Saangla Tragedy A Wake-up Call For Safety of Himalyan Travellers

Saangla Tragedy

On July 25 afternoon 11 tourists  were crossing the Baaspa river in a rather remote part of Kinnaur region in Himachal Pradesh, on Saangla Chhitkul route, when warning shouts were heard from people from a distance. However the driver of the tempo traveler was busy negotiating the river bridge and did not hear the warning shouts. He wasn’t aware also of the boulders which had fallen earlier from nearby hills. People from nearby hills were now shouting after spotting a similar danger.

Unfortunately the warning could not be heard in time and  boulders smashed the vehicle. In fact so huge were some of the boulders and stones which fell that  even the iron bridge which connected Batesari village collapsed. Nine travelers died and two, along with a local person, were hospitalized. Some other vehicles, a school building ( fortunately with  no children in it) and a house were also damaged.

This was clearly an avoidable tragedy. The landslide here had started a day earlier on July 24. In fact, according to reports in newspapers, a car with tourists from Chandigarh had been caught  in the middle of falling stones from a landslide even on July 24 but its occupants had somehow survived this danger. In their case warnings shouted by passers-by had probably saved the day but such good luck cannot be expected every time.   Surely this should have been reason enough to set up some warning system for anyone entering the bridge, instead of merely relying on last minute warnings being shouted by any passers-by. This lapse proved to be very costly for the travelers from various parts of the country who were probably coming as a group from Delhi.

Soon after the tragedy the administration swung into action and several restrictions on travel in the danger zone were announced but by then the damage had been done. On the other hand, if an official warning system had been set up after the July 24 near-mishap, these nine human lives could have been saved. Kinnaur is known for being prone to  frequent landslides and better safety systems are expected in such a region.

This should draw attention to the wider issue of inexperienced travelers from plains often getting caught in unanticipated high-risk situations in Himalayan region, particularly the more remote parts where help may not be handy. Travelers themselves should exercise more caution before venturing into more remote parts particularly during the rainy season. The past few days have seen a lot of rain , traffic disruptions and landslides in Himachal Pradesh and it is strange that these travelers ventured into a highly remote place in such a season without being warned on safety aspects.

This writer often visited the Himalayan region as a reporter from Delhi ( and these journalism visits often had to be more difficult situations like earthquake and floods) and he was caught up in some such difficult situations himself from time to time . Unlike local people a traveler is more precariously placed if no place to spend the night is available and if cash availability is also limited. I was thus compelled to take risks that were best avoided while crossing active  landslide zones with stones and rubble falling all over with fury . Returning from Uttarkashi floods I had crossed over with very muddy feet and clothes to catch the last bus headed for Tehri when on way, night having already fallen, the private bus driver suddenly stopped the bus in one village and refused to go any further! It was with great difficulty that he could be persuaded to continue.

While the situation may have improved since then, and passengers also now have mobiles and credit cards, but overall there is much need still for improving safety conditions for travelers in Himalayan region. The travelers themselves need to be better aware of how high-risk situations can develop suddenly and avoid taking undue risks. Both in terms of driving recklessly on hill roads without adequate training to negotiate the special conditions here as well as planning adequately for increasing hazards of landslides and other disasters, many travelers are less than cautious. At the same time the authorities need to improve safety aspects . Very tragic as the recent incident in Saangla has been, one hopes that this will a wake-up call for improving safety measures.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author, is author of Vimla and Sunderlal Bahuguna—Chipko Movement and Struggle Against Tehri Dam.

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