Category Archive 'Himalayas'

18 Dec 2018

“Bermuda Triangle of the Himalayas”, Sure!

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Full-of-crap Outside Magazine peddles a magical mystery tale about disappearing tourists in the Himalayas.

There is only one road in and out of the Parvati Valley. It’s a narrow track—roughly paved in parts, washed-out dirt in others—along which rattletrap buses swerve and screech to a crawl with inches to spare as they pass. Mountains rise up one side, and cliffs drop precipitously down the other, often hundreds of feet to the Parvati River below. The milky blue waters, named after a benevolent Hindu goddess of fertility and devotion, seem inviting but can be a powerful, violent force.

The valley’s hillside hamlets and postcard mountain vistas attract tens of thousands of tourists every year, but those who come here are different from those who speed through the Taj Majal on a Golden Triangle tour or backpack from vibrant temple to sparkling beach as the mainstay of India’s tourism. The travelers who feel drawn to the Parvati Valley, more than a full day’s bus ride north of New Delhi into the Himalayas, quickly settle into a pace of life common in this remote corner of India: a blur of weeks or months spent meditating, practicing yoga, and consuming copious amounts of hash grown in clandestine plantations or from plants that sprout wild along river and road.

The valley, where gods are said to have meditated for 3,000 years, is particularly alluring to the spiritually curious. Every summer, the valley hosts a Rainbow Gathering, a counterculture congregation that promotes anti-consumerism and utopianism. Many visitors come to venerate Shiva, husband of Parvati and one of the most exalted and popular gods in the Hindu pantheon. Among Shiva’s most resolute followers are the sadhus who dress and live in emulation of the gods, but many Westerners are also lured by his familiar symbolism as the dreadlocked master of meditation and yoga and the supreme renouncer of possessions, and follow suit. Those who follow this path view the Parvati Valley as a penultimate stage or even the culmination of their quest for enlightenment. It is a place where wandering ascetics, New Age neophytes, and determined religious tourists flock, believing that the bumpy road to nowhere instead leads to long-sought answers or higher understanding. While Parvati is purifying water, Shiva is transforming fire.

The valley may appear idyllic, but it holds a dark past. Over the past 25 years, according to both official and unofficial reports, at least two dozen foreign tourists have died or disappeared in and around the Parvati Valley. Among the vanished are people from Canada, Israel, Japan, Italy, Czech Republic, Russia, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Australia. Distraught loved ones post stories of the missing on social media, online message boards, and travel forums with scattered details and few clues.

Many cases reek of foul play. In 1996, Ian Mogford of the UK disappeared in the Parvati Valley after reportedly telling his father over the phone that he had befriended a sadhu. “It is not beyond the realms of possibility that… for some reason my son got attacked and is lying on the bottom of a gorge,” Mogford’s father told the Telegraph. Others might have been targeted after being caught up in the lucrative drug trade, buying hash at the source and selling it to tourists. After Bruno Muschalik, a backpacker from Poland, went missing in the summer of 2015, his father maintained that local drug mafias were to blame. Some of the missing are presumed murdered; in 2000, a British man, his fiancée, and her teenage son were brutally attacked while camping above the Parvati Valley. Only the man survived. Most simply vanished without a trace in this one sliver of the subcontinent.

When a body does turn up, it is often pulled from the torrential churn of the Parvati River, which during the monsoon summer is capable of carrying a person downstream or consuming one in its undertow in a blink. But it is the dearth of bodies that turns the Parvati Valley into India’s backpacker Bermuda Triangle.

In the rest of the country, hotel and guesthouse owners are required by law to log their patrons into an online database, but in the Parvati, the vast majority travel in and out without record. The isolation and lack of regulation only add to the draw. It’s not difficult or unusual for foreigners to deliberately drop off the radar for the full duration of or even illegally beyond their travel visas. One Israeli man lived in the valley for decades, growing and dealing hash, getting married and having a child, until he was arrested for overstaying his visa.

