A pall of gloom descended on three villages, situated close by, from where 20 people were killed in an accident near Hoshiarpur on Wednesday night.
The pilgrims, mostly relatives, and residents of Bajaja, Fatehpur, Miani and Akhara villages were returning after paying a thanksgiving visit to the Chintpurni shrine in Himachal Pradesh when the mishap occurred.
Villager Balwinder Kaur had reportedly planned the trip as a thanksgiving after her husband got successfully settled in Italy after a long struggle. She arranged a vehicle and invited her near and dear ones living in the nearby villages to accompany her. At least 60 people from three villages were travelling in the ill-fated vehicle.
As the news of the accident spread, village elders rushed to the site to know the whereabouts of their family members. By the time the report was filed, they had the information about the death of 20 people -- seven from Bajaja village, two from Akhara village in Jalandhar district, one from Miani in Hoshiarpur district and the remaining from Fatehpur village in Kapurthala district. The condition of four injured was reported to be serious.
"It happened all of a sudden. I was thrown out of the vehicle with a jerk. I saw the truck hurtling towards a gorge and soon lost sight of it. I saw a body and got scared," said Gurdeep Singh, a survivor.
The youngest victim was Abhi (3). His father Kuldeep Singh, too, died on the spot.
A panchayat member from Fatehpur, Ashok Ratti told HT that he reached the mishap site within an hour after hearing the news along with sarpanch Sukhdev Ram, who lost four of family.
"We pulled out several bodies after reaching the spot and it was a horrible scene. It took nearly two hours for me to become normal. I returned to village by 7am and since then am busy comforting bereaved family members," he said.
"Such a tragedy has befallen on our village for the first time. The entire village is under deep shock. I lost six members of my family and two are injured," said Jagir Singh, an ex-serviceman, whose wife Harbhajan Kaur and granddaughter Munish Kaur were killed in the mishap.
Davinder Kaur, a resident of Akhara village, who was going to be married in December, and her mother Jagdish Kaur were also killed in the accident, said Ratti.
The family members of the victims were seen waiting for the bodies till Thursday evening and it was becoming unbearable for them.
"My son was not interested in going to Chintpurni, but I convinced him not to cancel it. Now, I have the regret of my life," says Palwinder Kaur.
Bibi Jagir Kaur, local MLA, also visited the village on Thursday evening to share the grief of families. The bodies were handed over to family members after post-mortem and 12 were cremated at Fatehpur and Bajaja villages. The rest were in the mortuary waiting for the arrival for distant relatives.