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Purang–Lipulekh Pass


N 30° 15′ 17′′, E 81° 05′ 00′′
4,270 MASL
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A Tibetan family on pilgrimage with the snowcapped Mount Kailash in the background. Every year, thousands of pilgrims of various religions journey to Kailash, following traditions that stretch back thousands of years. Pilgrimages were suspended from 1954 to 1978 due to disputes over the Sino-Indian border. Since then, a limited number of Indian pilgrims have been allowed to visit via the Lipulekh Pass, under official Chinese and Indian government supervision.

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Construction is under way by India’s Border Roads Organization, of an 80-kilometer metalled road connecting Dharchula in Uttarakhand with Lipulekh Pass on the Chinese border. Following the traditional Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra Route, the road will shorten pilgrims’ journeys from 2-3 weeks to one week. India’s construction of a road passing through contested Kalapani territory has raised tensions with Nepal.

1680: Located to the south Mount Kailash–Lake Manasarovar complex, a sacred place in four religions, including Bön, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, Purang had long been subjected to multireligious and cultural influences. Purang was once the capital of the Purang-Guge Kingdom, which covered parts of the western Tibet and northern Ladakh and was later conquered by Tibet under the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1679–1680.


1743: Nepal launched an aggressive annexation campaign since 1743 and conquered the kingdoms of Kumaon and Garhwal bordering Tibet in the late 18th century.


1816: The competing interests over the mountainous north of the Indian subcontinent led to the Anglo–Nepalese War (1814–1816), which ended with the signing of the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816. The treaty made a territorial settlement along the Kali River, a tributary of the Ganges originating at Kalapani in the Himalayas. The valley of Kalapani, with the Lipulekh Pass at the top, had long formed the Indian pilgrimage route to Kailash-Manasarovar.


1860: The Russian and British rivalry for the control of Central Asia prompted the Tibetan government to ban all foreigners and shut borders. Nevertheless, European explorers crossed the frontier illicitly. Britain began discreetly mapping Tibet in the 1860s, and many expeditions were sent to Western Tibet, including the sacred Kailash-Manasarovar region—source of three of Asia’s mightiest rivers, namely, the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra.


1904: Following the British invasion of Tibet (1903–1904), three ports were opened up to British trade according to the Convention of Lhasa, including Yadong and Gyantse in Southern Tibet and Gartok, which was Lhasa’s administrative headquarters for Western Tibet, as well as its principal trade market.


1906: Sven Hedin produced a detailed map of the Kailash-Manasarovar complex through his expedition to Tibet between 1906 and 1908. Two volumes on “Lake Manasarovar and the sources of the great Indian rivers” were later published as part of his nine-volume work on the scientific results of his Southern Tibet expeditions.


1950: Following Nepal and India’s respective independence in 1923 and 1947, the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed in 1950. After Tibet’s annexation by the People’s Republic of China in 1951, India increased its security presence along the northern border, including the valley of Kalapani at the trijunction of the India–China–Nepal borders.


1954: The Purang Port was established to facilitate the Kailash-Manasarovar Yatra and enable trade among border residents. Purang Port is connected to India through the Lipulekh Pass and Nepal through the Tinkar Pass.


1962: The Lipulekh Pass and the Purang Port closed after the outbreak of the Sino–Indian War.


1992: The Lipulekh Pass and the Purang Port reopened.


1998: Disputes between Nepal and India over the location of the Kali River, and consequently that of the Kalapani territoriality and the strategic Lipulekh Pass, started in 1998. Although India claimed that Kali River begins only after the Kalapani River joined by other streams, Nepal laid claim to all the areas east of the Kalapani River, one of the headwaters of the Kali River.


2003: China and India reached a settlement of their border disputes and signed the Declaration on Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation.


2012: The government of the Tibet Autonomous Region made 10-year development plans for the Zhangmu–Kadori on the Sino-Nepalese border and Purang–Lipulekh Pass on the Sino-Indian border.


2013: The pilgrimage route to Kailash-Manasarovar via the Lipulekh Pass was severely damaged in the floods.


2015: China opened the second land crossing in Tibet via Nathula to allow Indian pilgrims undertaking the Kailash-Manasarovar Yatra. China and India reached an agreement to further develop the Lipulekh Pass as a bilateral trade gateway, which caused dissatisfaction in Kathmandu.


2020: Nepal protested against India’s unilateral inauguration of a metaled road connecting Dharchula in Uttarakhand with the Lipulekh pass on the China border through the disputed Kalapani territoriality.

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