TOURISM: Embassy alert spurs search – French tourists lost & found in sanctuary – cost cutting against the advice of the tour operators, an adventure that almost cost them their lives ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Gangtok, Dec. 10: Two French nationals who lost their way in a wildlife sanctuary while trekking without a guide were tracked and brought back after their embassy in Delhi called up tour operators here to alert them to the missing visitors.
Michael Dieppois and Noemie Hais were escorted back from the Maenam wildlife sanctuary to one of the periphery villages around 2pm today, 20 hours after they were reported lost by the French embassy, which also said they were spending the night in an abandoned shed in the forest.
No search could be initiated till in the morning because of the adverse terrain, tour operators said.
Throughout the night as the mercury dropped — temperatures at this time of the year in Maenam comes down to 6-8 degrees Celsius in the evenings — the French men kept texting the embassy to keep contact since their mobiles became low on battery and they did not want to risk many calls, sources in the tourism industry said.
The sanctuary spread over 36.3sqkm is accessible through Rabong and Yangyang.
Tour operators said Dieppois and Hais, in their early 20s, had gone hiking to Maenam hill for a short trip to the sanctuary from Borong, 90km from here, on December 9. They had lost their way when they were at an elevation of 2,660m. At what point of time they got lost cannot be established yet.
But with darkness closing in, the two trekkers managed to ring up the French embassy in New Delhi on their mobile phones. The embassy then got in touch with the Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim (TAAS) president Lukendra Rasaily here in Gangtok.
“I received a call from the French embassy around 6pm yesterday informing me that two French nationals were lost in the Maenam sanctuary. I was told they were without food, water and warm clothes for night stay,” said Rasaily.
The two trekkers had taken shelter in an abandoned shed for loggers for the night, he said. “Temperatures usually drop to 6-8 degrees Celsius at this time,” said Rasaily.
The TAAS president alerted the tourism and forest officials in South district. “Karma Takarpa, TAAS adventure cell chairman, mobilised a five-member rescue team from Yangyang, one of the entry points to the sanctuary. The team was sent to the location with water and food,” he said.
The search team started for the sanctuary around 9am. While the rescuers were marching up the hill, another tourist and his guide trekking in the sanctuary stumbled on the French men.
“The French embassy called us up to tell us that the two trekkers had been found. We then called back our rescue team, as we got information that the two trekkers had been escorted to one of the villages near the sanctuary by the tourist and his guide. They will come back to Gangtok this evening,” he said.
“The two French nationals, Michael Dieppois and Noemie Hais, are in good health,” said South district collector A.K. Singh.