This year, China removed its prohibition on outsiders entering Tibet, and the annual religious pilgrimage known as the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra began again after COVID-19 with stringent restrictions for Indians and Nepalese. According to new rules, the $30 visa charge for Nepali personnel and guides who help pilgrims from India and other nations go to Tibet and Kailash has doubled to $120. Nepalese will now need to pay $300 instead of the previous $100 for visa permits. Another drawback for Nepali tour companies operating in Kailash Manasarovar is the need that they each pay $60,000 (8 million Nepali Rupees) in order to transport Indian pilgrims to Tibet.
The central bank of Nepal prohibits Nepali travel agents from making deposits in foreign financial institutions. Leading Nepalese travel operators, including The Association of Kailash travel Operators Nepal (AKTON), Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA), and Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal, have written to Chen Song, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal.
“Nepali tourism merchants who manage the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra for Indian pilgrims have been barred by the Tibet Autonomous Region’s Foreign Exchange Centre (FEC), the organization in charge of giving visas for Indian tourists. We want to let you know that a necessary deposit of $60,000 USD (or around $8,000,000 NPR) has been made for a Nepalese business to manage Indian pilgrims going on the Kailash Yatra. This arrangement is against Nepali regulations and laws, according to the letter from the association that WION has access to.
According to the Tibet Tourism Bureau, China has hiked the price of the Kailash vacation package for Indians from Rs 1,50,000 (about US $1,800) per person to Rs 2,50,000 (approximately US $3,000).
The updated regulations also stipulate that in order to qualify for visas, a group of at least five Indian pilgrims—at least four of whom must be physically present—must be present.
“Travelers who are traveling to Kailash and Lhasa must now appear in person for biometrics when applying for a visa. With this impractical law, tourists and Nepali tourism business owners are now faced with a dilemma, according to the letter from Nepal tour operators.
In the past, Chinese officials would gather biometric information at the border crossing immigration offices.
The pressure on Nepal’s tourist industry is brought on by the tour operators’ claims to WION that permission applications for Indians have not yet started.
Over 100,000 Indian citizens traveled through Nepal to Manasarovar between 2014 and 2019. Each visitor spends between $800 and $1,200 for the weeklong trip, generating both revenue and employment for Nepal’s tourism industry, which flourishes even during the slow months of May through September.
According to travel companies, 40,000 Kailash pilgrims visit Nepal each year, 30,000 of them are from India.
Every season, the food and assistance of Indian and Nepali pilgrims on the Kailash Yatra directly benefits around 10,000 people in Nepal.
Operators in Nepal, who had hoped that the reopening of the northern border would aid in the recovery of their companies, now confront a plethora of challenges and financial obstacles.
“Thousands of pilgrims from India and other nations used to go to Nepal. Indian permission applications have not yet started. Only those with foreign or Nepali passports are permitted. We hope that it also starts for Indians. Some problems can only be resolved at the government level. The governments of India, China, and Nepal will all need to resolve certain border and visa difficulties. According to Pradip Pandit, vice president of the Nepal Trekking Agencies Association, the new regulations that require pilgrims to physically show themselves for biometrics in order to get a visa are what is known as regulated tourism.
“The volume of visitors will decline due to several limitations. We have presented this to the Nepal Foreign Ministry, the Chinese Embassy, and the Prime Minister, he continued.
Pandit criticized the limits, saying that one Nepali employee would have to pay $420, which is more than their monthly salary of NPR 25,000 ($190). Even we are unable to cover this expense since it is so high. We requested that these rules be modified from our counterparts.
Only the Nepalese Kerung Pass and the Tibetan capital Lhasa have been approved by the Chinese government as routes for pilgrims to Kailash. Every year, Kailash has its primary season from May through September.
The yearly pilgrimage season would be a period of great growth for the tourist sector, and the government would also see a boost in tax income. Travel agencies, hotels, and restaurants all benefit from the popularity of religious travelers.
However, compared to previous years, Nepal is not even anticipating one-fourth as many pilgrims this year.