Anuj Gupta was one of the first Indian pilgrims to travel to this sacred mountain and lake for this year's annual pilgrimage in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.
Donning sports clothes and a windbreaker to keep him warm in the severe high-altitude weather, Gupta arrived at Nathu La Pass along the China-India border on June 24. He traveled to Tibet along with his mother.
The two were among 38 people in the first group of officially organized pilgrims from India this year. A total of 500 people are scheduled to arrive from India to Tibet from June to August, said Yang Zhigang, deputy director of the office of foreign affairs and overseas Chinese affairs in Xigaze City.
Each group of pilgrims spends around 12 days on their journey, traveling from the Nathu La Pass to Ali Prefecture for a pilgrimage around Mount Kangrinboqe, 6,656 meters above sea level, and Mapam Yumco Lake, both sacred Hindu and Buddhist sites. A round trip covers 2,874 kilometers.
Gupta runs a jewelry and traditional garment shop in Lucknow of India.
"Before coming to Tibet, we spent four days in New Delhi for a medical examination to see if we were fit or not. After that, we were sent to three higher altitude places including Gantok, and then to China," he said.
Gupta's mother, 66, finished the pilgrimage with the help of porters and yaks. For younger pilgrims, the route is 52 kilometers of walking around Mount Kangrinboqe and 70 kilometers around Mapam Yumco Lake.
The pilgrims walked wide roads, across meadows and climbed up steep slopes covered with pebbles. On the first day, Gupta started out early in the morning and aimed to finish 15 kilometers in a single day.
At the foot of the glacier near Mount Drolmala, Gupta and others challenged the limits of their strength. Steep slopes forced them to rest every few steps and a lot of people gasped for breath due to the high altitude.
"I thought we could pass the mountain without much difficulty, but if my porter were not there, I would not have made it," he said.
Residents from Gangca Village at the foot of Mount Kangrinboqe worked as porters and guides during the pilgrimage season from June to August.
The number of pilgrims was only a few dozen in the 1980s. In 2017, tourists and pilgrims exceeded 100,000, according to villagers. Working in the tourism sector has helped boost the income of the villagers. Last year, the village cooperative, which rents out horses and yaks, earned about 10 million yuan (about 1.56 million U.S. dollars).
Wang Junhua, director of Baga Township, which administers the village, said they are developing sustainable tourism and offered information online to meet the demands of travelers around the world.
"The journey I enjoyed the most was not the final destination. I made a few friends. It made me a stronger man," Gupta said.
Gupta began heading home after circling Mapam Yumco Lake, about 4,588 meters above sea level.
China agreed to let India officially organize pilgrims to enter Tibet through Nathu La Pass in the Sikkim section of the China-India boundary in 2015.
In the last three years, 509 such pilgrims entered Tibet through the pass.
"Every year, making arrangements for the pilgrimages takes two months. We have made arrangements for food, accommodations and transportation for the people. We also have medical staff on standby to help them," Yang said.