3 Heroic Rescue Stories From Himachal Pradesh

3 Heroic Rescue Stories From Himachal Pradesh

Category Trek With Swathi Thursday Trek Talk

By Swathi Chatrapathy

2023-07-14

The past few days have been some of the most harrowing at Indiahikes. Not just at Indiahikes, but for everyone affected by the heavy rains, floods, and landslides in Himachal Pradesh.

Over one hundred fifty of our trekkers were stranded on treks. Roaring rivers had torn apart bridges and eaten into connecting roads. Without crossing these rivers, there was no way for our trekkers to return. 

This is the story of how these trekkers were rescued from three such treks -- Beas Kund, Pin Bhaba Pass and Hampta Pass.

Our team members have been narrating extraordinary stories to us ever since they returned. 

There are no fanciful airlifts or heli-rescues in their stories. No airdropping of supplies. No rescue forces rushed to their aid. It's the story of the hard realities of mountain rescues in our country, where the geography of the Himalayas does not allow the luxuries of filmy style rescue missions.

All these rescues were done without electricity, mobile connectivity, or external food supplies, and amidst continuous rain. Our mountain teams have pulled off something heroic with minimal supplies. This is their story.

Here's a glimpse of what went into evacuating trekkers from these three treks.

Beas Kund: Where trekkers were not airlifted, they were JCB-lifted!

Nithyam Nachappa, Trek Leader with Indiahikes, was stationed at our base camp in Manali when the rains began. When we realised that trekkers could not move from their campsites because of the swollen Beas river, Nithyam, along with a rescue team from Indiahikes, headed out to bring trekkers down. He shares the story of how two teams of trekkers were evacuated from the Beas Kund trek.

“Who would've imagined that a trek like Beas Kund could be so troublesome?” he begins.

“One of the challenges of Beas Kund was that, we, at Manali Base, had no information about the condition of 37 trekkers, 3 trek leaders, and our kitchen team at Beas Kund Trek. This made us anxious.

On July 10, the decision was made to form a team to evacuate both Hampta and Beas trekkers. I, along with Raju Seth, Harsh Mohan, Anuj, and Jugnu, started from Sarsai (our Manali Base) along with some technical equipment. 

The entire journey to Dhundi threw many curve balls at us. As the roads were blocked at multiple locations, we walked, changed vehicles, and walked again. When we thought we would finally reach Palchan within a few kilometres, the vehicle got stuck in wet soil at Shanag, near Burua. The tyre was stuck and refused to move. We decided that we would walk to Palchan. We moved to Palchani and found our local coordinator from Manali, Arjun Thakur, already there. (Arjun helps Indiahikes arrange guides, transportation and mules for Beas Kund and Bhrigu Lake treks)

Vignesh was on the other side of the river, constantly coming down from Dhundi to check the flow of the stream. He must've come at least 10 times for this. 

Click on the image to view the Video

Why were our trekkers stuck? 

The mighty Beas River had washed off the entire bridge and the road that we use to come to this side of the road. 

Aniket’s (Trek Leader) team was stuck at Lohali, the second camp, for two nights, and Sahil’s (Trek Leader) team was at Dhundi, the first camp. 

The entire camp was flooded; sleeping bags were wet; tents were wet; and streams were overflowing. The water was entering the kitchen tent and the dining tent. Nala bana bana ke thak gayi team. 

We didn't want trekkers to stay there another night. Also, the rain had reduced to a mild drizzle, so it was safe to come down. 

But how could we bring trekkers across the river—a JCB?

When we reached Palchani, we saw the river flow, and it was horrible. At first, we decided we would build a Tyrolean traverse. But we did not have a proper base, and sadly, the length of the rope was not sufficient for the swollen river. 

But then an odd idea struck. We spotted a JCB near the river. What if we ferried trekkers across the river on a JCB?

Arjun Thakur spoke to the JCB person, but the person refused to help, saying it was risky to do it without permission from their engineer. 

I decided to approach him again. I literally begged him and somehow convinced him to start the JCB and ferry trekkers. A lot of calculation and planning went into this decision. We considered all safety factors and felt it was safe and possibly the only option we had.

We took a call to descend both trekking teams on the same day. They all reached the Dhundi camp. 

Just as we started our mission, we noticed the JCB was extremely unstable in the water. The river was so furious that even an 8 tonne machine was shaking. 

We immediately decided to abort the mission. 

Now, we had 37 trekkers near the stream. We had no tents, sleeping bags, or enough food. We decided to move the entire team to the power house (it's a huge concrete structure) close to where they were. 

At around 8 p.m., we built a Tyrolean traverse across the river. We had always seen supplies being airdropped in such emergency situations. This time, we had to send all supplies across the river in a traverse. 

