Nepal, China try to revive Kathmandu-Lhasa bus service

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : Almost eight months after it closed, Nepal and China are trying afresh to revive the much-hyped Kathmandu-Lhasa direct bus service ahead of the Olympic Games in Beijing next year.

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An eight-member Chinese delegation arrived from Tibet Saturday to hold talks with Nepal’s transport officials on how to resurrect the bus service that halted primarily due to Chinese reluctance to issue visas to travellers.

Officials at Nepal’s labour and transport ministry as well as Sajha Yatayat, the state-run bus service provider that operated one of the twice-weekly Kathmandu-Lhasa runs, said China’s refusal to give visas to individuals caused the bus service to flounder.

Visas were issued only to groups after tight scrutiny. Even then, the groups had to spell out in advance which places they would visit in Tibet and any deviation from the original travel plan was viewed with suspicion.

On sensitive days — like the anniversary of an uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet — the Chinese side would close down the bus service.

Individuals were refused visas because of the difficulty in keeping them under surveillance. A journalist who wanted to go to Tibet by road was told that he would have to pay the fares of two “facilitators” who would be provided by the Chinese government to smoothen his journey.

Ministry officials in Nepal said they too had difficulties in obtaining visas.

The Nepali consulate in Lhasa had to vouchsafe for them and even then, when in Tibet, they were under surveillance.

However, with Beijing hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, which is also being promoted as the Visit China year, the Chinese government is trying to spruce up its image.

The delegation headed by Ram Shiping, deputy director general at the department of commerce, Tibet, is said to have assured Nepali authorities that his government would try to relax the visa regime and, if possible, approve individual visas.

Before the delegation leaves Friday, it will exchange drafts with Nepal on how to resurrect the service, following which a new memorandum of understanding could be signed, Khanegndra Mani Pokhrel, director general at Nepal’s department of transport, said.

The direct Kathmandu-Lhasa bus service kicked off in May 2006 amidst much hype. However, it was halted within three weeks due to visa problems and other hiccups.

Though the service resumed in August, it ground to a halt soon after that.

Besides a one-way fare of $70 per passenger, an additional $10 was charged for visa processing and permit issuance.

Foreign travellers had to pay an additional $50, which included lodging cost for three nights, meaning China decided in which hotels travellers would stay during the journey.