Himalayan blizzard kills pilgrims

Hindu pilgrims, trekking to a sacred ice-cave in the Kashmir region of the Himalayas, have long had to contend with the threat of ambush by Muslim guerrillas. But this year was worse: the full wrath of the Himalayas struck the procession of 90,000 devotees as a freak snowstorm and torrential rain killed over 130 pilgrims.

Indian rescue workers battled against a blizzard and landslides to rescue 7,000 stranded pilgrims who are strung out along 50 miles of sheer, ice- covered mountain terrain. Many pilgrims were seen carrying sick and dying relatives down to spots where they could be airlifted out by army helicopters.

Many sadhus, holy men, were among the dead. They had undertaken the gruelling mountain pilgrimage wearing nothing but ash smeared on their bodies. "The main reason for the deaths is that the pilgrims had no warm clothing. Many were old people. The holy men were trekking naked," said a doctor at an emergency camp in Anantnag, 60 miles from the capital, Srinagar. The Hindu pilgrims had gone to worship at Amarnath Cave, 12,725ft up in the Himalayas, where an icicle is said to be a manifestation of the Lord Shiva's phallus.

Most of the victims were from the heat-scorched plains of northern India, ill-equipped to face the fierce Himalayan blizzard. The death toll may rise as more rain and fog strikes Kashmir, slowing rescue efforts. The Indian army has so far evacuated 30,000 pilgrims.

Taking advantage of a few breaks in the cloud yesterday, helicopters were able to land along the pilgrimage route, dropping off blankets, first- aid kits, and rescuing some of the injured. Despite landslides, troops moved up the mountain trail yesterday with extra food and stretchers. The 50-mile pilgrimage has been officially called off.

The steep, forested valleys near the ice-cave have been overrun by Kashmir separatists who have been fighting Indian security forces during the past six years. Muslim guerrillas last year set off two bombs during the pilgrimage, killing one official and injuring dozens of Hindu worshippers.

To ease communal tensions, Muslim militants this year vowed to leave the unarmed Hindu pilgrims alone. Once the first survivors of the storm staggered down the mountain and alerted officials, Muslim villagers rushed to save the stranded Hindus, taking them into their homes and giving them food and clothing.

Twice in this stark Himalayan landscape, near the pilgrims' cave, Westerners have been kidnapped by Muslim rebels. Two Britons, one a schoolboy, were held captive for 17 days in 1994, while last year five Westerners, including Britons Keith Mangan and Paul Wells, were taken captive.

A Norwegian hostage was beheaded by the kidnappers, members of the Al- Faran group, and the other four may have also been killed last December, according to the testimony of one rebel leader who was seized by the Indian army.

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain