July 14, 2023
NEW DELHI – Thousands of tourists, including foreign nationals (Himachal Pradesh government puts the number at 60,000) who were stranded in the hill state due to the monsoon fury have been rescued, and have finally heaved a sigh of relief.
Ankur Kejriwal from Kolkata shows us bruises on his knees and elbows he suffered while walking down the gruelling 20 km, eight-hour trek from Tosh to Kasol.
Bound to a homestay for five days due to flash floods and heavy rains in the last village of Parvati Valley, he saw a motley group of locals and tourists trekking down towards the nearby village of Barsheni. Kejriwal took the plunge and joined them.
They reached Barsheni and trekked down to Manikaran and then Kasol braving bad weather and passing through the broken stretches of damaged road alongside the raging Parvati.
When he took the decision to leave the homestay it was out of desperation even though the locals warned him against moving out due to the fear of landslides. After all, he was living without electricity and internet for three days and there was no option.
Rohit Aggarwal, another youngster from Kolkata too thinks he was fortunate to reach Kasol after being stuck in a village for many days.
Both Kejriwal and Aggarwal have a piece of advice for tourists who are tempted to visit Himachal. “Never plan an adventure or fun trip to Himachal during monsoons.”
“The initial days of our journey were just fun. But soon after the weather turned bad, and we were stranded at Tosh for over five days. Locals were kind and hospitable but once we got walking, it looked scary walking through those dangerous stretches where the road had vanished,” says Rohit. He trekked down and for comfort was a group of tourists in case something emergent were to take place. This was on Thursday.
60,000 tourists were stranded in Himachal
Like Ankur and Rohit, more than 60,000 tourists including several foreign nationals were rescued from Kinnaur, Chandratal, Lahaul and Spiti, Manali, and from several other villages in the vicinity of Kasol and Manikaran during a massive operation by the Himachal government.
Avers Kopal Batra, “We came here on July 9 and checked into a hotel in old Manali. The next day the weather worsened and we were trapped in the hotel for three days. The hotel staff was accommodating but our mobile batteries got discharged and we could not be in touch with our families. They started fearing the worst and we were feeling so helpless that we could not update them about our well-being.” Batra had come to Manali all the way from Jaipur.
In fact, the local authorities claimed to have been successful in rescuing and tracing most of the tourists, many of whom were feared to have gone missing.
“We have evacuated over 60,000 tourists so far. The rescue operation in Chandratal in Spiti has been completed. As many as 118 people have been airlifted from Sangla in Kinnaur. In the last about 24 hours, around 9,000 tourist vehicles have moved away to safer places,” says Acting DGP Satwant Atwal.
Amongst those evacuated so far, 266 are foreign nationals. About a mention regarding the number of casualties and those who have gone missing, authorities say at this stage it would mean would be jumping the gun.
The good news is that several tourists who were feared missing had in fact lost contact with their families back home after mobile and internet services were disrupted. Most of them have been traced. We are hoping that a few tourists who are still not traceable would be found soon,” said Deputy Commissioner Kullu Ashutosh Garg. He mentioned that the district authorities have managed to evacuate around 20,000 tourists from Manali, Kasol, Shangarh, Jibhi, and some other areas in the district in the last 48 hours. A group of Israeli nationals too have been evacuated from Jari, Kullu.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu who has been on a whirlwind tour of the state ever since the heavy downpour, on Thursday visited rain-affected areas in Choling, Kinnaur and met the villagers, and assured them that the relief measures were being taken immediately.