At least 34 people have died in India’s latest bus accident in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district on Monday, according to officials. The accident occurred when a loaded passenger bus carrying pilgrims to a shrine in Asha Puri skidded off the road and plunged down a 500 foot deep gorge.

It is unclear how many passengers were on the 42 seater bus, which was en route from Palampur to the village of Asha Puri, well known for its hilltop shrine that attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists each year.  According to one of the survivors of the accident, however, the bus had been overcrowded when it departed from Palampur.

Passengers who survived the accident  told police officials that a large number of people left the bus at the previous stop in Makol village, a few kilometers before the accident.

The bodies of all of the 34 victims have been recovered from the wreckage by rescue crews and police officials, as well as six passengers who were injured. The injured were transported to local hospitals where they are receiving treatment. Among the injured is Mr. Sumir Kumar, the conductor of the bus. It is as yet unknown whether the driver is among the deceased.

Indian army personnel had to be brought in from Palmpur to assist the police department with the rescue operation, which took more than 12 hours due to the treacherous site of the accident, in a forested gorge.

Rescue workers had to use ropes and pulleys to descend into the gorge and recover the bodies and the survivors. According to survivors, the accident happened while the bus driver was adjusting his seatbelt, and took his eyes off the road. However, the results of the preliminary investigation into the accident suggest that mechanical failure may have also played a role in the accident.

An official inquiry into the accident is being opened by the government. The government has also announced that they will pay compensation of Rs20 000 to the families of those who were killed in the accident, and Rs 5000 to each of the injured survivors.

According to the accident report, most of the accident victims were local residents from Asha Puri.

This is the second major bus accident in less than a month in Himachal Pradesh, coming just three weeks after 53 people were killed and 46 injured when an overcrowded passenger bus rolled over into a gorge in the Chamba district.

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