Nearly 300 stranded pilgrims evacuated from Nepal

Nearly 300 stranded pilgrims evacuated from Nepal

Indian pilgrims being evacuated from Simikot to Surkhet and Nepalganj, as authorities stepped up efforts to rescue those stranded there due to heavy rain while returning from the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage in Tibet in Simikot. (PTI Photo)

Nearly 300 Indian pilgrims were evacuated from Nepal's mountainous Hilsa region on Thursday, as helicopter sorties continued for those stranded there while returning from the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage in Tibet amidst inclement weather.

Today, 275 pilgrims were evacuated from Hilsa, taking the number of people who have been moved to safety in the last three days to 675, the Indian Embassy here said.

While Hilsa is extremely infrastructure lean, Simikot has decent boarding, communication and medical facilities.

"In the last three days, around 675 were evacuated from Hilsa to Simikot... During this period 53 flights were operated and 142 sorties were made by choppers including army as well MI16 Helicopters," the embassy said.

"The mission operated 55 sorties between Hilsa and Simikot and evacuated 275 pilgrims in Hilsa. The sorties between Hilsa and Simikot continues," it said in a statement.

"The mission has pressed in a private MI-16 Helicopter on charter to pull out additional 20-25 pilgrims in one sortie. The Helicopter might do two-three sorties," it said.

The mission said its camp offices became fully functional in Simikot and Surkhet.

"In the last three days, a total of 883 stranded pilgrims were evacuated from Simikot to Nepalgunj and Surkhet. Buses facilities were made available at Surkhet to ferry pilgrims to Nepalgunj," the embassy said.

As the weather improved, the mission operated 26 fixed-wing flights and one Nepal Army helicopter sorties this afternoon to evacuate 389 pilgrims to Surkhet and Nepalganj. The mission also operated seven buses to ferry all pilgrims from Surkhet to Nepalganj by road.

Inclement weather had disrupted the flights to and from the district until Monday.

Altitude sickness has become a major concern for those still waiting for their flights. Eight pilgrims have already died of altitude-related illness this year, local media reported.

An Indian embassy official, however, clarified that there has been just one death due to stranding over the last six days.

"All the other deaths have occurred during the entire yatra season (May onwards) at different places and are unrelated to stranding," the official told PTI.

The Indian embassy also issued a revised advisory for the prospective pilgrims today, suggesting medical examination before taking up the yatra.

"Prospective pilgrims should get themselves medically examined before starting the Yatra as well as carry sufficient medicine for up to one month," it said.

"Simikot and Hilsa are connected to rest of the world only by air. There is no other way of travelling in and out of these two places. These small aircraft/helicopters can only operate subject to suitable weather conditions in these places and their adjoining areas, as the terrain and route are extremely dangerous," it added.

The mission said it has not distinguished between Indian nationals and Indian-origin nationals during the evacuation and has evacuated people of other nationalities as well.

The embassy has set up a hotline for pilgrims and their family members, which also comprises other language speaking staff for Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam speakers.

The pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar in Tibetan region of China is considered holy by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. Every year, hundreds of Indians undertake the 'yatra' which involves trekking under inhospitable conditions.

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