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City pilgrims escape stampede

Calcutta, Jan. 15: All the 130-odd Sabarimala pilgrims from Calcutta escaped last night’s stampede thanks to a lucky decision on Thursday evening not to climb to the hilltop shrine to witness the Makara Jyothi on Friday.

Instead, they opted to halt at the foot of the hill, at a spot near the Pampa river, and sight the star that appears on January 14 evening from there.

Had they watched the celestial spectacle from the hilltop, they might have been among those caught in the stampede around 8.15pm yesterday on their way down.

Reports today said 102 pilgrims were killed and 50 left injured in the stampede, triggered by a collision between a jeep and an auto-rickshaw on the route of their downhill trek at Pullumedu, about 7km from the shrine.

There were two teams of pilgrims from Calcutta, the larger one of 120 organised by the Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangham. This group included 40-odd elderly pilgrims, about 25 women and half-a-dozen children.

“Thank God, none decided to travel uphill. It could have been a disaster since there were many senior citizens,” said Ramakrishnan Kumar, senior manager of Dhanlaxmi Bank from Calcutta, who is co-ordinating with the pilgrims from the city.

The Calcutta pilgrims reached the hilltop this morning and offered prayers. They will be staying back for Sunday morning’s Abhishekam ritual.

“Today, the team started early in the morning and walked up nearly 8km to reach the hilltop around 11am. Then all of them went for darshan. They are fine,” Kumar said.

Kumar himself was at the hilltop shrine last evening and watched the Makara Jyothi around 7.10pm, but didn’t come down afterwards. It took several hours for the news of the stampede to filter through.

It became clear only late at night that none of the victims was from Calcutta. Members of the smaller team from the city too called up Kumar to say all of them were safe.

The Seva Sangham team had left Calcutta in the first week of the month and reached Palakkad on January 8. It reached Pampa on January 13.  

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