In the dark, amidst rain, the teams on both sides did a fantastic job! Trekkers lent a hand too. 38 sleeping bags, mats, blankets, and tents went across the river to the trekkers. 

Meanwhile, the kitchen team cooked at Dhundi and sent down the food to trekkers at night. Incredible effort by the kitchen team, guides, and trek leaders. The rescue team that had left from Manali returned to Arjun’s place at 12 a.m. and rested for the night. 

The next day, we would attempt the JCB-ferrying again in the early hours when the water level would be lower. 

Day 2 of the JCB Evacuation Attempt: 

The next day, we arrived at the spot by 6:15 a.m.

After the JCB and trekkers arrived, our attempt began at 8 a.m. This time, albeit with a little difficulty, the JCB could get onto the other side of the river! What a relief it was! 

It took two nervous hours, but all our trekkers were evacuated safely. We immediately moved them all to a safe place where they could eat breakfast.

In hindsight, in my career, I have never seen a team work so selflessly and efficiently to make something possible. Our three trek leaders, Aniket, Sahil, and Vignesh, showed great teamwork. At no point did they let trekkers face any difficulty. The PFA was on point, and trekkers were joyful. They felt safe, were happy, and had zero complaints or any kind of trouble. I don't know how they managed this. 

A lot happened on the same day. After we evacuated the trekkers, we brought down all the camps and our kitchen team as well. 

For those of you who don't know Arjun, he is our transport coordinator, and he's been with us for many years. Without him and his family, this wouldn't have been possible. From arranging logistics to provisions to technical equipment, he was on his toes day and night. I cannot tell you all how many times we drove back and forth for many things. He must've driven his Jeep for at least 10 hours in a day. Hats off to him and his team of drivers. 

I am very grateful to the JCB driver (Sushil), without whom this wouldn't have been possible. Patiently, he drove, navigated through the gushing Beas River, and rescued all trekkers safely. A hearty thanks to him and his team.

Harshu, Raju Seth, Anuj, Jugnu and the Beas Kund team—nothing seems to shake them. "Aaj toh team ko neeche lakar hi rahenge" was their chant throughout. Not to forget the base team for superb coordination throughout. 

Happy that all of them reached safely.

Pin Bhaba Pass — where trekkers were stuck at Mulling for four days, surviving on bare minimum

When the weather turned bad at the Mulling campsite of the Pin Bhaba Pass trek, Trek Leader Lay Naik decided to use the buffer day to stay put. Little did he know that this decision would save his team from the unprecedented deluge that was to follow.This is how the situation unfolded.

Day 1 at Mulling: Unprecedented rain

On July 8, our trekkers went from Kafnu to Mulling, the first campsite on the Pin Bhaba Pass trek. It was the first day of their trek. The rain was mild, but not so much as to bother trekkers. 

On reaching their first campsite, however, they noticed that the water level in the Bhaba River was rising. 

“That same night we received heavy, incessant rainfall. The level of the river had now visibly increased,” Lay recalls. 

Click on the image to view the Video
Day 2 at Mulling: Deluge of the Bhaba river

The next morning, the situation had worsened. At Kafnu, Trek Leader Diptarka Gupta was witnessing a deluge of massive proportions. 

“I saw buildings getting washed away in the river. Vehicles, roads—they were all floating in the river. We were witnessing landslides, small or large, around our base camp. One bridge near our base camp got washed away. Two of the bridges on the way to Mulling from Kafnu were underwater,” Diptarka shares. 

Meanwhile, at Mulling, the team woke up to heavy rainfall. They had a crucial decision to make.

“We had to decide whether to go forward or stay at Mulling. I saw that the river was dangerously overflowing at the crossing. It wouldn’t be possible for the mules to cross this. So after assessing the situation thoroughly, I decided to take a safety call. We stayed back at Mulling for another day,” Lay says.

The Bhaba River had swollen to three times its usual size. It spilled over its banks, taking with it full-grown trees that came in the way. 

To gauge the situation, Lay and his team began exploring the area around Mulling. 

“We climbed a small hill nearby and spotted many ice chunks in the river, indicating it wasn't just another day of rainfall. By the evening of July 9th, the flow of the river had further increased. We could see boulders in the river sinking. New streams and waterfalls had sprouted in the valley around us,” Lay shares. 

Then the worst began to happen. Tents started to get wet from the inside.

Lay knew staying in wet tents wasn’t an option. So he moved the trekkers into the dining tent. It felt safer. 

On the night of July 9th, the Indiahikes team and 10 trekkers slept in the dining tent.

