Mafia's Stranglehold over Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra

The  Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra is considered to be the ultimate pilgrimage.  Taking a dip in the holy lake and offering prayers to Lord Shiva in  his abode of Mount Kailash is a sublime experience. The feeling of  celestial ecstasy overwhelms all.

Unfortunately,  a number of unscrupulous entities have been exploiting gullible and  trusting pilgrims through misleading promises. Very cleverly, a  number of sponsored or paid-for emails are circulated to convince  unsuspecting pilgrims about the credentials of the tour operators.

I  received an email in June this year, purportedly sent by a pilgrim  who was full of praise for Kailash Journeys. We (self,  wife and a doctor couple from AMC) booked ourselves with the  recommended tour operator for helicopter tour of 05 Sep 14.

Considering  it to be our moral duty, I share  my first  hand experience  here to caution those who may be planning to visit  Kailash-Mansarovar.

The  whole yatra is controlled by a mafia network that involves tour  operators, hotels and the airlines. Tour organisation is terribly  poor. Their sole aim is to swindle pilgrims and extort money at every  stage.

We  witnessed gross inefficiency and mismanagement on the first day  itself in Kathmandu when we found a large group of NRIs fighting with  the tour operator in the hotel for misleading them. They had paid all  the charges for the Yatra well in advance. On arrival at Kathmandu,  they were informed that their visa to Tibet could not be managed.  They were furious and blamed Kailash Journeys They had spent  considerable time and money to travel from Canada and the US, all to  no avail.

After  spending a night at Kathmandu, we were flown in a small plane to  Nepalgunj. It was utter confusion and total chaos at the airport. We  had to wait for hours and were made to travel on fictitious names as  the tickets had been purchased underhand.

Next  morning,  we flew to Simikot by small 12 seater planes and thereafter by a  5-seater single-pilot helicopter to Hilsa. Our group strength was 51  and the single helicopter did 10 sorties of one hour each to  transport all of us. We had to wait for long hours at every place to  let the whole group fetch up. It was scary to see a single pilot  flying continuously in high altitude area for 10 hours. When I spoke  to him, he admitted that his feet had got swollen but he could not  decline being on a chartered duty. From Hilsa, we crossed over to  Tibet and reached Taklakot for night halt.

Thus, we  had moved from Nepalgunj (490 ft) to Taklakot (13,025 ft) in a single  day without acclimatisation. As was to be expected, a large number of pilgrims fell sick with  varying degrees of high altitude effects. There was no medical aid  available at all. Our AMC couple attended to all of them and  administered oxygen to many. Unlike some other groups, we were lucky  to have no fatalities.

Although  superior hotels have come up in Tibet, Kailash Journeys lodges  pilgrims in filthy and unhygienic conditions to save costs. At  Taklakot, we were lodged (three in a room) in a dilapidated barrack  of a good hotel. All bathroom fittings were broken and nothing  worked. WC was choked and shit was floating. There was no water in  the bathrooms. Many guests found the conditions to be intolerable and  hired rooms in the main building of the hotel at their own cost. Our  AMC couple did not get a room till late at night and fell sick,  waiting in the open. It was appalling, to say the least.

After  the holy dip at Mansarovar, we were driven to mud shacks for the  night halt and lodged 6 to 8 in a room. The conditions were filthier  here. Everyone had to defecate in the open. The whole area was like  an open latrine with shit lying everywhere. Far superior  accommodation was available across the road where Western visitors  were staying. One felt small and humiliated. When asked, Kailash  Journeys people replied that they could not afford it.

It  was the same scene at Darchen – filthy accommodation for us whereas  many good hotels have come up in the area as it is the base for a  number of treks that are very popular with the Western tourists.

Another  trick tried  by the staff at Darchen is to scare the guests that they might miss  their flights ex Kathmandu as helicopter flights were unreliable.  Thus, nearly 15 persons were convinced to abandon stay at Darchen and  return to Nepal two days earlier.

Once  they agreed, they were asked to shell out INR 6,000 each for  additional expenditure. Thereafter, they were asked to pay for their  stay at every place on the return journey, although they had already  paid for it in the package. It amounted to paying twice for the same  facility. It was pure and simple blackmail and extortion.

The  return journey was equally mismanaged. Due to the availability of a  single helicopter, it was a long drawn affair and most of the guests  reached Kathmandu late and missed their flights and lost considerable  money.

