Opening a new gateway for Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through Nepalgunj-GunshaNagari flight

Published On: February 27, 2024 09:00 AM NPT By: Hari Prasad Shrestha

In January 2024, Shree Airlines conducted a first chartered mountain flight to the holy Kailash Mansarovar, which took off from Nepalgunj airport with 38 Indian tourists on board. This chartered flight took around one and a half hours to complete the trip. The maiden flight had tourists from various Indian cities, including New Delhi, Mumbai, and many from the states of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh.

Mount Kailash and Mansarovar lake are one of the most popular and purifying pilgrimages in central Asia. Situated in the Ngari prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage is considered the most sacred by Hindus across the world. Moreover, these two natural sacrosanct places are also revered by Buddhists, Jains and Tibet’s indigenous Bonpa faith.

The mountain flight from Nepalgunj is the shortest route for Kailash Mansarovar view from the sky and it would help increase border tourism in Nepalgunj and surrounding locations. Indian tourists of all ages and abilities will be able to have a darshan of Mt Kailash and Lake Mansarovar at a cheap and affordable price without coming to Kathmandu. Along with Indian tourists, interested Nepali pilgrims would also take advantage of this flight by visiting Kailash. The Indian pilgrims going for a Kailash Mansarovar flight need to go to Nepalgunj which is barely 200 kms northeast of Lucknow in India and accessible by road too.

Some travel agents have already started booking special charter flights onwards March 2024 from Nepalgunj airport for mountain flights to Kailash Mansarovar. Additionally, Nepalgunj is going to be a new tourist destination for Indian tourists to visit different tourist destinations of western Nepal like Bardiya and Banke national parks, Rara and Phoksundo lakes, Swargadwari in addition to Pokhara and Janakpur. The nearby Bardiya National Park is home to many rare and endangered species of wildlife, including the Royal Bengal tigers, one-horned rhinoceroses, and Asian elephants.

Nepalgunj is a city located in the southwestern part of Nepal, near the border with India. It is the largest city in the province of Lumbini and is known for its unique blend of culture, as well as its natural beauty and religious significance. The city is home to several important religious sites, including the Bageshwari Temple and the Mahadev Temple, which is the only Lord Shiva statue with moustache in the world. In terms of cuisine, Nepalgunj is known for its delicious local food. It is also home to several modern amenities, including hotels, restaurants, cafes, casinos and shops. The city has a vibrant nightlife and is a great place to explore the local culture and meet new people.

To reach the Mansarovar lake and walk around the Kailash, there are few different travel routes via Kathmandu, Western Nepal’s Simikot, Lhasa and Lipulehk. Every year, thousands of pilgrims travel to Mansarovar Lake and take part in Kailash circuit walk with the special permit from Tibet Travel Bureau (TTB) under the supervision of Tibetan and Nepali tour operators. The holy trip to Mansarovar is quite a difficult, long journey with few steps of transport mode. Pilgrims to Kailash always have had a problem because of a high volume of travelers, bad weather conditions and lack of standard logistics en route with higher costs. After COVID-19, China opened the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage in 2023. However, the massive hike in fees and multiple restrictions on visas, especially for Indian pilgrims, meant that practically the pilgrimage did not happen.

After the mountain flight from Nepalgunj to Kailash Mansarover, a discussion has also begun to connect Ngari Gunsa Airport near Mansarovar lake from airports in Nepal. The construction of a new terminal building of international standard is near completion in Nepalgunj, which has also been planned to  handle international flights. Similarly, on the Chinese side, Ngari Gunsa airport in Tibet has all facilities to conduct international flights, only the Chinese government has to announce allowing international flights from this airport.

Moreover, there have been several initiations to start flights from Nepalgunj to New Delhi to ease Indian tourist to visit Kailash Mansarovar. However it could not yet materialized due to India’s reluctance in providing slots in Delhi airport and allow direct western air route to and from Nepalgunj to India. There are still high expectations and local authorities are lobbying for this flight. Once this flight starts, it would be more comfortable for Indian pilgrims to visit Kailash and Mansarover. Flights from Nepalgunj to Kailash Mansarovar are considered to be the shortest and cheapest one. Moreover, there could be direct flights from Kathmandu and Bhairahawa Airport to Ngari Gunsa Airport as well. Previously, Himalayan Airlines of Nepal took initiative to start flights to Ngari Gunsa Airport  from Kathmandu and Bhairahawa airports, however it could not be started yet as it did not get permission from the Chinese authority.

The Nagri Gunsa Airport lies northwest (about 260 kilometers and 4200m altitude) from the holy lake Mansarovar and that takes only 5 hours of easy drive over the Tibetan plateau. Pilgrims to Kailash and Mansarovar can directly benefit from this airport if international flights are allowed. The airport has a 4,500-meter runway. Currently, domestic flights are being operated from this airport to Kashgar, Urumqi, Lhasa, Xi’an by different Chinese airlines.

Shiquanhe is the nearest major town to Kailash Mansarovar and also the administrative seat of the Ngari Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. The Ngari Gunsa Airport is situated nearby. It is a modern Chinese-style town and according to a government source, the population of Shiquanhe had grown from just over 1,500 to over 20,000 in 30 years (1978–2008), and people there now "enjoy their life because the city has been equipped with culture and commerce facilities. It has a lion statue in the middle of the town with high-rise buildings, restaurants, general stores and nightclubs. 

Nepal and China have an agreement to allow 98 weekly flights between the two countries on a reciprocal basis, per week including 21 flights in and out of the two international airports—Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa and Pokhara International Airport to Chinese airports. In principle, China allows Nepali carriers to land at Ngari Gunsa Airport in Tibet, nearest to Kailash and Manasarovar. During the aviation meetings, the Chinese officials have assured Nepal that once the Ngari Gunsa Airport is transformed into an international airport, they would allow Nepal to operate its flights there.

The airport at Gunsa may receive a lot of Indian and Nepali tourists in the future after the flight to and from Nepal starts there. Its success depends on government authorities of both Nepal and China to initiate serious and meaningful dialogue to open this new route for Kailash visit. China and Nepal have historically good relationships as only Nepali airlines are allowed to fly in airports in Tibet. There is no confusion that the Chinese policy toward Nepal is comparatively stable and free of complications and the bilateral relations between Nepal and China have always been friendly. Currently, about half a dozen Chinese airlines regularly fly to Nepal. Chinese tourists’ growth rate is highest in Nepal.  After commencement of the new flight route to Ngari Gunsa  and Nepal, it would be easy for traveling in a short period of time and will also fascinate pilgrims traveling to Mount Kailash and Mansarovar Lake avoiding all the hassles faced in travelling through road.


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