External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. (File Photo)
New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar Tuesday announced the commencement of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, while asserting that the pilgrimage is an "important step" towards promoting people-to-people exchanges, and strengthening friendship and understanding between India and China.
Speaking at an event held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Bhawan here, he also shared his personal experience of visiting the holy site when he was posted as an ambassador in China.
The minister, while announcing the commencement of the yatra for the Lipulekh route, said that the interest in the pilgrimage, which started in 1981, has "increased significantly" over the years.
"Let me take this opportunity, to put on record the support and cooperation we have received from many other ministries and agencies, particulary from the state governments of Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Delhi in successful organisation of the yatra," he said.
"I would also like to recognise the support extended by Government of the People's Republic Of China in organising the yatra, which is an important step towards promoting people-to-people exchanges and strengthening friendship and understanding between the two countries," the minister said.
For Kailash Mansarovar Yatra 2019, the ministry had received 2,996 applications, out of which 2,256 were by male applicants and 740 by females. As many as 624 senior citizens had applied for the yatra.
For the Lipulekh route (Uttarakhand), there will be 18 batches with 60 pilgrims each and for the Nathu La (Sikkim) route, 10 batches with 50 yatris each. Two liaison officers will assist each batch of pilgrims.
The yatra involves trekking at high altitudes of up to 19,500 feet, under inhospitable conditions, including extreme weather and rugged terrain, and may prove hazardous for those who are not physically and medically fit.
Jaishankar urged yatris to strictly observe safety norms, for themselves and also for their fellow pilgrims. Many pilgrims from the first batch attended the event hosted by the Ministry of External Affairs.
He said the liaison officers have been asked to accord the "highest priority" to safety of pilgrims.
Jaishankar underlined that all those who have been selected for the yatra are really blessed to be participating in this "divine expedition". "It is a call from Lord Shiva, and you are privileged that this divine blessing has been accorded to you," he said.
The minister, who had served as a envoy of India in China from 2009-2013, while recalling his visit to Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar in 2012, said, "My journey was much easier that what all of you are going to undertake."
"I had the privilege of visiting Mt Kailash and Lake Mansarovar, not through Lipulekh or Nathu La route. I actually was ambassador in China, when I went through Lhasa," he said.
Jaishankar told yatris that what they were going to see there will be far greater than anything that they could imagine.
"If I look back and recollect all the moments of my life, which I will really remember, seeing Mt Kailash and Lake Mansarovar would be one of those," he said.
He also share the contribution of the foreign ministry in facilitating the pilgrims over the years.
In 1981, very small batches were there, and the pilgrimage was much more difficult at the time. Today, larger batches are travelling through the Lipulekh route and the Nathu La route that opend in 2015, he added.
"This year, almost 3,000 fully completed applications were received, and this is something that makes us very happy, that more and more people from our country want to go on this yatra, the minister said, adding, "this gives us great satisfaction".
Dharmik Patel, 32, a teacher from Unjha in Gujarat's Mehsana district, is among the pilgrims who is in the batch of yatris.
"This is the first time I am going for the yatra. I have heard its spiritual and magical, especially from people who have visited it... I also feel that many people from Gujarat are in the first batch, three of my friends from our home state also included in the first batch," he told PTI.
The Ministry of External Affairs organises the Yatra from June to September each year through two different routes -- Lipulekh Pass (Uttarakhand),and Nathu La Pass (Sikkim). Known for its religious value and cultural significance, it is undertaken by hundreds of people every year.
Computerised draw of lots for selecting pilgrims for the pilgrimage was held here on May 15.
The yatra is organised with the cooperation of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. The Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam, Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation and their associated organisations provide logistical support and facilities for the pilgrims in India.
Jaishankar told the gathering that this yatra is considered one of the most difficult pilgrimages in the world, but you all know that the routes pilgrims pass through are "both a difficult territory, but also a beautiful territory".