Tuesday, August 16, 2022

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Selfies along Himachal gurgling rivers tempting, but can ‘freeze’ memories

Manali (Himachal Pradesh), June 26, 2022- Two tourists from Delhi were washed away in the Parvati river in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh while clicking a selfie on May 7, say police.

A rescue team traced and fished out the body of one of them after 15 days.

Likewise, on September 21, 2021, a woman tourist and her son from Delhi drowned in the Beas river at Bahang near Manali.

They along with other family members were clicking pictures on the riverbank adjacent to their hotel when the duo slipped and fell into the river and drowned.

Later their bodies were recovered about three to four km downstream.

These are some of the several frequent tragedies being reported now more frequently from the riverside in the picturesque Kullu-Manali area, admit officials.

Years later, the hair-raising tragedy of 24 students of Hyderabad’s V.N.R. Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology, who were on a holiday trip to Manali, drowning in the Beas is still a gripping reminder of lurking dangers by nature.

Unaware that they were minutes away from death, a video showed the students standing on the boulders in the riverbed for a picture-postcard shoot with the gurgling river in the background, and then a wall of water suddenly pushing the screaming and howling victims away.

Local authorities admit that in every tourist season almost half a dozen such instances are reported from near the Beas or the Parvati Valley where tourists fall into the river while clicking selfies or taking pictures while venturing close to the river.

Tourists in hordes trickling into hills of Himachal Pradesh during the vacation season continue to be vulnerable in the absence of a larger safety and security system.

Official sources said that a large stretch of the Satluj, Beas, Yamuna, Chenab and Ravi rivers and their tributaries run parallel to national and state highways where fatal fall incidents involving tourists are not uncommon.

But still there are no warning signs or any drive initiated by the state tourism department to educate the tourists about the threat perception.

Besides these incidents, police admit minor incidents of injuries due to slipping often go unreported.

These incidents and the lurking dangers of such misadventures by the riverside in the Parvati Valley and surrounding areas were highlighted by journalist-turned-author Aditya Kant in the International Literature Festival Shimla that was organised last week by Sahitya Akademi and the Union Ministry of Culture in the Gaiety Theatre of Shimla.

Kant, who created a buzz with his widely acclaimed novel ‘High on Kasol’, cautioned the tourists against venturing near the riverside to take selfies, through his extracts from his widely acclaimed crime thriller during the lit festival.

Kant, who read out a chapter named ‘Frozen Selfie’ from his debut crime thriller murder mystery book ‘High on Kasol’, narrated through one of his characters, Haizel, that the temptation of taking a selfie by climbing rocks near to river could prove fatal.

During a story-reading session, he described through his fictional story, how a teenage girl Haizel from Delhi, slips into the Parvati river while taking a selfie after dangerously climbing a rock.

Fortunately, she is saved by the timely arrival of the protagonist after she has a nearly fatal fall in the river. Both of them fall in love with each other.

Chandigarh-based journalist Kant, who spent his early years of life in Kullu town, mentioned that the character Haizel could be considered an exception, as most of the tourists who slipped while taking pictures by the riverside could not be saved and had a fatal fall.

In several instances, even the bodies could not be traced.

“My story required the character to survive and keep the interest of readers alive, so I could not have afforded to kill her. But in reality, the survival rate in such instances in Kullu-Manali valley has been dismal and in every tourist season, people are losing their lives,” Kant said.

He elaborated, “So through this particular episode of Haizel, I have tried to convey to the people in general and the tourists in particular that they should not get carried away by the picturesque sites and climb on dangerous rocks by the riverside.”

“There may not be any protagonist to save you if you slip into the river while taking a selfie,” he cautioned.

Kant’s views in fact are corroborated by the local authorities who point out that lately the average number of youngsters getting washed away by the Parvati river has been about six to seven persons every season.

On average, almost one person is losing life to the mighty rivers in Kullu and Manali in a month.

Kant points out that the figure is alarming as the number is much larger than that of missing foreigners from the valley about which there has been a wide coverage and concerns have been raised in the national and international media from time to time.

He also talks about instances in which youngsters fell into the river under the influence of drugs too are not uncommon and the visitors need to be cautious of indulging in drugs and venturing close to the riverside.

“There is another sequence in my book which refers to an incident where a youngster falls into the river and dies while consuming drugs along with his friends close to Beas river,” he recalls.

Kant’s novel revolves around the theme of the mysterious disappearance of foreigners and changing trends of drug trafficking in the Parvati valley. It was released in July, 2021.

Local authorities, on their part, maintain they have been warning tourists and have also displayed warning sign boards along the dangerous stretches of the Beas and Parvati rivers along the Chandigarh-Manali national highway.

On the ground, however, one sees such signs only at rare sites.

Local adventure camp organisers caution that tourists should not get carried away by the charm and underestimate the might of rivers that look charming and harmless.

Local adventure camp organiser Bebo Ram recalls the incident of July 14, 2015, when a tourist bus with 44 people on board from Punjab plunged into the Parvati river, killing seven.

While five bodies were recovered from the spot, two fished out from eight km downstream.

Eight years later, the shocking video of engineering students standing on a rock in the middle of a calm river being washed away with the sudden surge in the water level is still a reminder of natural or manmade disaster risks. (Agency)

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