In 1962, there was once a brief border war between India and China. Chinese mainland forces had earlier entered the Tibet and the Dalai Lama had escaped to India. Following the mistrust between the two neighbours, the Chinese had closed our entry into the Tibetan region. Thus two thousand years old Kailash-Manasarovar Yatra was forbidden to Indians. For twenty years , till the year 1982. it stayed closed. At the age 52, I was the oldest member of the first team that went to Mt. Kailash and the Lake Manasarovar. How the Yatra could cross over to the Tibetan-China territory – is an interesting story.
In 1977-79, after the Emergency, for the first time a non-dynastic and non-Congress Government was elected in India. Atal Behari Vajpayee, released from the prison, was sworn in as the Minister for External Affairs. India’s Foreign Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee while going on his first official foreign visit asked: “what shall I bring from China?”
“If nothing else, Atalji, please, get our Kailash-Manasarovar Yatra reopened.”
Months and years lapsed and I had forgotten Atalji’s China visit. In summer 1982, I had just unpacked my ruksack from a trekking expedition to the Milam Glacier, when I received a call from the Foreign Ministry: “Professor Sharma, next week, the First Indian Yatra team is leaving for Mt. Kailash-Manasarovar. You are requested to come to the ministry for discussing the arrangements. You must go with the First Batch. Please come with your Passport. And each yatri has to bear the cost of Rs. 10,000.00.”
There can be many omissions and commissions of Atal Behari Vajpayee. But historically, he would be remembered for three main contributions:
The First and the most significant one is:
Opening of Mt. Kailash-Manasarovar Yatra and thus, restoring Indo-China Trust and Friendship.
Secondly, he will be remembered for conducting the Pokharan Test-2. in 1998.
Third was his declaration: “Hum ab jung na hone denge” -We shall not allow another war-with Pakistan.
Notwithstanding, terrorist attack on our Parliament, Atal Behari Vajapyee invited the most insincere and criminal dictator of Pakistan and extended to him due courtesies. Yet, he received threats and insults from the dictator and still as a tall statesman of India, Vajapayee remained dignified in his poetry:
hum jung na hone denge.
Indo-China friendship and restoration of Indo-Pak borders are Vajpayee’s historical contributions to peace and security in the South Asian Indian sub-continent. For the millions like me - the opening of the Mt. Kailash-Manasarovar Yatra was Yajpayee’s the most significant contribution.