Day 3 at Mulling - Moving out of the tents

On the morning of July 10th, there was no rainfall for the first 45 minutes. It prompted Lay to set out on a reconnaissance to ascertain if it would be possible to descend to Kafnu.

“We had no idea of the situation at Kafnu. Then one of our guides showed us the reality of Kafnu—a video of utter destruction. The river was in a state of spate. It was clear that we could not move to Kafnu,” Lay shares.

It was a novel situation for the trek leader. It was still raining heavily. Staying in tents, too, no longer looked feasible. What now? Everyone looked to Lay to make the right decision. 

Luckily, there was a forest rest house at Mulling, built of concrete and tin.

“So on July 10th, we decided to shift the trekkers to the shelter. It was safer than our tents in such a rainstorm. It also lifted the morale of the trekkers. They got busy moving the equipment and their personal luggage,” Lay shares.

For another night, the team stayed put at Mulling.

Day 4 at Mulling - No food!

By July 11, another challenge had emerged. The provisions (which were meant for a day or two) were depleting. Lay realised that staying put at Mulling wasn’t an option. Soon they would be left with no food. He began thinking of other options. 

Meanwhile, a different scene was unfolding at Kafnu.

Diptarka was constantly receiving updates from the Bengaluru office. He also got to know that further up the trail, near Karah, there was a cloudburst. Some locals were trapped there. More than 250 of their sheep were washed away in the deluge. 

To rescue the locals, the National Disaster Rescue Force (NDRF) was starting on a mission from Kafnu. They were accompanied by the local police and two Indiahikes guides, Libro and Robin. 

Hopes rose, but soon grim realities surfaced. 

“When the NDRF team reached Mulling, they relayed that it would be difficult to bring our trekkers down unless the rain subsided,” Diptarka recalls. 

At Mulling, it was becoming clearer to Lay that time was running out. 

By this time, the NDRF had also confirmed that they could help our trekkers only after rescuing the locals. This meant waiting for a major part of the next day, July 12th. Waiting for so long was not an option. 

After assessing the situation and ensuring all safety measures were in place, Lay decided to descend without the NDRF team. He began preparing the team. 

“I outlined the challenging sections on the way back. There were two stream crossings over the violent Bhaba river and a steep forest section on the way back to Kafnu,” says Lay. All trekkers took stock of the situation and were soon up for the descent.

On July 11th, the team at Mulling retired for the night with a clear plan of action for the next day. Wake up at 5 a.m., get ready by 6 a.m., and start to descend by 7 a.m.

Day 5 - Team reaches Kafnu after crossing three dangerous sections!

“We managed to cross both streams within the first 1.5 hours of our trek. It was not easy. Everyone held hands and supported each other against the strong flow of the Bhaba River. 

Then we reached the tricky forest section. There was no route! Our guide, Uttam, had already conducted a recce of this section. We knew it was risky. So with six members from the Indiahikes team, we fortified the trail, standing like a wall to safeguard our trekkers in case of any slips,” Lay shares. 

There was one more hurdle en route. 

Further down the trail was a bridge that trekkers had to use to reach Kafnu. The condition of this bridge was unknown. Was it stable? The team waited for Diptarka’s confirmation. 

“To our luck, we got a green signal from Diptarka. We started heading towards the bridge. On the way, we saw massive destruction caused by the Bhaba River. It was fearsome to see how a river that we love so dearly on a regular day, can wreak such havoc in no time. Nevertheless, after trekking for 8 long hours, we finally managed to reach the other side of the river,” Lay shares.

This entire episode of being stranded at Mulling and then trekking back from Mulling to Kafnu was harrowing. But Lay felt grateful to his team and to his trekkers. He mentions how beautifully the team rose to the challenges. 

“I would like to appreciate our kitchen team. They made sure that no matter what the condition, our trekkers got the best food. It provided a lot of psychological comfort. 

On the last day, when the mules couldn’t go, the kitchen team carried the offloaded backpacks and cloakroom bags on their backs. 

I also want to appreciate our guides, Uttam bhai, and the technical guides, Libro and Robin, who provided extra help in tricky sections,” he says.

Lay is also grateful to his fellow Trek leader, Sindhu Sharma, “In the whole 5 days, I can't imagine how I could have navigated without Sindhu’s help. There were times when I was mentally exhausted. Sindhu made sure to step up in those moments. Not just that, but I always had a person with whom I could discuss everything. It helped me make better decisions. She had my back all the time!” he says.

