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Sikkim Shocked at Centre's Decision to Open 'Holy' Peaks of Kanchenjunga for Expeditions

Local groups are urging the state government to preserve the sanctity of the holy mountains. Everester Kunzang Gyatso said mountaineers who wish to climb the Kanchenjunga can do it from the Nepal side without hurting locals' religious sentiments.

Karishma Hasnat | CNN-News18

Updated:August 22, 2019, 11:36 PM IST
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Sikkim Shocked at Centre's Decision to Open 'Holy' Peaks of Kanchenjunga for Expeditions
The Singalila Ridge separates Sikkim from Nepal in the west, while the Dongkya Range forms the border with the Tibet Autonomous Region of China to the east. (News18)
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Guwahati: Residents of Sikkim are unhappy with a recent decision of the Centre to open the ‘holy’ Kanchenjunga to foreigners for mountaineering and trekking expeditions. The third highest mountain in the world (8,586m) is worshiped in Sikkim, and the announcement has come in as a rude shock to the indigenous community of the state.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), in a recent order, has said the proposal for opening more mountain peaks in all the Himalayan states was under consideration, and the government has now “decided to open 137 mountain peaks located in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim to foreigners desirous of obtaining Mountaineering Visa for climbing or trekking”. The list includes 24 peaks in Sikkim.

Mountaineers need a clearance from the Centre to scale peaks, but those that are ‘open’ to expeditions for both foreign and Indian mountaineers, the permission can be obtained directly from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF).

Local organisations and stakeholders in Sikkim have come together to request the state government to preserve the sanctity of the holy mountains. Everester Kunzang Gyatso, who is also the president of the Sikkim Mountaineering Association (SMA), said mountaineers who wish to climb the Kanchenjunga can do it from the Nepal side without hurting religious sentiments of the locals.

“Religion is priority in many places. And being a mountaineer, I feel that the way we challenge nature, we must also respect it. Sikkim has been built with the blessings of the mountain gods. If you want to climb the Kanchenjunga, you can do so from the Nepal side. In Sikkim, according to religious beliefs, we leave a gap of 10m from the top for any peak, and that becomes our summit,” said Gyatso, who scaled the Everest in 2008.

The Kangchenjunga Himal section of the Himalayas lies both in Nepal and India and encompasses 16 peaks over 7000m (23,000ft). Of the 374peaks in Sikkim, there was a proposal to open 109 for expedition, barring the 12 sacred peaks. They are protected as places of Buddhist worship under provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. The Sikkim government had banned expeditions to the Kanchenjunga in 2001.

“By opening the peak, you are opposing the 2001 ban. In Sikkim, we have peaks, caves, rocks, lakes, chhoetden (stupa) and hot-springs that are considered most sacred. The Kanchenjunga is our God and the abode of Gods. You can’t climb the holy mountains. There must have been a miscommunication between central and Sikkim governments and it is the responsibility of both to address the issue,” said Tseten Tashi, convenor of the Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (SIBLAC).

“This is not just a religious concern, but also about national security. We are guarding the border area – it is our ‘dharma’ – and that is how people in other states are secured today. By letting access to people to our mountain peaks, you are putting us at risk,” Tashi added.

The Singalila Ridge separates Sikkim from Nepal in the west, while the Dongkya Range forms the border with the Tibet Autonomous Region of China to the east. Almost two-thirds of Sikkim consists of lofty mountains secured by the Kanchenjunga massif.

Sixty-four years ago, Joe Brown and George Band scaled the Kanchenjunga as part of a British expedition, and they stopped short of the summit because of a promise given to the ‘Chogyal’ (monarch) that the top of the mountain would remain intact. And even today, every climber or climbing group that has reached the summit has followed this tradition.

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| Edited by: Sohini Goswami
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