|Chhangu lake, one of the major tourist attractions
in East Sikkim
Gangtok, May 30: Nearly 2,500 tourists on their way back from Nathu-la were left stranded after a series of landslides blocked Jawaharlal Nehru Marg that links Gangtok to the border pass.
According to police and the army, the landslides continued well past 8pm preventing any attempts by the Border Roads Organisation to clear the road. All tourists, most of them from Bengal, have been accommodated in army camps and houses in Kyongshala village near 15th Mile where the landslide first struck around 3pm.
This morning the temperature at 15th Mile, 20km from Gangtok, was around 19 degrees Celsius. The mercury is expected to come down a little at night, specially since there was a drizzle though earlier in the day.
Inspector Sabitri Pradhan, who was on duty at the Sikkim police checkpost at 2nd Mile, said tourists in 418 vehicles had been unable to return. “In all, 585 vehicles had gone up Jawaharlal Nehru Marg today to take tourists to Nathula, Baba Mandir and Chhangu lake and 418 of them were stranded because of the landslide that stretched along 500 metres. Huge boulders are still coming down on the road at 15th Mile from the hillside. The police, the army and local villagers are looking after the stranded tourists. They are being put up in army camp and the local houses there,” she said.
Tourists have to report with their police permits at the 2nd Mile checkpost before proceeding towards Nathula, the border pass with China at 14,400ft. Usually the vehicles start at 8am and return by 4.30pm. No vehicle is allowed to pass the checkpost after 11am during the upward journey.
Pradhan said no vehicles would be allowed to proceed towards Nathula tomorrow. “But if the stranded vehicles returned and the road becomes motorable by 8am, then we might reconsider the decision,” she said.
The chief engineer of the army’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO), Brigadier Rajiv Shahni, said a unit was on standby to remove debris from the road. “Our men and machinery like excavators are camping at the spot and as soon as there are indications that the landslide has stopped, we will start work,” he said.
The president of the Travel Agents Association of Sikkim (TAAS), Lukendra Rasaily, said efforts were on to bring the tourists back here tomorrow morning. In that case, the tourists would have to cross the landslide stretch on foot to board the vehicles.
“We are in the process of getting hold of vehicles and load with eatables and fruit juice for the stranded people. We will start sending them from 5am. Priority will be given to those who have to catch trains or flights tomorrow. TAAS will bear the entire cost,” Rasaily said.
He said there were about 10,000 tourists in Gangtok now. “All the 400 registered hotels in Gangtok are full. The tourists are from all over India, with a large number from Bengal. Usually tourists reach Gangtok and prefer a trip up to Chhangu lake and Nathula the next morning. The next day they either visit North Sikkim or make a beeline for Pelling in West Sikkim or to Char Dham and Ravangla in South Sikkim,” Rasaily said.