Delhi has sought Kathmandu’s assistance for the ongoing evacuation of hundreds of Indian pilgrims, enroute to Kailash Mansarovar, stranded near Nepal’s border with China, amid heavy downpour and landslips, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Tuesday.
An official source confirmed that out of 1,575 pilgrims, two died in difficult circumstances along the high-altitude Nepalganj-Simikot route.
They have been identified as Satya Lakshmi Narayana Subba Rao from Visakhapatnam and Leela Narayanan of Malappuram, who could not be airlifted due to the incessant downpour. “We have set up hotlines for pilgrims and family members for information in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. We have requested the government of Nepal for Army helicopters to evacuate the stranded Indians,” Ms. Swaraj said in social media updates.
However, on Tuesday, official sources confirmed that the Mission in Nepal has initiated evacuation with the help of commercial flights. “The Mission has been able to evacuate about 150 pilgrims from Hilsa to Simikot,” said an official. Earlier the embassy in a social media statement had said that getting the stranded pilgrims would be a “gradual process depending upon weather condition”.
A similar operation was undertaken by nine commercial flights that were used to evacuate 158 pilgrims from Simikot to Nepalganj. For quicker coordination, the Indian embassy has sent a four-member team to Nepalganj on Tuesday evening which would reach Hilsa and Simikot to intensify efforts for evacuation.
Welfare of the pilgrims is also being tracked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “PM Narendra Modi is in touch with MEA and other high officials regarding the wellbeing of stranded pilgrims in Nepal,” his office said in a statement.
While the pilgrims have been stranded at Simikot amidst bad weather for a few days, the situation turned serious on Monday morning when Ms. Narayanan died due to high altitude-related sickness. In view of the worsening health condition of the elderly citizens, the embassy in Kathmandu has made medical arrangements as well.
“The mission representative in Simikot has pressed in service of available medical practitioner in Simikot to get a health check up done for all elderly pilgrims. In case of any medical complication, they are being given preventive medication and medical counselling of dos and don’ts,” the source said.
The mission coordinators are also trying to prevent any more influx of pilgrims into the Nepali side from Tibet to keep the number of pilgrims within manageable range. Increase in the number of pilgrims could create problem of accommodation and safety.
The route to Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage through Simikot is arduous due to lack of proper road network and the pilgrims have to depend on air service which can operate only in clear weather. As of Tuesday, the Indian embassy in Kathmandu is looking at various routes of evacuating the people
from Simikot. According to available information, the Nepal Army has reserved helicopter in state of readiness to operate as and when the weather permits.
“The situation continues to be under control. The Mission remains confident that all Indians would be able to evacuate all Indians over next three to four days in case weather continues to improve,” an official informed the media.
Nepal also declared that the rescue efforts will continue on Wednesday. Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari said in a public statement, “After three days of flight cancellation due to weather conditions at Simikot, stranded (Indian) pilgrims were airlifted to Nepalganj today....700 persons are still at Simikot and tomorrow we will continue to airlift.”
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