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2 Indian Mansarovar pilgrims die, over 1,500 stranded

Kathmandu, July 3 (IANS) Two Indian pilgrims have died while over 1,500 others returning from Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet are stranded in Simikot in Nepal’s Humla district due to incessant rain and bad weather.

Authorities said inclement weather and difficulties in flying in Simikot, Hilsa and Tibet where the Indians are stranded slowed the rescue operations though seven commercial flights were pressed on Tuesday.

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj earlier said Kathmandu had been requested to provide Army helicopters to evacuate the Indians.

The Indian Embassy here said it was in touch with the Nepali Army, which had kept helicopters ready for rescue mission as and when the weather improved.

According to officials, 158 pilgrims were airlifted from Simikot while 200 pilgrimages were brought back from Hilsa. They said that if the downpour continues, the rescue operations will be completed only by Thursday. Most of the stranded hail from southern India.

Mount Kailash, in the Tibetan region of China, is considered the abode of Lord Shiva and is sacred to Hindus. Located near lake Mansarovar, the place is considered holy by Jains and Buddhists as well.

Weather conditions across Nepal have worsened since Monday due to perpetual rains in which at least a dozen people were killed.

“Besides two deaths on Monday and Tuesday, no major health risk has been reported. Food is available and the Nepali government has provided paramedical facilities to the pilgrims,” said Pranav Ganesh, First Secretary at the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu.

He said 500 to 700 Indians were still stranded in Tibetan side, 600 in Simikot, the district headquarters of Humla district, and 350 in Hilsa.

The bodies of two Indians — Leela Narayanan Mandredath of Kerala and Satya Lakshmi Narayana Subba Rao Grandhi Veera Venkata of Andhra Pradesh — along with five accompanying passengers were flown to Kathmandu and Nepalganj respectively in special helicopters, the Embassy said.

Mandredath died in Simikot on Monday, possibly due to high altitude sickness, while Venkata succumbed to heart attack in Tibet.

“All necessary assistance is being provided by the mission for an early repatriation of the mortal remains to India,” said the Embassy.

It said it had placed its representatives in Nepalganj and Simikot to ensure proper food and lodging facilities for the pilgrims.

In Simikot, Indian officials were providing medical help to the elderly pilgrims. The Indian government had also set up hotlines for the stranded people to contact their families.

“The situation is under control and there is no need to panic… the Embassy is confident of evacuating all stranded pilgrims over the next three four days,” it said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed concern about the stranded Indian citizens and asked officials to ensure that they get all the help.

“PM is in touch with the MEA and other top officials regarding the wellbeing of Indian pilgrims stranded in Nepal. He has asked officials to extend all possible assistance to those affected,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a tweet.

Minister Sushma Swaraj provided details on the efforts undertaken by New Delhi.

“The government of India has set up hotlines for pilgrims and their family members who will provide information in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam languages,” she tweeted.

The Indian mission asked all tour operators in the region to try hold pilgrims back in Tibet as far as possible since the medical and civic facilities on Nepal side were inadequate.

The Kailash Manasarovar Yatra is organised every year by the External Affairs Ministry with support from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Home and Defence ministries, the state governments of Delhi, Uttarakhand and Sikkim and some civil society groups.