Sunday, 25 September 2011

High on charas, foreigners bring notoriety to land of gods

Himachal Vacation Travel News
MANALI: What attracts lakhs of backpackers from abroad to Kullu valley every year? The beautiful but rugged mountains of Himalayas, the serenity of Kullu valley or the flavour of Malana cream, nobody knew this. Every year many of them go missing, killed, murdered or arrested for many reasons which is still a big mystery.
Seventeen foreigners have died in valley in past five years, of which 5 were killed due to drug overdose. Two were murdered and a girl (from South Korea) was raped since 2006 and 171 were booked under different sections since 2001. Nineteen have been lost in the valley since 1992. None of them could be traced. Almost all of them went missing while trekking or in search of nirvana. In a recent incident a British national died of drug overdose at Old Manali on night of September 24. Identified as Tristan Michael, 28, he was brought dead to the hospital. 

A trekker from Israel, Nadav Gilad went missing from Manikaran-Khirganga trek route on May 23 but later he was found safe from Khirganga on June 3. But the Russian tourist Kospernov Vladislav was not that lucky who went missing on May 12 from the mountains of Parvati Valley. Rescue team had recovered his dead body from a gorge in jungle of Rasol on May 18. Amikhai Steinmetz, an American-Israeli trekker was the last one who went missing from Khirganga route in July 2009 and could not be traced.
What is the reason behind mysterious disappearance and killing of foreigners in Kullu Valley? According to owner of Negi’s Himalayan Adventure in Parbati valley, Chhape Ram Negi who has been launching search and rescue operations for past twenty years, ignorance of exact route, straggling from group, being high on hashish, lack of proper equipments and accident by inadvertently are the main causes of their missing or killing on the rough mountains of Kullu. Some foreigners may have been killed for money or their equipments while they were high on hashish.
“Sometimes foreigners go trekking alone without a trained guide and gets deviate from the route. Narcotic intake could be another major reason. We have noticed that many tourists get deviate from the group and go missing forever. We have found many of them but 19 of them could not be traced till today. They may have lost forever,” he said.
Negi, who is familiar with every corner of the Himalayas, said if some precautions are taken care, the incidents can be minimized. “The Pin Parbati Pass trek route is the most dangerous route in Kullu. All other routes are enjoyable,” he adds.
Some recent shocking cases like Italian national Galeno Orazie, who was staying in Malana without visa for last seven years and French national Mark Hamieau who was living in Kullu for last 30 years without having any travelling documents, were pointing towards another possibilities. According to police, some foreigners might be escaping from them as their visa could be expired. Police hinted that some of them were indulged in smuggling while few may be hidden lured by cheap hashish in the valley. 53 foreigners have been nabbed under section 20 of NDPS for their illegal involvement in charas trade in last five years only.

What about security of tourists from abroad?
“Whether the tourist is domestic or from abroad, all are equal for us,” district tourism development officer Balvir Thakur said. He said all possible arrangements have been made at all tourist spots to provide them a secure environment. He added, “Travel agents, guides, hoteliers and all those associated with tourism are being given training on hospitality and well management. Lessons on ‘atithi devo bhava’ are being given to them.” He said that foreigners are enjoying the friendly environment of Kullu-Manali but cannot comment on those indulged in anti-law activities. “More and more foreign tourists are coming Kullu every year. They have crossed the landmark of one lakh last year and we are looking forward to cross the mark of two lakh too,” Thakur said.
Silvia Menendez, a backpacker from Spain who loves trekking and mountain biking said Kullu was an idol place for adventure activities at very low cost but missing of only foreigners was the matter of concern. “Do locals kill them for money and expensive things? What is the reason behind their mysterious disappearance?  My Dutch friend Jeannet Melse was found dead near Manali after she was robbed in August 1991. When I was leaving for Kullu, my friends warned me that this place is haunted and be careful all the time,” she said.
Kullu superintendent of police Abhishek Dular said extra police force was arranged for the security of tourists during peak summer season and police was keeping an eye on  the activities of foreigners at Kasol, Old Manali, Vashisht and all other places. He said, “We have been advising foreign tourists again and again to hire the skilled guide before starting trekking; otherwise they may lose in the cold and rugged mountains. We have eliminated the trend of full moon parties and now we are very close to finish the charas from this valley.” Dular said department was still searching for the causes of disappearance of foreigners.

Foreigners flock Kullu-Manali
Manali: Though this is off-season in Kullu-Manali but an ideal time to visit the valley for thousands of backpackers from abroad. Old Manali, Vashisht and Kasol villages of Kullu are flooded with them.
Mostly foreigners are staying in rented rooms and others have booked guest houses for up to three months. Very few of the backpackers are indulged in sightseeing tours or adventure activities, most of them are confined only to the village or local town. There are some tourists who use Kullu as a stopover to their further journey to Ladakh for one or two days. No doubt there is something that is binding others to stay here for no special cause. One who visits Old Manali, Vashisht or Kasol, can find them high on charas. Locals too are helping them provide charas as the trend has become the cause of good tourism in region.

Some disturbing stats (since 2006, as told by Kullu SP):
Dead: 17
Murdered: 2
Rape: 1
Missing: 2 (according to FIR)
Arrested (under different sections, mostly NDPS act): More than 55

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