550 Indian pilgrims awaiting evacuation in Nepal
The evacuation of Indian pilgrims stranded in remote Simikot town of Nepal while returning from the Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra, was in its last stages on Thursday, with around 550 people waiting to be moved to safer places.
There are currently no pilgrims in Hilsa, another town near the Tibet border where hundreds were stranded over the weekend following heavy rains, said a senior Indian embassy official involved in the rescue efforts.
Close to 1,600 Indian pilgrims were stranded at Simikot and Hilsa in Nepal and in Tibet and the Indian embassy mounted a massive rescue operation along with the Nepal Army to evacuate them to safer places. The efforts were hampered by bad weather over the past few days.
“We have already evacuated all the pilgrims stranded in Hilsa to Simikot, the headquarters of Humla district, which has better facilities for food and healthcare, as well as hotels and other logistics,” the Indian official said.
“If weather permits, we will bring back all those left in Hilsa to Nepalgunj by Friday,” the official added.
Lucknow is a three-hour drive from Nepalgunj, where many of the pilgrims are being sent so that they can easily return to India.
According to the Indian embassy, by the third day of the rescue efforts, around 675 pilgrims were evacuated from Hilsa to Simikot. They were moved in 53 flights by commercial aircraft and helicopters, including the Nepal Army’s Mi-16 helicopters, made 142 sorties.
Another 883 pilgrims were evacuated from Simikot to Nepalgunj and Surkhet.
Given the inclement weather conditions along the Nepalganj-Simikot-Hilsa route for the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, the Indian embassy renewed a travel advisory issued for pilgrims by the external affairs ministry on April 30. The embassy said all pilgrims, state governments and tour agencies should abide by the advisory.
The embassy said pilgrims should note that Simikot and Hilsa lack adequate infrastructure and they should get themselves medically examined before starting the pilgrimage and carry medicines for up to one month.
The pilgrims should also note that Simikot and Hilsa are connected to rest of Nepal only by air and aircraft can only operate in good weather as the terrain is very difficult, the embassy said.
Most Indian pilgrims travel to Nepalgunj, take a flight to Simikot and then trek to Tibet via Hilsa. Due to concessions provided by some state governments and affordable costs, thousands of Indians pick the route through Nepal to reach Kailash-Mansarovar.