A group of 16 Indian pilgrims crossed the Lipu Lekh Pass from India into Tibet reaching Purang (Taklakot) on July 16, 2003 on their way to Mt. Kailash, according to the organizers of the tour. The pilgrimage, organized by the Government of India, was to begin in June but got delayed on account of the SARS crisis in China.

The group, consisting of eight men and eight women, started their journey on July 8, 2003 from New Delhi. They are scheduled to be in Tibet from July 16 to 28 during which they will circumambulate Mount Kailash and Mansarovar Lake and visit other holy sites. They begin their return journey on July 28 and are expected to be in New Delhi on August 2, 2003.

Mount Kailash, known as Gang Rinpoche in Tibetan, is considered sacred by Hindus and Jains, in addition to Buddhists and followers of the Bon religion. Hindus worship it as the abode of Lord Shiva and Parvati while Jains worship it as the place believed to be the one where their first spiritual master (First Thirtankar) achieved Nirvana.

According to the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam Limited, charged by the Indian government with the organization of the trip, the pilgrimage by Indian devotees to Mount Kailash was re-started in 1981 after a break between 1959 and 1980. Although they do not cite the reasons for the break, 1959 is the year in which the borders of Tibet were sealed following China’s takeover of Tibet.

Since 1981 batches (with 30 to 40 people in each batch) of Indian pilgrims have been sent between May and September each year. The Indian Foreign Ministry advertises this pilgrimage and oversees the selection process. Selected people go through medical tests. This year ten batches of pilgrims are undertaking the pilgrimage, scheduled to end on September 25, 2003.

Although the current batch initially had 30 people many opted out on account of the SARS situation in China.