Friday, November 20, 2009

Sikkim Push to save life on peaks

Gangtok, Nov. 20: Stakeholders in adventure tourism and tour operators have set in motion an exercise to devise a rescue and relief mechanism to handle high-altitude mishaps during mountaineering and trekking expeditions.

The move comes in the wake of the deaths of two mountaineers and injuries to other members of a trekking team from Mumbai in an avalanche on October 19. The mishap occurred when they were descending from the 19,700-feet Mount Thinchingkang.

Soon after, a 69-year-old American on a trekking expedition to Dzongri died because of altitude sickness and was cremated in Yuksom. Both the peaks are in West Sikkim.

Added to these are occasional road accidents involving tourists, especially on the routes to Yumthang in North Sikkim and Nathu-la in East Sikkim.

Paljor Lachungpa, the president of the Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim (TAAS), said a meeting had been held with the officials of key state government departments to discuss the issue.

Members of the Sikkim Amateur Mountaineers Association also attended the meeting.

Lachungpa said famed British mountaineer Roger Payne, who had recently scaled 18,300-feet Mount Jupno in West Sikkim, had offered several inputs to the TAAS for setting up a rescue mechanism in the state. Payne has brought in several international mountaineers to the state for expeditions in the past six years.

“He has offered to share with the TAAS the knowledge and experience he gained in the past three decades by climbing mountains in all parts of the world and has pointed out that different rescue models exist in different Alpine areas,” said the TAAS president.

Payne has suggested that the stakeholders here first study various models in other places before evolving a mechanism for Sikkim.

“Payne suggested that an expert team should be formed with all equipment to train porters, guides and yak boys. There should also be a 24-hour help-line with a good communication system, especially for West Sikkim. He expressed surprise that there was no radio system along the Dzongri trek and porters had to come running down to Tshoka bearing bad news,” said Lachungpa.

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