150 Foreigners Trapped In Spiti Valley Of Himachal

Visa’s expire, flights cancelled, restless to get

Shimla: Stranded foreign tourists are a restless lot in Tabo, a world heritage site, as they have been living without electricity for over a week, the water supply is polluted and there is hardly any communication links with the outer world as the authorities grapple to restore road connectivity to the region.

There is absolutely no communication from the authorities about what is being done to restore road links, over phone said Stevens Payson, a US national holed up at the over 1000 year old monastery for over a week.

“There is no electricity, the water supply is polluted and skeletal telecommunication link between here and anywhere,” said Payson. Those stranded include, Americans, South Americans, Europeans and people from other nationalities, he revealed.

His wife, Kamal Kapur, a famous writer said, “Nobody is telling us when the road will open or from which side it will open.” No official or doctor has visited us, she added.

The area remains cut-off since September 18, when an unusual early snowstorm lashed the high altitude region depositing over 5 feet of snow at Kunzam Pass.

“There are about 150 foreigners stranded in Spiti Valley,” said Vikas Shukla, the officiating head administrative official at Kaza. Efforts are on to open the road from both ends but it will take another day or two, he said.

All foreigners and Indians tourists are safe. One porter with German tourists died in Pin Valley, said Shukla

While the Kunzam Pass has been cleared of snow but the link between Chatru and Kunzam is yet too established, said Shukla. The road from Kaza to Tabo is also blocked and so is the Kinnaur – Tabo road blocked at the moment, he said.

It will take another day or two to open up the roads, said Shukla

The air force Chetak helicopters that were requisitioned on Wednesday airlifted 4 Belgians and have left back to their base stations, said Col Lalji the coordinating army officer at Sasse helipad in Kullu.

On Thursday, a larger MI helicopter airlifted 12 foreigners from Kaza which included 8 Belgians. The Belgians had managed to get in touch with their embassy in Delhi, who did approach the central government for the chopper service.

Col Lalji, disclosed that the rescue operation was being conducted by the Air force headquarter on the request of the state government.

Most of the foreigners stranded were getting restless as their travel schedules had simply collapsed. Some have missed their flights back home, visa’s of some have expired and one Italian women in her 50’s was restless and intended to undertake a dangerous trek over Malling Nallah so as to get out of the valley, said Payson.

Shukla said that the irrigation and public health engineer at Tabo has been asked to brief the foreigners trapped there about the efforts being made to open the road.

He added that about 105 people from Batal had been rescued with the help of Losar Youth club, transport, PWD and police personnel.

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  1. Spiti 092809-Scorpio 10ftSnowWe read with interest the front page article, “150 Foreigners trapped in Spiti Valley (September 26, 2008),” especially as we were quoted as part of the group of tourists trapped in Spiti during the big storms that hit Himachal Pradesh on September 18. We would like to clarify a few things with apologies, appreciation, and suggestions.

    It is true for 12 twelve days we were stuck in Tabo, along with a group of about 40 other tourists (foreign and Indian), and for most of that period we were not informed as to the condition of the roads. As there were landslides in both directions (Nako and Kaza), it was very difficult to make intelligent decisions regarding travel and the safety of the roads. Numerous rumors were flying with a lot of contradictory information and no official word was given to calm the concerns of the travelers. Many foreigners felt very frustrated especially as they had return flights to their countries which some missed. Electricity was virtually not available, there were very intermittent phone connections, and for a few days the water supply became contaminated adding further to the collective anxieties. Some finally left taking their chances either crossing dangerous Malling Nallah (where one Chilean woman was injured by falling rocks) or walking to Kaza hoping for taxi transmissions.

    When we finally left Tabo, thanks to the efforts of the MLA of the area, Ram Lal Markendaya, who we were told personally supervised the clearing of the road from Kaza to Tabo, and traveled the road to and through Rohtang Pass, we were struck by the extent of damage to roads, property, and the loss of human and animal lives. Given the lack of communication with the outside world, we had been totally unaware of this, and compared to which our own complaints seemed rather paltry.

    In Batal (near Chandertaal), which is a tiny outpost with a few people and a dhaba in a tent run by Dorje and his wife, we learned that 105 people were truly trapped for five days in the snow trying to survive very arduous conditions. We were told that three foreigners tried to get out on their own and lost their lives. We also heard that another 30 people lost their lives in Simla District. When we commented, half jokingly, that it must have been good for his business, Mr Dorje’s sobering reply was his only business was trying to keep people safe and alive. This attitude is what makes traveling in Spiti so invaluable and we thank all those who helped the tourists and send our condolences to the families of those who perished.

    We also realized what a feat of engineering the roads are through the entire area and how difficult it must be to maintain them, even in normal circumstances, let alone in heavy rains and snowstorms. Spiti is normally in the rain shadow and experiences very little rain, but in the kind of storm that hit in the latter half of September, it must have been a huge challenge to clear the roads. The geologic reality makes it appear that the steep cliffs will always pose a problem for open roads, especially after unexpected during periods of high tourist travel. Enormous credit must be given to the good men and women working on the roads after the landslides, exposing themselves to falling boulders and very uncertain safety conditions.

    We have a few suggestions when dangerous travel conditions occur. As India promotes tourism heavily with the “Incredible India” campaign, the government (local, state, national) needs to take more responsibility to keep tourists informed daily when things get tough. In this age of immediate internet and blog communication, one unhappy foreign traveler can spread a very negative and widely read message about travel in India that will hurt the country’s image and economy.

    Radio communication should be available from town to town when phones are down, and should be used for twice a day updates. Tourists should be organized by locals in charge (through the pradhan?) and kept well informed and assured that the government is aware of their plight and providing road and travel conditions. Where possible, families of tourists should be alerted through foreign embassies and government assistance provided for rescheduling missed flights. Travel in remote Himalayan areas, like Spiti, poses dangers and these should be advertised in travel literature. All visitors should be prepared for the unexpected, for danger, and delays, as well as leaving their travel plans with their families or friends.

    We hope these suggestions will be of value and implemented.

    Many thanks to all our friends and family who stayed in touch and were in communication with government officials trying to help us appraise the situation.

    Payson R. Stevens

    Kamla K. Kapur

    California, USA

    1. says: Dolkar Persaud

      Dear Kamla & Stevens
      Hi, I am Dolkar. I went to spiti in sep 08. I was there in spiti and we got trapped in batal in snow. We were there for 6 days.


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