KATHMANDU // At least 39 pilgrims were killed yesterday when an overcrowded bus carrying them from India to a Hindu festival in southern Nepal swerved off a motorway and plunged into a deep river.
The bus was taking the devotees - 35 of whom were from India's Uttar Pradesh state - to a temple in Nawalparasi district, 150 kilometres west of Kathmandu, the police inspector Deepak Raya said.
"We have discovered 38 dead bodies. Five persons who jumped off from the bus before it plunged into the river are undergoing treatment at local hospitals," he said.
Among the dead "there is one small girl, 10 women and the rest are men. We have not seen the bus - it is still inside the water."
He said the survivors had told police there were about 75 people on board before the vehicle fell into the Gandak river, on Nepal's border with India. Three of the dead are Nepalis.
"We are yet to find out the cause of the accident. The water level in the river was high as it is monsoon time so the bus on its way to Triveni sank ... after skidding away from the road," Mr Raya said.
"Many of those who died are from Maharajganj district of Uttar Pradesh. They were here to attend the annual religious festival at Triveni and worship Lord Shiva, the Hindu god, on Monday morning."
More than 100 police officers and soldiers have been deployed to scour the Gandak and its banks for survivors.
July marks the beginning of the monsoon season in Nepal, when rivers which have become parched in the first half of the year begin to swell up again, posing a greater threat to vehicles which lose control.
Accidents are relatively common on the country's motorways because of poor roads, badly maintained vehicles and reckless driving.
Nepal's road network has seen a four-fold expansion over the past 25 years, but that has been accompanied by a rising death rate. Official figures showed 1,734 fatalities in 2010, up from 879 in 2001-2.