KATHMANDU: After undergoing a harrowing ordeal in China-controlled Tibet, Mohan Lal Gupta, BJP legislator from Rajasthan, is now going to raise the issue of Kailash yatris' plight with Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and the External Affairs ministry.
" China should not treat Indian pilgrims as enemies," said the 55-year-old legislator, who is flying back to New Delhi on Wednesday after being stranded in "inhuman living conditions" in Tibet due to bad weather. "The Kailash yatra is a religious journey and Indian pilgrims should not be subjected to harassment. The Chinese government has to make the journey easier, they have to be friendlier and more accommodating with permits."
Gupta, accompanied by his wife Nirmala, 22 more pilgrims from Rajasthan and five from Chhattisgarh, left on a pilgrimage to Mt Kailash, one of the holiest destinations for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains alike, and the Man Sarovar on Sept 7. After completing the yatra last week and seeking to return from Tibet, they became stranded in a border town due to bad weather, which prevented further flights for five days.
"Six people in our group fell seriously ill," said Gupta, who himself developed high altitude sickness. "However, they could not get medical attention and instead, landed in a police station. Others had to spend the week in a forest."
The reason: the pilgrims had been issued a one-time entry visa and so, were not allowed by the Chinese authorities to return to Lhasa even though they needed medical treatment urgently and had also run out of food. "It was bad weather that forced us to change our itinerary," Gupta told TNN. "But for every change and every little thing – like visiting the Ram-Laxman temple near Mt Kailash -- we had to seek permission separately. The Chinese were most unfriendly; we were harassed and our belongings checked stringently. It was the worst experience in my life."
Unable to get any help from the Chinese, Gupta contacted the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, who immediately contacted the Indian ambassador to Nepal, Rakesh Sood. The Indian Embassy in Kathmandu then began operations to rescue the team on a priority basis. Finally on Monday, after the weather improved, Gupta's group as well as nearly a dozen more pilgrims from Andhra Pradesh, Mumbai and the UK were airlifted to the Nepal border. From there, while some of the weary travellers returned to Kathmandu, others left for India by road through the border town of Nepalgunj.
Gupta, who arrived in Kathmandu Tuesday, however was given a hero's welcome by the Marwari community of Nepal who organised a quick felicitation for him on Wednesday.
Though the current batch of pilgrims suffered no casualties, in the past the high altitude of Tibet, extreme cold, uncertain weather and xenophobic authorities have combined to land travellers in severe trouble. Even while announcing it has opened Tibet to tourists, China remains paranoid about visitors. A direct bus service connecting Lhasa with Kathmandu and run by the governments of China and Nepal was disconnected several times due to the Chinese reluctance to issue visas, especially to people not travelling in groups.