With conditions ripe for vanishing without trace, a question arises: Did all of these travelers get lost or murdered in the wild, or did some not want to be found?

RTWT

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Well, it’s neither so spiritual nor so mysterious as all that. It turns out that the Parvathi Valley is the Himalayan equivalent of Humboldt County, doing a booming trade in Charas, an exceptionally potent local version of hashish.

Bayside explains:

The Parvati Valley in Himachal Pradesh is an extraordinarily beautiful region, but most people know it more for its charas than its beauty. Even till a decade ago, the valley remained underground, somewhat surprisingly, and mostly saw foreign tourists, as Indian tourists preferred other destinations in the Himalayan state. But as awareness about cannabis (the source plant of charas) and its forms increased in India over the years, the Valley has seen more and more young Indians pour in. While that has definitely helped tourism in the Valley’s villages, its environment, along with its reputation, has suffered a lot.

Charas is a black, sticky substance that is extracted from cannabis plants by continuously rubbing the plants, and it has been cultivated and used by the locals for decades. Lord Shiva is said to smoke it, which makes it a substance of immense religious importance in a region that is predominantly Hindu.

When foreigners, mostly backpackers, and hippies, first stumbled upon the valley and discovered the potent charas, they couldn’t wait to take it back with them, as it had immense value in the west. More interestingly, the natives of the valley had little idea of the prices their products would fetch, as they kept selling it for extraordinarily low prices.

Thus started a drug trade that grows stronger with every passing year. The natives are now fully aware of their products’ value in the international markets. As a result, thousands of acres of Himalayan lands, located in the upper reaches of the valley, remain full with cannabis plantations from April onwards. They are allowed to thrive and grow till September when the rubbing process begins, and the charas is extracted. It’s hard work, but it definitely pays; to what extent, however?

Earnings may have skyrocketed for the locals in recent years thanks to the charas trade, but most people these days venture into the Valley in the only for charas, and they rarely want anything more.

Cultivators tend to object to Western tourists messing with their crops, and local badmashes may simply prefer to harvest Western currency from the pockets of Kumbaya-humming tourists instead of actually delivering any of the dope. Relieved of his money, camera, and smart phone and given a head-start in the direction of his next incarnation, the naive Western tourist’s remains can simply be tossed into the local river.

16 Dec 2018

Skeleton Lake

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The Human Remains of Skeleton Lake – Visible Only when the Ice Melts.

From Quora, a pretty interesting story.

In 1942, H K. Madhawl, a British forest guard in Roopkund, India made an alarming discovery (despite the fact that there had been reports of bones on the lake shore since the mid 19th century). At an elevation of 15,750 feet, near the bottom of a small valley, was a frozen lake absolutely full of skeletons. Roopkund Lake, in the state of Uttarakhand, India, was a six-foot-deep glacial lake that typically remained frozen year round.

What he saw up there confused everyone. At first, it was one bone. But as the temperatures rose, the number of exposed remains grew exponentially. That summer, the ice melting revealed even more skeletal remains, floating in the water and lying haphazardly around the lake’s edges. People wondered what happened, and what were these people doing up here?

The immediate assumption (it being war time) was that these were the remains of Japanese soldiers who had died of exposure while sneaking through India. The British government, terrified of a Japanese land invasion, sent a team of investigators to determine if this was true. However upon examination they realized these bones were not from Japanese soldiers—they weren’t new enough.

With the immediate concerns of war eased, the urgency of identifying the remains became less of a priority and efforts to further analyze the remains were sidelined. It was evident that the bones were quite old indeed. Flesh, hair, and the bones themselves had been preserved by the dry, cold air, but no one could properly determine exactly when they were from. More than that, they had no idea what had killed over 300 people in this small valley. Many theories were put forth including an epidemic, landslide, and ritual suicide. For decades, no one was able to shed light on the mystery of Skeleton Lake.

