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Massive landslide on key Himachal highway hits peak tourist season 

A landslide on the NH-5 at Theog in Shimla district.

Shimla: Thousands of tourists bound for the high-altitude valleys of Kinnaur, Spiti and Shimla’s apple belt have got stranded due to a massive landslide on the Hindustan-Tibet road (NH-5) that has brought traffic to a complete halt.

The landslide near Theog, a town considered the gateway to the enchanting tourist destinations of Sangla, Kalpa, Pooh and Kaza, besides the apple-growing region of  Narkanda,Thanedar and Matiyana. The area has been witnessing a massive influx of tourists this year.

Hundreds of hoteliers and home-stay owners who were running to packed houses following a good tourist’s footfall have raised concerns over the state government’s inability to provide seamless movement for tourists’ vehicles in  higher valleys, during the peak tourist season.

“The tourists are feeling harassed and complaining of horrifying experiences due to long traffic jams and also diversion of their  vehicles to interior hilly roads where even mobile phones don’t work to GPS for finding the route. Many are either cancelling the booking or abandoning their journey mid-way,” says Prakash Negi, a hotelier at Sangla.

From Saturday onward, the National Highway stands closed at Theog where the road has caved in from a 18-foot high retaining wall. This happened for the third time in around three weeks. A landslide had occurred at the same spot last month also.

Those who were on the return journey from Kinnaur, Kullu, Sarahan and Narkanda had to take an alternative route through interior roads to reach Shimla.

The residents of Theog, who are worst hit, attribute the frequent landslides to the “negligence” of the Public Works Department (PWD). The PWD had restored the road in around four hours last week but thereafter the road completely collapsed.

Chief Engineer National Highways Suresh Kapoor said the main cause of the landslide was seepage of water discharged from local colonies as the people built septic tanks. There are drinking water supply pipes also passing through the fragile soil. Even a slight disturbance to the retaining wall could bring the entire structure down. A portion of a main road suddenly caved in at Theog market.

Similarly, the PWD men managed to restore the damaged part but a bigger land block also caved in. There was, however, no loss of life or property in this accident. NationalHighway-5 connecting Upper Shimla with the capital in Himachal Pradesh may not be restored for a week. It is obvious that for the next few days the movement of the people of Shimla and Kinnaur district is going to be challenging” admits Ashish Chauhan, an apple grower at Narkanda.

Public Works Minister Vikramaditya Singh,who rushed to the spot with a team of engineers, said efforts are underway to put up a Bailey bridge to at least facilitate single side movement of the vehicles by this weekend. Till then NH-5 will remain completely closed for vehicles till Theog and onward stations.

Hundreds of locals, who frequently travel between Shimla and their native places for work or jobs, will have to face problems. Tourists visiting famous tourist places like Narkanda, Chanshal, Hatu and Shilaru from all over the country will not be able to visit these places for the next 15 days .

The supply of food items of daily consumption will also be affected. National Highway 5 is also strategically important as it facilitates the movement of army personnel and their regular supplies up to the China border. Taking alternative routes, which are narrow and ill-maintained could result in accidents.

Theog Tehsildar Vivek Negi said, “It is going to take around one week to restore the road completely. We will try to restore one-way traffic first.” Due to the landslide, the Shimla area has been cut off from upper Himachal areas of Kinnaur, Rampur, Narkanda and Matiana, among others.

Many vehicles carrying goods, vegetables and commuters remained stranded on both sides of the road for hours before taking alternative routes.

With the apple season beginning next month, the orchardists are also worried about movement of trucks to carry their produce to the markets outside the state.