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Well-equipped reception centres greet yatris on the arduous trek in Tibet

Ease of visiting: Chinese officials checking the papers of pilgrims. Radhika Santhanam The Hindu

For Indian pilgrims on the difficult trek to the high altitude Kailash Manasarovar, the Hindu holy site in Tibet, things might have just got easier from this year.

Accommodation facilities, called reception centres, have been built at various points of the pilgrimage, thanks to an initiative by the Chinese government to improve the material comforts of the pilgrims undertaking the arduous journey.

The reception centres, each with about 150 beds, have rooms with charging points, a common kitchen and a common washroom, and provide food for the yatris. According to Awang Chering, Director-General of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Ali Prefecture, all the four new reception centres have similar facilities.

“The Chinese government has spent 36.8 million RMBs ($5.21 million) on building these centres,” he said. While two are open this year, the other two will be open to yatris from 2020.

Jitendra Singh Rautala, 43, a pilgrim from Uttarakhand who has been on the yatra several times, said the new facilities are “great”.

“They have ensured that a difficult trek has been made easier and comfortable,” he said.

A private tour operator, who did not wish to be named, credited both the Indian and Chinese governments with this change. “Earlier, yatris used to stay in tents; now they stay in buildings with attached bathrooms,” he said. “Even those aged 70 can now go on the yatra,” he said.

Besides the facilities that have already been made available, Mr. Awang said the government is planning to set up oxygen bars along the high altitude route. However, several pilgrims complained that the toilet facilities continue to be very poor. Vandana Neelkumar from Mumbai said inadequate toilet facilities inconvenienced women particularly.

On Monday, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who is visiting Beijing, said after meeting his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that both countries are considering expanding the Kailash Manasarovar Yatra.

“Some suggestions were made by the Chinese side to expand Kailash Manasarovar Yatra and we are deeply appreciative of these initiatives,” Mr. Jaishankar said. Mr. Wang said the pilgrimage has “increasingly become a pathway of friendship”.

Main mosques in Srinagar remain out of bounds; stone-pelting in some areas

Peace in the air: Kashmiris offering Id prayers at a mosque in Srinagar on Monday. REUTERSREUTERS

The Kashmir Valley remained under lockdown on the occasion of Id on Monday as severe restrictions on the movement of people and traffic continued.

Shaswati Das, a journalist with a business newspaper who returned from Srinagar on Monday evening, said all main mosques remained out of bounds, and heavy stone-pelting was reported in some areas.

Anti-India slogans

Reuters said hundreds of people shouting anti-India slogans spilled on to the streets following prayers in the neighborhood of Soura, the site of a big demonstration on Friday, but authorities largely sealed off the area and kept the protest localised.

A television journalist said on the condition of anonymity that a group of boys snatched their cameras and heckled the team.

“They were agitated and complained that TV news channels were not giving the true picture. They accused us of giving one-sided news. The city was under a heavy security blanket and we faced issues while moving around. We were careful enough to not take out our cameras everywhere,” said the TV journalist.

IGP S.P. Pani told a press conference in Srinagar that the festivities passed off peacefully barring a “couple of minor localised incidents of law and order which have been handled very professionally.”

“In these incidents, there have been a couple of injuries which have been reported. Otherwise the entire Valley is peaceful. I strongly deny any incident of firing anywhere in the Kashmir Valley,” he said.

Measures aimed at better governance, says Jaishankar

Cordial meeting: Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar with Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishang on Monday. REUTERSREUTERS

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Monday reassured China that New Delhi’s decision to exercise greater administrative control over Ladakh would have no implications for India’s external boundaries or the Line of Actual Control with China.

“The legislative measures were aimed at better governance and socio-economic development,” he told his Chinese interlocutors, referring to India’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and making Ladakh, which borders China, a Union Territory.

‘No territorial claims’

“There was no implication for the external boundaries of India or the Line of Actual Control with China. India was not raising any additional territorial claims. The Chinese concerns in this regard were misplaced,” he said.

Mr. Jaishankar’s remarks follow the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s earlier response that India had “continued to damage China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally modifying the form of domestic law.” The Chinese Foreign Office had also said that this practice was “unacceptable” and it would not have any effect.

Speaking to the Indian media, Mr. Jaishankar said he had pointed out that regarding the boundary question, the two sides had agreed to a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement based on the 2005 Political Parameters and Guiding Principles

Customers to get free calls, LED TVs

Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani at the AGM on Monday. Vivek BendreThe Hindu

After disrupting the mobile telephony market and becoming India’s largest profitable telco, Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio plans to disrupt the fixed broadband market with the launch of Jio Fiber on September 5.

Jio Fiber will offer free voice calls for life from landline phones, high-speed broadband of a minimum speed of 100 mbps, and a free high-definition TV and dish with monthly plans starting from ₹700 and going up to ₹10,000.

RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani made the announcement at the 42nd annual general meeting of the company on Monday. “In India, even the most basic Jio Fiber plan starts with 100 Mbps speed and we have plans all the way up to 1 Gbps or 1000 Mbps. We are pricing our plans at less than one-tenth the global rates, to make it accessible for all,” Mr. Ambani told shareholders.

They grow paddy and grass for jumbos that venture close to human habitations

Drawing the line: The locals have planted 2,000 elephant apple, 1,500 jackfruit and 25,000 banana saplings.

A cluster of villages in central Assam’s Nagaon district has found a way of keeping crop-raiding elephants off their crops — by setting aside land to create a meal zone for them.

Most farmers of 12 villages in the Ronghang-Hatikhuli area of central Assam’s Nagaon district do not have enough land to sustain their families. But they donated 203 bighas (roughly 33 hectares) of community land and took turns to plant paddy exclusively for the elephants that often come down the hills of the adjoining Karbi Anglong district.

The “jumbo kheti” (cropland) has been envisaged as the last line of mealy defence against some 350-400 elephants that have often paid for venturing too close to human habitations. Five of them were electrocuted by illegal electric fences in the last 16 months, while half-a-dozen, injured by spears and arrows, died in the jungles up the hills.

About 10 km from the paddy field, toward the hills, is an 8-hectare plantation of Napier grass that 35 reformed hunters have grown for the elephants. This plantation is on land belonging to a tea estate. The locals have also planted saplings of 2,000 outenga (elephant apple), 1,500 jackfruit and 25,000 banana trees on barren land between the paddy field and the grass plantation.

The three-step plantation has a common thread — environmentalist Binod Dulu Bora and the NGO ‘Hatibondhu’, meaning ‘friends of elephants’, he is associated with. “Growing paddy for elephants was the idea of Pradip Kumar Bhuyan, the director of our NGO. We had several meetings with the villagers and convinced them that they would be setting an example for the world to follow towards reducing man-animal conflicts,” Mr. Bora told The Hindu on Monday.

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