Shimla: In one of the toughest operations in rain-battered Himachal Pradesh, rescuers on Thursday started the evacuation of some 250 tourists, comprising foreigners, who have been stranded for the past five days in the snow-marooned Chandertal, a lake surrounded by Himalayan mountains in Lahaul-Spiti district.
The tourists will be taken to Losar, some 30 km from the spot, via Kunzum Pass, as the road network towards Manali via Batal is badly damaged, a government spokesperson told IANS.
He said since Losar supports good government accommodation and healthcare facilities, they would be kept there and the next course of their departure towards their destinations would be decided later.
“Now the stranded tourists are being brought to Losar from Chandertal. It’s one the most difficult rescue operation due to heavy snowfall,” a statement quoting Chief Minister Sukhvinder Sukhu, who was monitoring the rescue, relief and road reopening operations throughout the night, said.
As per the government figures, the stranded people comprise tourists, largely from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat and three women foreigners — two from Ireland and one from the US. They have been stuck as rain-battered hills snapped road links.
“In Chandertal, there is some challenge, but the situation is under control,” Sukhu told the media in Manali on Wednesday after the air recce of the mountains where tourists have been kept in tented accommodation provided by the state government.
A day earlier, the Chief Minister deputed two colleagues, Jagat Singh Negi and Sanjay Awasthi, by road at the spot to oversee the underway relief and rescue operation.
On his official Twitter handle, the Chief Minister shared aerial pictures of the Chandertal with colourful tents dotted on the white blanket of snow.
“Due to heavy snowfall and bad weather, it has become very difficult to evacuate them. We are exploring all possible options,” Sukhu had tweeted.
After 18 hours of back-breaking journey, both Negi and Awasthi reached the Chandertal early Thursday with the rescue convey.
Director General of Police Satwant Atwal tweeted by saying the first JCB machine, involved in clearing snow and roadblocks from the road, also reached the Chandertal.
On Wednesday evening, Indian Air force (IAF) pilots refused to land at the Chandertal for the evacuation of the tourists due to the absence of a heliport.
Heavy snowfall in the region this week has also made the operation to reopen the road network more challenging, said a government official.
“The snow-clearing operation was over last night and only small emergency vehicles are allowed to cross the Kunzum Pass,” said the official.
It took three days to clear snow and to make way for the vehicles to ply between a 30-km stretch from Chandertal to Losar.
Officials told IANS if the weather permits the tourists from Losar would be taken to Kaza, the headquarters of Spiti, some 320 km from the state capital Shimla through Kinnaur district and equidistant from the picturesque Manali tourist resort via Kunzum Pass (4,551 m).
Not accessible by road throughout the year, the picturesque Spiti Valley, an ideal getaway for trans-Himalayas, remains cut off from the world for more than four months a year due to heavy snowfall.
It reopens once the snow starts thawing after mid-April.
A century ago Rudyard Kipling in his novel ‘Kim’ described Spiti as “a world within a world” and a “place where the god lives”. Things have hardly changed there.
A part of the remote but picturesque Lahaul-Spiti district, the Spiti Valley, a cold desert dotted by tiny helmets spread over the Himalayan peaks, adjoining Tibet, takes you to a land of Buddhism and virgin nature.