Here  are excerpts of the experiences shared by three others.

Christine  Patham

It  is regarding the Yatra from 5 to 16 Aug 2014, undertaken with Kailash  Journeys. I have never come across such a callous attitude,  especially when dealing with the outdoors, adventure or high  altitude.

To  begin with, they sent a deceptive mail on 03 August saying –  “Kindly note that due to a land slide, the highway to Tibet has  been closed. It may open within 2-3 days. So we request you to arrive  at Kathmandu on your scheduled date. We will discuss further  information after your Kathmandu arrival.” They made it sound  normal. However, on arrival we were informed that we would have to  pay INR 15,000 for a helicopter lift across the affected area.

Arrival  at Kodari was chaotic as there was no representative of Kailash  Journeys to help us transport our luggage or assist us with rooms at  Kailash Hotel. We had to bargain with the local people who literally  snatched our luggage the minute the helicopter landed and were  demanding up to INR 300 for carrying our luggage and would not  release the luggage until paid.

We  were kept in Kodari for 3 days which severely compromised our  acclimatization schedule and reduced the recovery days between the  long bus journeys. The coach drivers kept switching off the AC in the  coaches and had to be constantly told to put them back on.

The  final straw, bordering on criminal neglect, was on the return from  Yumdwar and Darchen when 35 people with varying degrees of High  Altitude Sickness were sent back in a coach with one Sherpa and 1  Chinese guide, with no medical assistance other than oxygen.

They  were made to walk from the border to Kailash Hotel (2 km) in rain,  made to wait for three and a half hours for a room and then told that  no rooms were available in the hotel. After half an hour’s wait in  rain, a rickety 22-seater local bus was provided. 35 of us with our  duffle bags were loaded in the bus for the precarious 3 km journey  down a winding hill road to an alternative hotel.

The  next day, we were taken to the makeshift airstrip at 1100 hrs and  told that we would be the first to be airlifted. We waited and  watched the foreign nationals getting priority. As there was no  representative of Kailash Journeys, the first group of Kailash  Journeys left only at 1600 hrs, literally after people started  shouting. However, only 14 people could be airlifted by 1830 hrs.  Others were taken back to the same hotel. We had spent the whole day  from 1100 to 1830 hrs in rain – without any shelter, refreshments  or even water.

There  are a number of hidden costs – INR 6,800 for porter, INR 1,760 for visa cancellation, INR 1,800  for hotel stay on return at Kodari and INR 30,000 for helicopter lift  at Kodari.

I  can only say that it is the Divine intervention that there was no  loss of lives, as the pilgrims were mostly senior citizens. We are  not the only group to have suffered this kind of service from Kailash  Journeys.

Sarita  Baluja

In  June 2010, I made a trip to Mount Kailash with my friend Dr Shanthi  Ranganathan (Padma Shri).

We  had booked through Sita Travels, Bangalore for air travel to  Kathmandu. For the Chinese permit, we were put in touch with another  agency coordinator Gaurav Kataria. After lot of assurance from Sita  Travels, we undertook our long desired Yatra. We were a group of 14  for Kathmandu-Nepalganj-Simikot-Hilsa tour. At Simikot, we were put  in the chopper which brought the dead body of a Yatri from Hilsa in  front of our eyes.

There  was no orientation for this trip by the travel agencies operating in  India and Nepal. Complete mafia!!

Shanthi  ji and I were lucky to return with our baggage after waiting for two  days at Hilsa due to non-availability of sorties. Families back home  were in turmoil after watching the news. We learnt that the rest of  our group had to wait much longer and even lost their baggage.

It  was a Divine intervention for us!

Jaimin  Shah

I,  my wife & my daughter were part of a group of 18 people from  India who had booked with Kailash Journeys. Our trip included  Parikrama of Mt Kailash.

Kailash  Journeys cheated us by clubbing our visa with 41 people of two other  travel agencies who were visiting Mansarovar only (9 days tour) and  had booked their return tickets accordingly.

Our  group became too unwieldy (59 persons). At Kodari border, some  pilgrims reached late and the Chinese closed the office. As it was a  group visa, all had to go back to Kodari for the night. As we had no  bookings, we were put up in different guest houses without any kind  of facility....just like orphans.

