Manali: More than 300 tourists stranded without meal following unexpected snowfall at the south portal of Atal tunnel were rescued in an operation that continued till 1 a.m. on Saturday. All were rescued to safety after struggles of over 6 six hours in the middle of snowfall.
While some vehicles were unchained from snow in the night time, other vehicles were evacuated later. The Atal tunnel has been closed for tourist movement due to inclement weather conditions and heavy snowfall in the area. Tourist movement is now being restricted to Palchan village only.
As many as 250 tourist vehicles had reached the Atal tunnel on Saturday early morning. All vehicles were sent back by Lahaul-Spiti police as it was snowing heavily in the valley. Tourists then stopped at the south portal of the tunnel and Dhundi to enjoy snowfall. As snowfall intensified, Kullu police stopped tourist movement towards the tunnel. While some tourists returned back to Manali, others stayed there for a longer time to enjoy snow activities.
With the increasing amount of snow on the road surface, the vehicles started slipping. A large number of vehicles collided with each other. Drivers were finding it difficult to control cars on the road which were slipping outwards towards the edge. This resulted in a road blockade. This took a long time for tourists to understand how to deal with the situation but it was too late till then as more than 15cm of snow had accumulated on the road.
After receiving information about tourists getting stranded at the tunnel, a police team from Kullu with help of police persons at Atal tunnel launched the rescue operation. Border Roads Organization (BRO) started clearing snow from the road and police took help from 4X4 vehicle operators of Manali. Tourist vehicles were rescued and brought down one by one. More than 300 tourists in a large number of vehicles got stuck in snow; these tourists were rescued in local 4X4 vehicles.
Kullu SP Gaurav Singh disclosed to the local media that more than 300 stranded tourists were rescued safely by a team of Manali police station, Atal tunnel unit, and local four-wheel-drive vehicles. “Tourists had crossed tunnel early in the morning. The weather turned inclement suddenly and it started snowing. The vehicles stranded and tourists got stuck. The rescue operation continued till late night in the middle of heavy snowfall,” he said Gaurav Singh.
The Singh added that a total of 82 vehicles of tourists that had stuck in the snow at night time have been evacuated on Sunday. “Tourists can take their vehicles. Snow from the highway has also been cleared,” he added.
While the Lahaul-Spiti administration has made it mandatory for all vehicles to obtain prior permission before entering the Lahaul valley, the Kullu administration on Sunday issued an advisory urging tourists not to go towards Atal Tunnel in the next few days. “There is a forecast of heavy snowfall in the area. The road is slippery. People should avoid venturing into isolated areas and should not go towards avalanche and landslide-prone areas,” said Kullu DC Richa Verma.
This is for the first time that tourists have stranded at the Atal Tunnel after its opening on October 3, 2020. Earlier tourists used to visit Kothi and Gulaba for snow in January month which is comparatively safer. However, similar rescue operations to rescue stranded tourists have been launched many times earlier at Gulaba, Marhi, and Rohtang pass areas. The Solang-Atal tunnel stretch is very prone to avalanches and the areas receive very heavy snow
Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice.
He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express.
With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology.
Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.