China blocks Hindu pilgrims from Tibet

The Chinese government is refusing to issue visas to thousands of Hindus seeking to make the traditional summer pilgrimage to a Tibetan mountain said to be the home of Lord Shiva. The Indian foreign ministry, which is working with Chinese authorities to make arrangements for almost 1,000 pilgrims selected by lottery, said Beijing had informed New Delhi it was not ready for the visitors—presumably due to the ongoing unrest.

“The annual Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage for year 2008 was scheduled to commence from June 1,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said in a statement. “The government of People’s Republic of China conveyed to the Ministry of External Affairs that on account of domestic reasons they would not be in a position to receive pilgrims before June 21, 2008.”

“This could be because of protests in Tibet; in fact, that is the main reason,” said Ripu Mardan of Eco Trek International, a Katmandu-based tour operator. The Olympic torch is scheduled to go through Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, on June 20.

Tour operators estimate that 5,000 to 6,000 make the pilgrimage each year. Starting in June, Hindus from Nepal and India embark on a long trek to the 22,000-foot Mount Kailash and nearby Lake Mapam Yutso, known in India as Lake Mansarovar. The mountain is said to be the home of Shiva, the god of destruction, while Manas, the highest fresh-water lake in the world, is believed to have sprang from the forehead of Brahma, the god of creation. The centuries-old pilgrimage saw a lengthy hiatus after the Tibetan uprising of 1959. It resumed under an agreement between India and China in 1981. (NYT, AFP, May 21)

The Hindu pilgrimage to Amarnath Cave in Kashmir, where Shiva’s phallus is honored the form of a giant stalagmite, has also been disrupted by political violence in recent years.

See our last post on Tibet and India.