By Gopal Sharma
At least 12 people, including eight foreign hikers and a group of yak herders, were killed in Nepal by unseasonal blizzards and avalanches triggered by the tail of cyclone Hudhud, officials said on Wednesday.
Two more foreign climbers and three Nepalese guides were reported missing.
The hikers’ deaths come during the peak trekking season in Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountain peaks, including Mount Everest.
For the past two days, Nepal has been lashed by heavy rains brought on by the cyclone that has battered neighbouring India. The weather triggered blizzards at high altitudes.
The bodies of a Nepali citizen, two Polish nationals and an Israeli hiker from the Thorang-La area were found along a popular trekking route near Annapurna, the world’s 10th highest mountain, said Baburam Bhandari, governor of the district of Mustang, where the incident took place.
Bhandari said the group perished in a blizzard.
“We have rescued five German, five Polish and four Israeli trekkers who were trapped in the snowfall early on Wednesday,” Bhandari told Reuters by telephone, without giving details. One German tourist fractured his leg, he said.
Mustang, a fertile valley bordering Tibet, is about 150 km (93 miles) northwest of the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, and is popular among foreign hikers.
Separately, in the neighbouring district of Manang, four Canadian hikers and an Indian national were killed in an avalanche, the district’s most senior bureaucrat, Devendra Lamichhane, told Reuters.
“The pilot of a rescue helicopter spotted the bodies in snow,” Lamichhane said. “But it is not possible to retrieve their bodies because it is snowing heavily in the area now.”
Three yak herders were killed after being swept away by a separate avalanche at Nar village in Manang, officials said.
Two climbers from Slovakia and three Nepalese guides were also missing as night fell after an avalanche near the base camp of Dhaulagiri late on Tuesday, tourism department officials said. Dhaulagiri is the world’s eighth-highest peak, at 8,167 metres (26,795 feet).
Other hikers are still believed to be out of contact because the bad weather disrupted communications, officials said.
Nepal’s tourism industry is still recovering from the aftershocks of an ice avalanche that struck the lower reaches of Mount Everest in April, killing 16 sherpa guides in the worst disaster in the history of the world’s highest peak.
More than a tenth of the nearly 800,000 tourists who visited Nepal in 2013 went hiking or mountain climbing, providing a key revenue stream for the cash-strapped nation, which relies on income from tourism for 4 percent of its gross domestic product.