NEW DELHI – As the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra restarts next month after a gap of three years, the steep hike in permit fee levied by the Chinese side has made the trek daunting for tourists and tour operators alike. The cost of the yatra package per person comes to around Rs 2.2 lakh, which hovered around Rs 1.8 lakh in 2019.
China recently announced the opening of several points on the Nepal-China border for the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage. Besides the cost issue, the tour operators are also complaining about the regulations being made more complex, which may further deter travellers from signing up with them. These include a hike in fee for porters, biometrics for visas, and some foreign exchange restrictions, sources said.
Several private operators in Nepal have come together to submit a memorandum to the Chinese ambassador, explaining the hassles that the new regulations would cause. The Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents, Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal and Association of Kailash Tour Operators Nepal have urged the Chinese authorities to ease the movement of the pilgrims.
The memorandum also claims that the charges fixed by China for Indians are higher than those for tourists from third countries.
As per Yatish Kumar of Exotic Miles, which has been taking Indian pilgrims on the yatra for over a decade now and has offices in Ghaziabad and Kathmandu, “The steep hike in Chinese permit fee has straightaway pushed the cost by Rs 50,000, taking it to upwards of Rs 2.25 lakh for an all-inclusive trip per person. This is bound to sound prohibitive to most yatris and affect business in India and Nepal.”
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) also organises Kailash Yatra every year through two different routes – Lipulekh Pass (Uttarakhand) and Nathu La Pass (Sikkim). It costs almost the same and takes 23-25 days to complete the whole yatra through these two routes. However, the government-backed yatra, which was stopped in the wake of Covid-19, hasn’t been resumed yet. “The date for registration for the KMY 2023 has not been decided as yet,” the official website says.
Tour operators said it’s unlikely that the pilgrimage organised by the MEA will open this year; if it were the plan, the registration process would have started by now. “Normally, the MEA announces it by April as the yatra is held between June and September every year,” said Satish Khurana, who runs a travel agency in Delhi. Thereby, the only option for the pilgrims this year is to travel through private operators via the Nepal route.