Kolkata: Over two dozen snow-struck tourists from Bengal arrived in Howrah from Himachal Pradesh on Monday wearing the stress and fatigue of a holiday gone horribly wrong, reports Calcutta daily, The Telegraph.
Tears flowed as family members and relatives waiting on the platform greeted the tourists, many of them carrying injuries suffered during the long, dangerous trek to safety through a snow desert. Some leaned on relatives for support, a few had to be stretchered away.
“I saw death from close. My daughter almost died. I hurt my leg while we were sliding down the snow,” cried Sikha Chakraborty, a resident of Uttarpara in Hooghly, clinging to her 12-year-old daughter Baishali.
“Nobody from the Himachal Pradesh government came to our rescue,” she complained.
The Chakrabortys chose to slide down the snowy slopes rather than trek the entire 18km route to the nearest shelter after villagers told them that it would take several hours to reach their destination if they tried to plough through the clogged roads.
“My daughter lost consciousness and almost froze to death but some villagers helped revive her by rubbing her feet and palms and giving her warm water. I stumbled on a snow-covered stone and injured myself while my husband hurt his wrist,” recalled Sikha, in her 40s.
The Chakrabortys had started the tour on October 13 along with 12 other tourists. They reached Manali on October 21 via Shimla and Sangla.
“Fifteen of us went up to Rohtang Pass the next day but the blizzard struck around 11am. In just 30 minutes, the entire landscape changed. There was snow and nothing else in sight all around us,” said 30-something Susmita Banerjee, a member of the group.
As cars covered in snow stood in serpentine snarls on the road for hours, the group started walking downhill. From the point where they were stranded, Manali was a 51km downhill journey.
With several feet of snow covering the road, walking became difficult. It was then that the villagers suggested a shortcut.
“The shortcut was to slide down the snowy slopes. Local residents would push us from behind for a fee of Rs 100 per person and we would slide. On the way down, we ran into boulders and tree trunks. Those were painful blows but we had no other option,” Susmita recounted.
Fellow tourist Rita Roy, aged over 40, fractured her leg while sliding down a slope. She was admitted to a nursing home in Uttarpara shortly after arriving in the city by the Rajdhani Express.
Arijit Patra, a Class XI student who ran into the blizzard while he and his family were on their way to Rohtang from Manali, echoed Debabrata.
“We received no help from the authorities. All of us were forced to trek to safety. We repeatedly called Himachal police and sought their assistance but they kept asking why we had left our cars behind and started walking,” said Arijit, who walked 12km till Gulaba along with his family.
Arijit’s 80-year-old grandfather Sunil Baran was part of the 10-member group. The Patras, residents of Ramgarh near Patuli in south Calcutta, spent the night in a roadside dhaba and paid Rs 3,000 for a car ride to Manali from Gulaba.
Sports and youth affairs minister Kanti Ganguly said the government had confirmed that all tourists from Bengal visiting Himachal Pradesh were safe. “Most of them have returned home,” he added.
Minister Ganguly claimed that the Himachal Pradesh government did everything it could to ensure the safety of the tourists, contradicting the complaints by some of those who returned on Monday.
Debabrata Chatterjee, one of those who stepped out of the Rajdhani Express, accused even civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee of going back on his word.
“We had contacted the civil defence minister over phone, thinking he would help us. He promised to get back to us but never did,” Debabrata added.
(By arrangement with the The Telegraph, Kolkata)