Thursday, July 18, 2024

The man in khaki who ‘stood tall’ in Himalayas for tourist evacuation (Ld) 

In one of the toughest operations in rain-battered Himachal Pradesh, rescuers on Thursday succeeded in the evacuation of 266 tourists, comprising foreigners and local shepherds, 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 man behind the operation was Superintendent of Police Mayank Chaudhary, a young and daring 2019-batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer. As per an update by the state police, three tourists, who were among the first batch of 60 people, rescued from Chandertal have reached safely at the Lossar check post.

“All stranded tourists are en route and will reach there shortly,” it said.

The evacuation of the tourists in 58 vehicles, who were stationed in government camps in the vicinity of Chandertal for five days, began in the morning after the snow-clearing operation on a 30-km stretch between Losar and the Kunzum Pass, the gateway to the lake, was over.

Patting on the back of his officer to safely evacuate the tourists, acting Director General of Police Satwant Atwal, who was monitoring the evacuation, tweeted: “Man of the Moment. He stood tall in 4 feet snow at Chandertal for the last three days/nights. Kept everyone in high spirits and left last after ensuring evacuation of all 266 tourists. Proud of you Mayank.”

On knowing that the tourists had been stranded at different places in the Chandertal area, the Superintendent of Police reached the spot despite braving the hostile weather of torrential rains and snowfall.

With the logistic backup provided by Deputy Commissioner Rahul Kumar, a rescue team led by the Superintendent of Police reached the spot three days ago and made arrangements of tents, food and first-aid for the stranded people. They stationed them at the spot.

A satellite phone was arranged at the spot to enable the tourists to inform about their welfare to their family members and well-wishers.

Another team comprising ‘snow warriors’ was working vigorously for the past three days to dig through mounds of snow to reopen the mountain pass.

The snow-clearing operation was over last night. Seven tourists, most of them elderly and facing health issues, were evacuated by a chopper on Tuesday from Chandertal.

On Wednesday evening, Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots refused to land at the Chandertal due to the absence of a heliport, said Chief Minister Sukhvinder Sukhu, who did aerial recee.

The stranded people comprising tourists, largely from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat and three women foreigners — two from Ireland and one from the US, have been stuck at the Chandertal for the past four days as rain-battered the hills and snapped road links.

On reaching Losar, one of the rescued tourists from Bhopal told locals who welcomed them that they didn’t face any problem at the Chandertal, except their mobile phones were not working owing to snapping of communication networks.

“Mayank Chaudhary helped us a lot and motivated us a lot. He came and talked to everyone about their welfare. He was staying near to our accommodation and we got an opportunity to interact with him two-three times,” remarked a woman tourist, who was donning woollens and a cap.

She added: “We enjoyed some moments and got an opportunity to learn something new.”

Sensing that evacuation by air was not possible owing to hostile climatic conditions, the Chief Minister on Wednesday deputed two colleagues, Jagat Singh Negi and Sanjay Awasthi, by road at the spot to oversee the rescue operation.

After 18 hours of back-breaking journey, both Negi and Awasthi reached the Chandertal early Thursday with the rescue convey.

Director General of Police Atwal simultaneously tweeted by saying the first JCB machine, involved in clearing snow and roadblocks from the road, also reached Chandertal.

At around 8 a.m., the first batch of tourists was sent to Lossar from the spot.

Governor Shiv Pratap Shukla also inquired about the arrangements being made to evacuate the tourists.

He said the administration, the ITBP and the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) engaged in rescue were doing road restoration work on a war footing. He appealed to the people to cooperate in the event of the disaster.

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.

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”.

Things have hardly changed there. A part of the remote but picturesque Lahaul-Spiti district, the Spiti Valley, a cold desert dotted by tiny hamlets spread over the Himalayan peaks, adjoining Tibet, takes you to a land of Buddhism and virgin nature.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at gulatiians@gmail.com)

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