The picturesque Kullu valley in the Himalayas, also known as the valley of gods, attracts thousands of backpackers from abroad. But some never return home — they simply vanish without a trace. The cases of missing tourists have been shrouded in mystery because most of them are unresolved.
On July 21, Israeli-American backpacker Amichai Shtainmetz went missing while trekking in the Kullu valley. He is the 19th foreign tourist to have gone missing in the valley since 1992.
Amichai had gone trekking with his friend but took a different route on the way back – and hasn’t been seen since. His father Jacob Shtainmetz has hired a private rescue team to locate his son but to no avail so far.
Amichai is not an isolated case of disappearance of a foreigner. He is among 19 foreign tourists who have gone missing in the Kullu valley in the past 17 years.
“Only one Australian tourist Burfitt Jacqueline Louise, who was reported missing in June 1993, has been traced so far.” The missing tourists include three Israelis, two Swiss, three Australians, two Americans and a Briton, a Canadian and a Russian.
So what happened to these people?
There are three possibilities:-
The first is that they died in an accident. The hills around Kullu are gorgeous, but they are also rugged, cold and inhospitable and no place for an inexperienced or ill-equipped trekker. Some are killed due to high-altitude sickness or slip off icy tracks or are marooned by blizzards.
A Swedish woman’s frozen body was found on a glacier in Lahaul and Spiti district in 2004, almost 25 years after she went missing in the region.
The second possibility is that the missing were robbed and killed by local people and their bodies are buried in forests or thrown in streams. Lonely hikers carrying expensive watches, cameras and other accessories become easy prey to unemployed youth.
In July 2000, two Austrian trekkers were attacked as they camped near Manikaran. One was shot dead, the other escaped. In December 2001 a skeleton was found near Malana and identified as a missing Israeli pilot Nadav Mintzer.
The third possibility is that the missing are alive and do not want to be found.
Many of the foreign tourists, when they came here, they have also stayed back. Some of them married here. They are also engaged in various social activities and social causes. But this can’t also be denied that some of them have been engaging themselves in drug trade because some of them have been nabbed with narcotics.
It is believed that it is the streak of adventure, for backpacking in the rough terrains of Himalayas that can sometimes put the tourists in danger.
“Many foreigners, who get some kind of army training, they think that they can handle going alone in the Himalayas. But there are inherent problems with frequent change of weather, animal attacks, hostility of the terrain, and remoteness for communication. All these factors can contribute to people getting seriously in a dangerous way in nature. There are also some people go missing because they want to go missing.
In the summer, thousands of backpackers descend on the valley. Some do serious trekking, while others roam aimlessly from village to village. They participate in ‘full moon’ rave parties and indulge in drugs. This is one of the reasons for their mysterious deaths and disappearances.
Almost 50,000 foreign tourists visit Kullu every year, with a huge percentage of Israelis out of them. It is believed that they come mostly in search of cheap hashish, which can land them into trouble. But some tourists think otherwise.
“A lot of Israelis, they think, that they come here to smoke drugs or take different things,” said Ellan, an Israeli tourist.
Apart from the Himalayan setting, any backpackers delight, the lure for most of the tourists is also cheap and quality cannabis, found in abundance in the valley. Sources say that a large number of foreigners who disappeared mysteriously are illegally staying in various tribal areas.