Hampta Pass: Where three teams of trekkers were stranded across a raging river without a bridge 

Our Slope Manager, Abhishek Tiwari, shared a candid message about the Hampta Pass rescue mission on our internal WhatsApp group. He was stationed at Manali, the basecamp of three different treks (Hampta Pass, Beas Kund, and Bhrigu Lake). Here, he shares what happened behind the scenes to bring trekkers safely back to Manali.

“What a week it was!” he begins. “On July 9, Umesh Ji and I went to Hampta Pass to help the team stuck at camps. Three teams of trekkers were stuck at Balu Ka Gera, Jwara, and Jobra campsites. 

Within the first ten minutes of the trek, when we had to cross the Jobri Nala (stream), we got a taste of what we were in for. Even as we walked towards the river, we could see the waters rising. But the iron bridge was still intact, and we quickly crossed it. 

We reached the Jobra camp, spoke to the trekking team that was stationed there, and decided to evacuate them. They began to get ready to move down. 

Meanwhile, we went a little ahead to see the next stream, Chika Nala, and take stock of the situation. Here, the bridge was completely washed off. We took the decision to evacuate the Jwara and the Balu Ka Ghera teams the very next day. We could not wait any longer. For now, they were safe at their camps. 

When we came back down, the team stationed at Jobra was ready to move. Umesh Ji and I also moved down. 

Watching an iron bridge get washed off before our eyes:

Within an hour or so, we reached the iron bridge that Umesh Ji and I had crossed about an hour earlier. The water was almost above the iron bridge. We thought the water would recede, and we waited and watched. 

But with every passing minute, the flow of the river increased. Within no time, it was 2 feet above the bridge. And right before our eyes, the solid iron bridge was completely washed away by the river. I couldn't believe it initially. 

Umesh Ji said this reminded him of the 2013 Kedarnath floods. It was that intense and horrific to watch. Big boulders were also coming into the water, and we could hear the sound. 

You won't believe what happened next. Right in front of our eyes, we saw 7-8 fully-grown TREES get uprooted and washed away in the river.

For the first time, I feared the situation. I noticed that trekkers were also terrified. Collectively, we decided to go back to the Jobra campsite. 

At the campsite, we waited to see if the rain would stop. But it only increased every hour. We decided to move the evacuation to the next day. 

But now that the bridge was destroyed, crossing the Jobri Nala would be a hurdle. 

How could we build a bridge with no materials?

We would need to make a temporary bridge with our available resources. Usually, the go-to structure in such circumstances is a wooden log bridge. But there were no loose logs around the campsite or the river.  

We would have to cut down a tree to use it as a bridge. 

The decision to cut down the tree hurt us, but we knew nobody could reach us to rescue us. We couldn’t use a Tyrolean traverse (TT) to evacuate 300+ trekkers (from several organisations) in a single day. This tree was the only way to get out of here. 

Luckily, a dhaba wala at Jobra had a tree cutter. But he had no petrol to run it. That was a challenge for us. We had to arrange the petrol. So we got help from people on the other side. We sent a written note and threw it over to the other side. Somehow they arranged for fuel, which they threw across. We cut down the tree half way and tied a rope to break down the rest of it. 

After cutting the tree, the next challenge was to bring it down to the stream. The tree was almost 70-80 feet in height. We had to experiment with several ways to drag it. 

Finally, using some round-shaped wood as the base (like tyres), we rolled down the wooden log. We were just seven people at that time. Umesh ji, Pawan, Dishu, Gurkirat, 2 chachu (our mule men), and I.

It took us more than 2 hours to drag it to the stream. 

By the time we reached the stream, it was dark. So we stopped for the night. We went to sleep knowing that the tree was near the stream and that all we would have to do was secure it in place with another log of wood to make it safe. 

The bridge would have to wait another day

We went to the campsite. It was raining continuously. By now, we were quite frustrated by the rain. All the sleeping bags were wet, so we had to dry them all in the kitchen. We moved all trekkers to the dining tent and kept a gas bhatti lit in the dining tent throughout the night so trekkers could be warm. (This was done at all the campsites.) 

We discussed the plan for the next day. We had three teams to care for, not just the one at Jobra. We considered other routes, other ways of crossing the river, what we would do in case of emergencies, and more. 

Ultimately, we decided that the Balu ka Ghera team would descend down to Jwara first thing tomorrow. BKG was not safe as it was a camp on a river delta. The Jwara team would stay put at Jwara until the Jobra team could move. That night, the team at Balu Ka Ghera stayed at a dhaba near the camp for safety. 

The next day, on July 11th, we immediately started to work on the bridge. Thankfully, a lot of local people came to help. More than 40 staff members were there to set up that bridge that day. 

