updated 1/20/2008 11:03:43 PM ET 2008-01-21T04:03:43

A bus carrying Hindus on a religious pilgrimage skidded off a hillside road and plunged into a gorge in western India, killing at least 38 people and injuring 40 others, police said Monday.

At least five children, 17 women and 16 men died in the accident just before midnight Sunday in Nashik district, Maharashtra state, said N. Gupta, police superintendent at the Nashik police station. Nashik lies about 155 miles east of the state capital, Mumbai.

The bus was only supposed to seat 45 passengers but it was carrying about 80 when it crashed, Gupta said. The driver survived the accident but fled the scene, he said.

"The initial inquiry shows that the driver appears to have lost control of the bus while negotiating a sharp turn," said Gupta. "There were also more passengers than should have been in the bus. We are investigating."

Overcrowding, reckless driving and aging vehicles are blamed for most accidents on Indian roads.

The pilgrims were traveling back to Mumbai after visiting temple sites in Nashik district, Gupta said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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