Source: Radio Free Asia
Nepal's Himalaya Airlines has made history by becoming the first foreign airline to commence regular flights to Lhasa, the regional capital of Tibet. The airline's announcement signifies a significant milestone, as it is the first non-Chinese carrier to receive authorization for flights into Tibet.
The Kathmandu-based airline, a joint venture between Nepal and China, disclosed its plans to launch weekly flights between Kathmandu and Lhasa, marking a crucial step toward enhancing tourism prospects, according to a spokesperson speaking to Radio Free Asia. Emphasizing the exclusivity of this permission, the spokesperson highlighted that no other airline had received a similar privilege.
The inaugural flight, scheduled for Thursday, marks a significant stride for Himalaya Airlines. Amid China's growing economic and political influence in Nepal, this venture holds promise for bolstering tourism, particularly to revered pilgrimage sites like Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar in southwest Tibet.
However, concerns have been raised regarding the plight of Tibetan refugees in Nepal. A recent report from the Asian Dignity Initiative and Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy suggests that Nepal has become increasingly inhospitable for Tibetan refugees, curbing their fundamental rights.
The move by Himalaya Airlines to introduce flights to Lhasa comes amidst the airline's efforts to revitalize operations post-COVID-19. Recently, it expanded its routes into China and other Asian destinations, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing.
The airline's decision to venture into Lhasa is not only a strategic move to promote connectivity but also aligns with China's economic aspirations, notably the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Nepal, having signed a cooperation agreement with China in 2017 to participate in the BRI, sees this flight route as an opportunity to foster economic ties and people-to-people relations.
Nevertheless, accessing Tibetan destinations through Lhasa via Himalaya Airlines is expected to provide a more cost-effective and expedient option for tourists, particularly Nepali and Indian travelers heading to revered pilgrimage sites, contrasting the current overland routes.
Tourists intending to visit Lhasa or other areas in the Tibetan Autonomous Region will need to obtain a Tibet Travel Permit or Tibet Entry Permit, alongside a Chinese visa, underscoring the importance of adhering to requisite travel regulations.
Himalaya Airlines' decision to fly to Lhasa marks a momentous step in the aviation industry, facilitating easier access to sacred sites and potentially boosting tourism in the region, albeit amidst concerns surrounding the treatment of Tibetan refugees in Nepal.
Edited and collated by Team TRC