DHAKA - At least 10 Hindu pilgrims were killed and dozens more were injured in a stampede outside the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Friday, police and witnesses said.

The stampede occurred on the banks of the Brahmaputra river, where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had converged for ritual bathing during an annual Hindu festival.

Police inspector Nasir Ahmed said seven women and three men had been confirmed dead.

“We are investigating what triggered the stampede, but it seems that the tragedy was due to an unusually high number of pilgrims,” Ahmed told AFP. “The stampede involved a huge number of people as thousands of shoes could still be seen on the road an hour after it happened,” he added.

Witnesses said at least 50 people were injured in the stampede at the annual Astami Snan festival, which attracts pilgrims from around Bangladesh as well as Nepal and neighbouring India.

They said most of the victims were elderly and blamed the tragedy on the lack of guards on the banks of the river in Langalbandh, around 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of Dhaka where the pilgrims gather at dawn to bathe.

“There were no policemen maintaining security,” said one witness, Laxmi Rana Saha, 45.

“All of a sudden, I heard cries and saw people getting trampled. I lost my nephew in the chaos. I survived by running to higher ground,” she told AFP by phone from the scene.

The annual rituals normally attract around a million pilgrims to Langalbandh on the banks of the Brahmaputra, which Hindus consider holy.

But district administrator Anisur Rahman said the number was higher this year because the festival fell during public holidays to mark Bangladesh’s national day.

Rahman said 700 police had been deployed for the festival, which goes on until Saturday morning.

Apu Malakar, who takes part in the rituals regularly, said the number of pilgrims was higher than usual this year.

“When the tragedy occurred, I was in the middle of huge column of people,” said the 31-year-old trader.

“Young people survived, but older people were crushed, especially those who had already gone into the water and had wet clothes and were unable to move quickly,” he told AFP by phone.

Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country, but Hindus account for around 10 percent of its 160 million people.