Once the bridge was set up, evacuation did not take long. Thankfully, the rain had reduced. Our team members who were at BKG and Jwara — Shivank, Tirtho, Nikhil, Kuldeep — and their entire teams crossed all their trekkers safely from Jwara Nala, Chika Nala, and lower Chika Nala through Tyrolean traverses at all these points. Finally, they crossed our temporary bridge as well. 

It was a Herculean task. Locals and members from other organisations came together as well. Together, we evacuated over 300 trekkers, including those from other organisations, over the bridge. They were all safe.

In conclusion:  

It’s hard to fathom the kind of difficulty the Indiahikes Manali team endured during these three days. With constant rain, freezing temperatures, and no electricity, the team pulled off an extraordinary evacuation.

Our team member, Manisha Hegde, who has been a witness to all this from Manali, shares a befitting conclusion. “The Manali rescue teams went up the slope with one clear thought in mind — we have to do something extraordinary to tackle these circumstances. 

And they did it. I cannot yet comprehend how they did so. Every single person came together to do their duty. 

I could see the impact of our processes and past experiences in action. Without it, this would not have happened the way it did. Or in the time it did. 

Every rescued trekker I met had a smile on their face. The forefront of it was not relief that they were safe, but that they’d been through an adventure with stories to tell! It felt like these trekkers came back from a great adventure and not from an ordeal. We feel proud of each and every one of them. 

What was evident was that Indiahikes core values of care and safety shone through in all our actions. I’m incredibly proud of what was achieved this past week.” 

Indiahikes Founder, Arjun Majumdar, shares his concluding thoughts: “Sometimes in a crisis situation, people rise to the occasion. They discover that they are capable of a lot more than they could imagine.

But when a whole team rises to the occasion, then it is a different matter altogether. I saw it on the slope, and I saw it at the office.

No words can explain how this works or how it happens.

But special salaam to Abhishek, Umesh, Nishant, Nithyam, Manisha, Shachi, Arjun, Nihal Ji, Kuldeep and our brave trek leaders on the slope. And quietly on the other slope Lay at Pin Bhaba and Deepak at Miyar. Unprecedented leadership.

Deepest gratitude and respect.” 

A special mention of all the team members involved in the rescue

Hampta Pass: Tirtharaj, Nikhil, Shivank, Harsh, Abhishek, Umesh, Nishant, Kuldeep, Pawan, Saurabh, Jeevan, Satish, Sohan, Jaidev, Vishrant, Gopal, Rovin, Monty, Manu, Pawan, Jaggu Panwar, Heera, Lalit, Hemraj, Kapil,  Ashish, Pradeep, Narender, Sikander,  Khemraj, Chaubey Chachu, Shyam, Kundan, Dishu, Narender, Heera

Beas Kund: Aniketh, Sahil, Vignesh, Nithyam Nachappa, Dharmender, Gaurav, Tara, Gajender, Amarnath, Umesh, Fatehsingh, Gopal, Suraj, Arjun, Harshu, Raju Seth, Anuj, Jugnu, along with Sissy bhai (our muleman)

Pin Bhaba Pass: Lay Naik, Sindhu and Diptarka Gupta, Uttam, Bittu, Ankush, Mohit, Boby, Sandeep, Ankul, Sahil, Dorje, Rajkumar, Nargu,Sushi, Jakant, Subhash

Miyar Valley: Deepak Danu, Nathu Set, Krishna, Vikas, Sheru

Manali base team: Shachi Tripathy, Manisha Hegde, Prabhat, Walter, Mahipal, Ravinder, Praveen, Ashok, Yash, Pankaj, Nilanjan, Nihalji

Operations team: Ravi Ranjan, Nayana Jambhe

Special mention to: Arjun Thakur and Poju ji, our terrific coordinators in Manali, and the JCB driver, Sushil

Experience Coordinators: Caroline Mathews, Shefali Joshi, Debadrita Ghosh, Tilak Ram Rawat, Nikhil Matam, Debosmita Roy, Nandana Kamasani

News and information team: Latika Payak, Bharath Ramesh, Dhaval Jajal, Sneha Yadav, Yukti Vadnerkar

Swathi Chatrapathy

Chief Editor

About the author

Swathi Chatrapathy heads the digital content team at Indiahikes. She is also the face behind India's popular trekking video channel, Trek With Swathi. Unknown to many, Swathi also writes a weekly column at Indiahikes which has more than 100,000 followers.

A TEDx speaker and a frequent guest at other events, Swathi is a much sought after resource for her expertise in digital content.

Before joining Indiahikes, Swathi worked as a reporter and sub-editor at a daily newspaper. She holds a Masters's in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates the mind more than anything else. Through trekking, Swathi hopes to bring about a profound impact on a person's mind, body and spirit.

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