| Sliding into trouble
Gangtok, April 10: As many as 1,300 tourists left stranded due to a landslide during their return journey from Chhangu lake were safely evacuated yesterday, thanks to the prompt action of police, Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim and residents of the area.
The incident occurred between 8th and 9th Mile, around 13 km above Gangtok on the Jawaharlal Nehru road to Nathu-la.
Around one in the afternoon, heavy rain caused the landslide. A portion of the hillside along the stretch of the road, which is being widened by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), came crashing down.
Around 1,300 tourists on some 200 vehicles were left stranded as a result. To make matters worse, the temperature dropped further because of the rain making it difficult for the tourists, who are not used to such weather at high altitude.
Sikkim police acted quickly and came to their aid with the help of the travel agents. The associations dispatched around 40 vehicles to the spot and, after the tourists crossed the landslide zone on foot, the cars brought them back to Gangtok.
“We managed to evacuate all the tourists by evening,” said the superintendent of police (East), M.S. Tuli. With the BRO at work, the road itself is expected to be cleared by tonight.
Deepa Biswas and her family from Alipore, Calcutta, were all praise for the prompt action of those who came to their rescue. “Even the driver had told us that it was a hopeless situation since it would take a long time, maybe a full day, to clear the road. We had children with us and did not know what to do. We are thankful to the Sikkim police and those who provided us with the vehicles to get us back to our hotel in Gangtok,” Deepa told The Telegraph.
Several tourists, however, complained that the vehicles which ferried them back to Gangtok had charged exorbitant fares, some of them asking for double the normal price. The travel agents’ association dismissed the charges, saying the vehicles sent for the rescue belonged to its members and many of them had provided free service.