July 29: Two city students died and a third was missing after being swept away by a mountain stream on a Purulia trek, but tragedy is tinged with mystery with local villagers swearing that all three had safely reached the bank.
The bodies of Subhankar Saha and Swati Das lay 2 km apart from each other in the neighbourhood of Egra village, at least 30 feet off the banks of the Sobha at the foot of the Ayodhya Hills.
Villagers say they saw the two of them and Arundhati Ghosh ' all members of a team of five from Jadavpur University ' emerge from the river yesterday.
“All three were dripping wet,” said Abhimanyu Mahato. “I told them to wait while we brought some dry clothes. But when we returned, they had vanished.”
Swati’s body was found naked, said Purulia police chief Ashok Kumar Prasad, though the villagers saw her in a T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms.
“Subhankar had an injury on the back of his head, suggesting he may have hurt himself against a rock. There were no injury marks on Swati’s body but she had no clothes on,” Prasad said. A hunt is on for Arundhati.
The two others in the group ' Bappaditya Chatterjee and Kaushik Sarkhel' who were rescued thanks to the mobile one of them carried, are in Bagmundi near Purulia town, helping a 16-member rescue team from the university and the police in the search operation.
Both say the entire group was swept away while trying to cross the Sobha. While Bappaditya claims he saved himself by grabbing a branch, Kaushik says he clung to a boulder.
Although the villagers claim to have seen the two women with Subhankar, Kaushik claims that it was with him that Arundhati and Swati had struggled to the bank. The women, apparently, then just ran away in panic and that was the last he saw of them.
The students, four of them members of JU’s Mountaineering and Hiking Club, had left Calcutta on Thursday night by the Howrah-Chakradharpur Express and reached Purulia on Friday morning.
JU officials said none of them had sought the mandatory permission for the trek. With the university in the dark, neither district officials nor local police had any idea that a team of trekkers was on its way.
They got off at Barabhum, three stations after Purulia. A trekker ride to Matha, a light breakfast at the forest range office and they were on their way.
The team stopped at a point where the Sobha splits into two and set up a tent. Towards afternoon, as rain came pelting down, they realised they needed to shift base. But floodwaters had already cut off the way forward or backward.
The only option was to try and cross the Sobha, from where the mystery begins.
Some members of the JU rescue team, however, see nothing suspicious. “They were expert trekkers; this was just an accident,” said Indrajit Saha.