Next  day we crossed border and reached Nyalam. Nyalam is small town with a  few good guest houses but we were given a guest house with minimum  facility. Our Dharamshala's are better. As per the schedule, we were  to have two night stay at Nyalam for acclimatization. But we had  wasted one day in Kodari due to visa issues. Hence, we had to leave  the next morning by bus. After 11-12 hrs of drive, the bus stopped at  one highway guest house with kacha zopda for the night. Here there  was no toilet and no light. We felt humiliated and were at the mercy  of the Chinese guide.

At  Diraphuk, the guest-house was dirty with no hygiene. Most of the  pilgrims were affected by weather, altitude and filth. At night, our  Chinese and Nepalese Guides informed us that we would have to go back  the next day  as it was a group visa.  We were  shocked as doing Parikrama was our main aim. However, despite our  repeated pleas, we had to come-back to Kathmandu without doing  Parikrama.

We  reached Kathmandu four days before the scheduled date.  We approached the tourist police, the metropolitan police and the  Indian Embassy. After four days of continuous efforts, the police  agreed to record FIR.

In  addition to the airfare Ahmedabad-Kathmanu–Ahmedabad, we had paid  INR 70,000 as the tour cost. In addition, we had to pay for two days  stay at Kathmandu hotel from our own pocket. Yet, we were denied the  promised Parikrama.


A  few aspects need to be highlighted here. High altitude areas are  perilous without due acclimatization. It is foolhardy to challenge  nature. Flippant and casual statements like ‘Yatra is very easy  even for the old’ can mislead the uninformed and prove perilous for  some.

There  is no medical aid available whatsoever. Every pilgrim is encouraged  to buy an oxygen cylinder to cater for emergencies. In case of  medical emergency, a helicopter has to be requisitioned from  Kathmandu and it costs Rs 1.5 lacs extra and may not arrive in time.

Weather  in mountains remains unpredictable. There may be no flights for days,  stranding pilgrims. There are no arrangements for stay and pilgrims  have to pay huge extra costs for substandard accommodation. It is a  well-organised scam.

Air  transport in Nepal is unsafe and totally disorganized. Scene at  Nepalgunj is worse than that of a bus stand in India. No manifesto,  no tickets by name. At Simikot, whistles are blown to warn about the  arrival of an aircraft. The runway does not even have a fire tender  or ambulance. Against all safety norms, helicopters are refueled with  jerricanes as a routine.

Helipad  at Hilsa is marked with a few stones, no wind-sock, no smoke candle,  and no ground support equipment. As all flights are chartered, safety  is totally neglected to make money.

It  is suggested that the Indian pilgrims should avoid going through  Nepal altogether. It is sheer mafia at work there. Indians are taken  for granted, neglected and cheated. One is at the mercy of the  Nepalese and Tibetan organisers.

Kailash  Journeys must be totally shunned. It is the most unethical,  unscrupulous and fraudster company.

Let  us wait for the promised Nathu La route to become operational. It  will be much safer and will eliminate Nepalese tour operators.

First  published

Editor – I did the Kailash Mansrovar Yatra in 1998 through Nepal. It was a  15-16 day yatra from Kathmandu to Kathmandu. Once we reached the  border at Zhangmu we got into Land Rovers. Day two night was the most  difficult. One, we had moved from 6,500 to 15,000 feet in one day.  Two, there was a storm and rain that night. Once we got used to the  altitude it was ok. We spent two and a half days at the Mansrovar  after which headed to Darchen for the Kailash Parikrama.

What  we did not like is the Nepali team not giving us all the snacks which  the Mumbai based tour operator had given them in Kathmandu. Also, the  Tibetan guide was discouraging devotees from doing the Kailash  Parikrama. We later realized that the guide was paid parikrama fees  by the tour operator but kept the money for him when devotees did not  do the parikrama.

My  humble submission is to avoid taking the helicopter route esp. for  senior citizens. Next please try and do all high altitude yatras  before you touch 60. Please ask tour operator for day wise program  and altitude at each place so you know whether plan has time for  acclimatization. Lastly please speak to atleast three people who have  used the travel company before.

Our  tour operator was Indo Nepal Holidays, Mumbai run by Jaswin Thakkar.  Compared to what Maj Gen Suman and others went through our trip was  bliss.

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