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16 pilgrims killed in truck crash

A truck carrying Hindu pilgrims home from a Himalayan shrine has veered off a mountain road and plunged into a gorge in northern India, killing 16 men and bringing the overall toll in this year's pilgrimage to 128.

Sixteen other passengers returning from the Amarnath Shrine were injured in the accident late on Thursday in India's Jammu and Kashmir state, said police superintendent Israr Khan.

Local villagers and police climbed into the gorge to rescue the injured and take them to nearby hospitals, he said.

The arduous trek to the shrine typically claims more than 100 lives every year, with some pilgrims dying after failing to acclimatise to the high altitude and others killed in road accidents on steep, winding roads.

The victims of the accident had visited the shrine and then done charity work at a kitchen supplying food for pilgrims.

More than half a million devotees make the annual pilgrimage to the shrine, an icy stalagmite in a mountain cave 13,500 feet above sea level.

It is accessible only for about five weeks in high summer. Pilgrims make the trek on foot or on horseback, or are carried up the steep path by porters.

Around 106 people died during the trek last year, the Amarnath Shrine organisers said in a report last week. This year, at least 128 pilgrims have died since the shrine opened on June 25.

Last week, India's Supreme Court ordered a committee to investigate why so many people die during the annual pilgrimage and suggest ways to mitigate the hazards.

Hindus worship the stalagmite as an incarnation of the Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and regeneration.

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