Indian Ambassador to China Dr S. Jaishankar presenting credentials to Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China. (Photo/Embassy of India, Beijing)
DHARAMSHALA, July 3: The Indian envoy to China, S Jaishankar, is currently on a rare visit to Tibet, touring Mount Kailash and Manasarovar, two holy sites frequently visited by Indian pilgrims.
Jaishankar's visit to Tibet, the first by an Indian envoy in 10 years, comes at a time when more than 40 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in Tibet demanding freedom in Tibet and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from exile in India.
Shivshankar Menon, the then Indian Ambassador and present National Security Advisor had visited Tibet in 2002.
Jaishankar is scheduled to trace back the Indian pilgrimage route from Mount Kailash to the Nepal border.
Chinese authorities have already announced plans to step up investments in the region to improve facilities for Indian pilgrims.
Earlier in June, hundreds of Indian pilgrims were stranded in Nepal on their way to Kailash-Mansarovar after Chinese authorities stopped them at the border saying that their vehicles did not have route permit.
Nepalese officials had confirmed that around 700-800 Indian pilgrims, all of whom had proper visa, were left stranded at the Tibetan border.
Although the Chinese authorities had cited vehicular permit for stopping the pilgrims, business people dealing with the Indian tourists noted that the restriction was enforced as a precautionary measure against the “possible infiltration by pro-Dalai Lama Tibetan activists.”
China has twice this year banned outside tourists from visiting Tibetan areas.
According to reports, the Indian envoy, besides visiting the pilgrim centres would also be visiting other Tibetan areas.
Jaishankar’s visit to Tibet comes on the heels of New Delhi’s request to re-open its consulate in Tibet’s ancient capital city Lhasa, fifty years after it was shut following the 1962 border war between India and China.
China being India's largest trade partner in goods, Indian officials have been quoted as saying that a consulate in Tibet would help bilateral trade and pilgrimage, such as the Kailash Mansarovar yatra.
However, according to media reports, China’s initial reaction to India’s request hasn’t been “encouraging.”