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Question mark over safety of adventure tourists as nine trekkers dead in Uttarakhand

Without SOP, adventure activities in higher Himalayas neither picnic nor normal sight seeing

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Question mark over safety of adventure tourists as nine trekkers dead in Uttarakhand

Without SOP, adventure activities in higher Himalayas neither picnic nor normal sight seeing


Dehradun , June 6

Despite the order of the Uttarakhand Chief Secretary Radha Raturi on the directions of Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami to order a magisterial probe into the tragic death of nine members of a 22-member trekking team after they lost their way due to bad weather during the Sahastra Tal trek in the upper Himalayas in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, the moot question remain unanswered about the safety of the adventure tourists in the wake of extreme weather conditions in the higher Himalayan region.

The tragedy indicated that the trekkers were ill-prepared, ill-equipped and physically unfit to undertake such an ardous journey in such tough geographical terrain. The casual approach of the officials in allowing such trekking expeditions in the name of promoting adventure tourism through private tour operators has turned fatal for unsuspecting trekkers from south and West India.

More importantly according to reports, all the members of the team were above the age of 30, with seven members in 30 plus, six members in 40 plus, five members in 50 plus, three members in 60 plus and one member in 70 plus age group. Regrettably, the tourism and forest departments which oversee such adventure activities do not have any Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in dealing with trekking activities.

Since the birth of Uttarakhand state, there had been numerous incidents in which professional foreign and even Indian nationals have been caught in extreme weather conditions, lost their way and died.

The most recent tragedy involving trekkers occurred in October 2022, when 29 trainees of Nehru institute of Mountaineering (NIM), died in Uttarkashi’s Draupadi Ka Danda trek after a group of 34 trainees and seven instructors of the premier climbing institution were hit by an avalanche.

All the nine dead bodies shave been recovered while the remaining 13 trekkers have been rescued in a joint air-ground operation launched by the Indian Air Force, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and Uttarakashi district l authorities. Of the 13 trekkers rescued from the trek on Uttarkashi-Tehri border, eight were airlifted to Dehradun on Wednesday.The bodies of five trekkers were brought down on Wednesday as the operations were suspended due to bad weather conditions. The operations resumed on Thursday and rescue teams found and took four more dead bodies back.

A 22-member trekking team, including 18 trekkers from Karnataka and one from Maharashtra besides three local guides, started from, Maneri, on May 29 on a 35-km long trek to Silla-Kushkalyan-Sahastra Tal, located at an altitude of around 4,600 metres, from Uttarkashi. The team was sent by Himalayan View Trekking Agency, a local tour operator. While two of them stayed back, the remaining members trekked to Sahastra Tal and while returning back caught them in a blizzard like situation on June 3. The panicked members mostly women lost their way amidst the fierce snow storm and died. The team was scheduled to return to the base camp on June 7.

On Wednesday, two Chetak helicopters of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and a private chopper were deployed to rescue the stranded trekkers on the trek route. The SDRF also dispatched two teams — one each from Dehradun and Uttarkashi.

Eleven trekkers were rescued using the choppers, out of them eight were sent to Dehradun in a helicopter and three were brought to Bhatwari in Uttarkashi. Two others were able to reach Silla village under the guidance of local guides.

The deceased trekkers have been identified as Sindhu Vakekalam (45), Asha Sudhakar (71), Sujata Mungurwadi (51), Vinayak Mungurwadi (54), Chitra Praneeth (48), Padmanabha Kundapur Krishnamurthy (50), Venkatesha Prasad KN (53), Anita Rangappa (60) and Padmini Hegde (34), all residents of Bengaluru in Karnataka, officials said.

It was not known whether the trekking team members carried thermal required in such arctic conditions and had communication equipment like satellite phone as normal mobile did not work at such heights. Whether any medical check or age of the trekkers was taken into consideration while allowing them to trek up to 14,000 feet.

Even the CharDham Yatra to Hindu revered shrines of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangtri in Garhwal Himalayas but are at lesser height than Sahstra Tal, has been dangerous for ill and aged. Since, the start of ‘Char Dham Yatra’ in mid May this year , a total of more than 80 pilgrims have died, mostly above 50 years of age. Most of them succumbed to heart attack and pulmonary edema (excess fluid in the air cells of the lungs) despite the fact that state government has made elaborate medical arrangements enroute these shrines. But the cold weather, physical fatigue and geographical distance takes its’ toll on aged, ill and infirm. In 2023, the number of deaths on the Chardham Yatra route was recorded at 250.

The adventure tourists, tour operators and above all the state government should shun its’ casual approach and come up with Standard Operating Procedure(SOP) as adventure tourism in higher Himalayas in not normal picnic or sight- seeing activity.


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