Nine tourists were killed and three others injured on Sunday afternoon after a massive landslide caused by heavy rains in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. The tourists were coming from Chitkul, the last inhabited village near the border with China in Kinnaur, to Sangla, when the landslide, triggered by incessant rains, hit the Sangla-Chitkul road.
Huge rocks and boulders fell on the road and led to the collapse of a bridge over the Bapsa river that connects Batseri village with the rest of Kinnaur. A family of three from Rajasthan’s Sikar district — Maya Devi Biyani (55), her son Anurag Biyani (31), and daughter Richa Biayni (25) — was among those killed. The remaining six were identified as Pratiksha Sunil Patil (27) from Nagpur in Maharashtra; Deepa Sharma(34) from Jaipur; Amogh Bapat (27) and Satish Katakbar (34) from Chhattisgarh; the driver of the vehicle Umrab Singh (42) of Tagore Garden in Delhi and Kumar Ulhas Vedpathak (37).
Kinnaur Deputy Commissioner Abid Hussain Sadiq said it was a bright, sunny day and the landslide was unexpected. “The minibus rolled down a khud after being hit by the boulder,” he said. A bridge on the road collapsed after another boulder fell on it. Some houses too were damaged.
Amogh Bapat (27) was a lieutenant with the Indian Navy and had left home in Chhattisgarh for a trek a few days ago. The son of an additional chief engineer with the Chhattisgarh State Electricity Board, Amogh had served with the Navy for four years and had come home on leave.
According to Darri police, Amogh had gone to Himachal with his childhood friend Satish Katakbar (34). “Katakbar’s family used to live in Annapurna Nagar, the CSEB colony before they moved to Janjgir district. Satish himself lived in the United States, and had come to India on holiday,” an officer from the Korba police said.
Bapat’s family declined to speak about the tragedy. The family of Katakbar could not be contacted. Dr. Deepa Sharma, a resident of Mansarovar in Jaipur, had left for Himachal on Friday, members of the family said on Sunday. “Deepa was an ayurvedic doctor. She had booked herself on the trip organized by a travel agency for a group of tourists,” Kavita Sharma, Deepa’s sister-in-law, said.
Deepa was active on Twitter and had over 17 thousand followers on the microblogging site. Her last tweet posted just before 1 pm on Sunday, was a photo of herself at the Nagasti post of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. “Standing at the last point of India where civilians are allowed. Beyond this point around 80 kms ahead we have a border with Tibet whom China has occupied illegally,” she wrote.
On Saturday, Deepa had posted pictures of herself standing barefoot on rocks, and written, “Life is nothing without mother nature.” Kavita said: “She (Deepa) helped many people through Twitter during the Covid-19 outbreak. She was always eager to help people.”
Anurag Biyani (31), his sister Richa Biyani (25), and their mother Maya Devi Biyani (55) had gone to Delhi from Sikar on Friday before leaving for Himachal, members of the family said.
“All three of them used to live in Mumbai. Anurag and Richa’s father, and another of their sisters, also live in Mumbai. Anurag, a chartered accountant, and his mother had come to Sikar during the lockdown, and he had since been working from our family’s home,” Ramesh Biyani, Anurag’s uncle, said.
Richa too, had come to Sikar earlier this week, and the family had gone to Himachal on holiday, Ramesh said. Local people were the first to reach the spot of the accident and had taken the injured to hospital by the time district administration officials arrived from Reckong Peo.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur expressed deep grief over the deaths and directed the administration to ensure immediate relief to the affected people. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences to the families. “An ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each from PMNRF would be given to the next of kin of those who lost their lives in an accident in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh. Rs 50,000 would be given to the injured,” he said.