Kailash Manasarovar region

The incredible jaw-dropping Mount Kailash, considered to be one of the most hallowed mountains by the Hindus, dates back to 30 million years. Mount Kailash is 6,675 m high and Hindus from the most ancient times believe it to be the abode of Lord Shiva and his holy consort Mata Parvati. For centuries together, Mt. Kailash has enticed and beguiled countless pilgrims in search of Nirvana.

The pilgrimage or Parikrama to Mt. Kailash and the sanctified Mansarovar Lake is conducted in its entirety by the Uttrakhand Govt. run Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) in collaboration with India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

To explore Mount Kailash, pilgrims have to undertake a walk of 53 km. In ancient Indian and Buddhist religious texts like the Puranas, this region is referred to as the center point of Planet Earth. NASA scientists have acknowledged the existence of seven different light forms emanating from Mt. Kailash and attribute this phenomenon to the magnetic energy present here.

Reference to Mt. Kailash is also found in the Jain religious text – Astapad and the Bonpa Buddhist text of – Yungdruk Gu-Tseg. The summit of Mt. Kailash is referred to as the Polmapass.

Mansarovar Lake or Mapamm Yumtso in Tibetan parlance on the other hand is located in close proximity to Mount Kailash (30 Kms) and this revered freshwater lake draws sustenance from the icy glaciers of Mt. Kailash. Manasarovar has water in its purest form available on Planet Earth. This lake is also the origin of four of Asia’s greatest rivers – Brahmaputra, Sutlej, Indus, and Karnali.

Significance of the new route

The new route to Mt. Kailash Mansarovar region is of great significance to India, both spiritually and geo-strategically. Spiritually, India once again will reach out to the contemporary world with the eternal messages of ancient Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, and Mahabharata that the “World is One Family”; and that guns and missiles alone can’t be solutions to territorial disputes between countries. An appropriately prepared infrastructure plan aimed at upgrading the nation’s communications, transportation, road, and railways connectivity too can and does bring about lasting peace in the most volatile of places, thereby deceiving the opponent country’s monstrous tendencies.

Prime Minister Modi’s approach towards China is praiseworthy and he is in favour of robust trade and commerce linkages with China. With this agenda in mind, the Govt. of India’s push for “Geo-Strategic Tourism” in the border areas and promoting tourism in the “Conflict Zone” has the potential to alter the geo-political equations of the region from being an amphitheater of war to a paradise for tourists. Once and for all, the new mountain highway via (Devbhumi) Uttrakhand’s Pithoragarh district will ensure that the major portion of the pilgrimage journey to Mt. Kailash Manasarovar Yatra will be undertaken within India’s territory, which was previously not so. Herein lies India’s victory over China!

Indian visitors and pilgrims to Tibet can now look forward to crafting immersive Trans Himalayan experiences. We are living in an era where destinations need to entertain, excite, and psychologically affect the consumer’s mindset through immersive experiences. Tibet seems to be on track in its pursuit to create a unique Adventure & Spiritual Tourism image in the highly competitive global tourism arena.