Bus crash in Kashmir kills 16 Hindu pilgrims

An Indian Hindu pilgrim injured in a bus accident is brought for treatment at a hospital in Jammu, India, on Sunday. — AP

SRINAGAR, India — A bus plunged into a 45-meter-deep gorge in the Indian portion of Kashmir on Sunday, killing at least 16 Hindu pilgrims on their way to a cave shrine in the Himalayas, just days after gunmen shot dead eight worshippers making the same holy visit.

A police statement said 27 injured, 19 in critical condition, were taken to hospitals in Banihal, a town 120 km south of Srinagar, the main city in Indian-held Kashmir.

Some of the worst injured are being airlifted to hospital, while others were taken to local clinics for treatment, police said.

For the second time in a week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences to the pilgrims who died making the holy journey.

“Extremely pained by the loss of lives of Amarnath Yatris (pilgrims) due to a bus accident in J&K,” the prime minister said, referring to the state by its initials.

“My thoughts are with the families of the deceased.”

The tragedy came as another Hindu pilgrim died on Sunday from injuries sustained six days ago when unidentified gunmen opened fire on a bus full of worshippers.

“One lady who was injured in the July 10 attack succumbed to her injuries in hospital,” S. P. Vaid, the state’s director general of police, said.

Her death takes the toll from Monday’s attack to eight, with seven women and one man killed in the late-night assault. Most of the victims were from the western state of Gujarat.

It was the worst such attack in the divided Himalayan region since 2000 when gunmen fired on a group of Hindu pilgrims, killing 32 people including two police officers.

Indian leaders and Kashmiri separatists united in their condemnation of this latest attack. No group has yet claimed responsibility.

Authorities said the two-month pilgrimage season would continue after the attack on the bus, which was not part of the official convoy carrying pilgrims.

Tens of thousands of Hindus from all over India travel to Kashmir every year to visit a phallus-shaped ice formation in the Amarnath caves that is worshipped as a symbol of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction.

The caves, which lie 3,900 meters (12,800 feet) high and can only be reached on foot or on horseback, are seen as a symbol of religious unity in the volatile region.

Police said it had rained in the area, making the road slippery. Some landslides caused a heavy traffic jam on the main highway linking Srinagar with the rest of India.

Police figures show India has the world’s deadliest roads, with more than 110,000 people killed each year in crashes. Driver fatigue and negligence, low-quality roads and poor vehicle maintenance are the usual causes of such accidents in India.

Police figures show India has the world’s deadliest roads, with more than 110,000 people killed each year in crashes. Driver fatigue and negligence, low-quality roads and poor vehicle maintenance are the usual causes of such accidents in India. — Agencies