India on Saturday said the 80-km road in Uttarakhand, which connects close to the Line of Actual Control and opens a new route for Kailash Mansarovar yatra via Lipulekh pass, is “completely within the territory” of the country. This came after Nepal strongly objected to the new link road that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated on Friday.

Nepal’s foreign ministry said India’s decision to build the road through the territory at the Lipulekh pass, which Kathmandu claims to be part of its territory, is a breach of an agreement between the two countries, PTI reported.

The link road is expected to help pilgrims visiting Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet by significantly reducing the travel time. Lipulekh pass is a far western point near Kalapani, a disputed border area between Nepal and India. Both the countries claim Kalapani as an integral part of their territory – India as part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district and Nepal as part of Darchula district.

“The government of Nepal has learnt with regret about the ‘inauguration’ yesterday by India of ‘Link Road’ connecting to Lipulekh, which passes through Nepali territory,” a statement issued on Saturday said. “This unilateral act runs against the understanding reached between the two countries, including at the level of prime ministers, that a solution to boundary issues would be sought through negotiation.”

In its response, the Ministry of External Affairs said the inauguration of the strategically crucial link road is within Indian territory. “The recently inaugurated road section in Pithoragarh district in the state of Uttarakhand lies completely within the territory of India,” India’s foreign ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said. “The road follows the pre-existing route used by the pilgrims of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. Under the present project, the same road has been made pliable for the ease and convenience of pilgrims, locals and traders.”

The ministry also said that the boundary delineation exercise with Nepal is ongoing, adding that “India is committed to resolving outstanding boundary issues through diplomatic dialogue and in the spirit of our close and friendly bilateral relations with Nepal”.

Both India and Nepal have established a mechanism to deal with all boundary matters, the ministry said. “Both sides are also in the process of scheduling foreign secretary-level talks which will be held once the dates are finalised between the two sides after the two societies and governments have successfully dealt with the challenge of Covid-19 emergency,” it added.