Shimla: When Doordarshan programme executive Sunita went to make a documentary on the high-altitude Nako lake in Himachal Pradesh, little did she realize she was second away from disaster.
All the homework done by Sunita and her team washed away within a fraction of seconds when unusual downpour in the cold deserts caught them by surprise.
“Suddenly the silent enticing rocky cliffs turned into a mountain of horror. We were literally under the shadow of death,” said Sunita, who was rescued along with her five-member crew by an Indian Air Force (IAF) chopper after five days of battle of survival.
The trouble began when the nine-member Doordarshan team, which was bound for Nako, reached Khab, some 330 km from here, June 16.
“As we were near Khab, torrential rainfall started. A huge rock came in the way of our vehicle. Three of us got down from the vehicle to clear the obstruction. Suddenly, the entire mountain started rolling down. We ran here and there,” said Sunita.
“Six of us ran towards Nako and the remaining (three) towards Pooh, leaving the vehicle and baggage amidst the pile of rocks and boulders,” she said.
Khab, the confluence Spiti and Satluj rivers, is known for its picturesque beauty, challenging terrain and rich Buddhist cultural heritage. It is close to the China border.
There was more trouble for Sunita and her crew as flash floods and shooting stones literally swept them of their feet.
“For one and a half hours we scurried for cover and were literally between life and death,” said Sunita.
“Everything was coming from the sky — from rain to snow to shooting rocks. Torrential rains triggered flash floods. Twice I was almost swept away.”
Finally after trudging over seven kilometers of rocky trek, the team reached an Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) camp at Namgya.
“For one and a half hours death stared at us from close. On a number of occasions I thought I would be dead,” said a shaken Sunita, a day after she was airlifted.
Though Sunita and her team escaped unhurt, a junior commissioned officer of the Indian Army, who came to rescue them, lost his life when he was hit by a shooting rock.
According to her, a trekking team of the army’s Bihar Regiment from Pooh, some 20 km from Namgya, came to their rescue June 18.
“We were told not to leave the ITBP camp as the melting snow had made the mountains more prone to landslips,” she said.
The next day, the ITBP left them at the army’s camp in Khab.
“Finally, after walking more than 15 km with the help of 10-12 soldires, we reached the Bihar Regiment camp first in Dubling and then in Pooh (June 20). The next day we were airlifted from Pooh,” she said.
“We are safe because of the ITBP and the army’s timely help,” she said.
Another Doordarshan team, comprising news editor Nandini Mital, which separated at Khab June 16, was rescued by the IAF after four days of struggle in landslide-hit parts.
Mital said the entire stretch of the highway between Khab and Pooh had been wiped out.
Like them, 500-odd tourists, mainly from West Bengal and Punjab, were stuck across Kinnaur district, which has been cut off by landslides.
The IAF has deployed two helicopters, while the state is using the chief minister’s official chopper for airlifting tourists and locals.
Officials said 16 people have been killed in landslide and rain-related incidents in the district.