Thirty-six Indian pilgrims were killed when their bus plunged into the swollen Gandak canal near the Nepal-India border on Sunday. The bus was carrying an unspecified number of passengers when the accident occurred. While 39 bodies were recovered till the evening, 27 passengers, including 10 Indians, were rescued alive. The death toll is expected to rise. The injured are being treated in nearby hospitals in Nepal. Rescue operations are under way.

The bus was carrying pilgrims from Maharajgung district of Uttar Pradesh on their way to attend the Bolbam festival at Triveni, about 200 km south-west of Kathmandu. A private television channel quoted a local police official as saying the accident occurred due to drunken driving. The driver is under police detention. Other reports, however, indicated that overcrowding led to the bus swerving off the highway into the Gandak.

In a statement, the Indian Embassy in Nepal said it had sent special teams, including a doctor, to assist the Nepali authorities in relief and rescue operations. An information centre has been set up at the embassy, and officials can be contacted at 00-977-1-4412125 and 4411699 (extension 4109).

The statement added that the Gandak barrage flow had been restricted to facilitate operations, authorities of Indian districts adjoining the border had reached the spot, and the Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB) contingent deployed at the border had been mobilised to provide assistance.

Road accidents are common across Nepal, with public transport experts attributing it to several factors. Key reasons include badly-trained and careless drivers, rough terrain, poor infrastructure, roads which give way during heavy rains, overcrowding with passengers piling on the bus roof, and the absence of strong regulations to monitor transport cartels.