But what caused their death? Was there a massive landslide? Did some disease strike suddenly? Were the individuals conducting a ritualistic suicide? Did they die of starvation? Were they killed in an enemy attack? One theory even suggests that the individuals did not die at the scene of the lake, but their bodies were deposited there as a result of glacial movement.

A 2004 expedition to the site seems to have finally revealed the mystery of what caused those people’s deaths. The answer was stranger than anyone had guessed.

The 2004 expedition took samples of the bones as well as bits of preserved human tissues. As it turns out, all the bodies date to around 850 AD.

DNA evidence indicates that there were two distinct groups of people, one a family or tribe of closely related individuals, and a second smaller, shorter group of locals, likely hired as porters and guides. A number of these victims of the mountain were so well preserved that they still had remnants of flesh, hair, fingernails, and clothes. Rings, spears, leather shoes, and bamboo staves were found, leading experts to believe that the group was comprised of pilgrims heading through the valley with the help of the locals.

The plausible scenario of what exactly happened? The two groups perhaps met at the foot of the mountain. The first of the two, taller and who which outnumbered the others, probably wanted to make a pilgrimage pass through the mountain and are thought to have been of Iranian origin. The second group, with thinner and smaller bones, showed up as their local Indian guides. The travelers were related to each other (a large family or tribe), and could have come from Iran. The locals that guided the way were unrelated.

Another suggestion is that they braved the elements to collect “Keeda Jadi,” which are larvae of the ghost moth that have become the home to a fungus (that actually wraps around the larvae and slowly devours it).

These “Magical Mushrooms” are believed to have incredible medicinal properties and locals head out in search of them in the springtime.

The journey should have progressed well until the point everyone was trapped, with no place to run and hide as a disaster struck. A violent torrent of baseball-sized hailstones falling from the skies battered the whole group. All the bodies had died in a similar way, from blows to the head. However, the short deep cracks in the skulls appeared to be the result not of weapons, but rather of something rounded. The bodies also only had wounds on their heads, and shoulders as if the blows had all come from directly above. What had killed them all, porter and pilgrim alike?

Among Himalayan women there is an ancient and traditional folk song. The lyrics state that “these are the holy lands of the Goddess Nanda, her sanctuary in the mountains. King Jasdal of Kanauj and his wife were undertaking the “Nanda Jat” pilgrimage; along the way, the queen gave birth. Instead of pleasing their goddess with their tributes, the deity was angered for this defielment of her pure mountain. To punish the group, she sent a great snowstorm, flinging iron-like hailstones that took the life of each and every person”.

After much research and consideration, the 2004 expedition came to the same conclusion. All 300 people died from a sudden and severe hailstorm. Trapped in the valley with nowhere to hide or seek shelter, the “hard as iron” cricket ball-sized [about 23 centimeter/9 inches circumference] hailstones came by the thousands, resulting in the travelers’ bizarre sudden death. The remains lay in the lake for 1,200 years until their discovery.

04 Oct 2006

Chinese Shoot Tibetans at Nangpa La

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An anonymous source in the Mountaineering community reports a massacre of Tibetans by the Chinese Army on September 30th.

Early morning of September 30th, I walked out of our dining tent to gaze over towards the Nangpa La pass. I saw a line of Tibetans heading towards the start of the pass – a common sight, as the trade routes are open this time of year.”

“Then, without warning, shots rang out. Over, and over and over. Then the line of people started to run uphill — they were at 19,000ft. Apparently the Chinese army was tipped off about their attempted escape, and had showed up with guns.”

“2 people were down, and they weren’t getting up”

“Watching the line snake off through the snow, as the shots rang out, we saw two shapes fall. The binoculars confirmed it: 2 people were down, and they weren’t getting up. Then more Chinese army swarmed through Advanced Base Camp.”

According to the climber, Tibetans on the mountain later said that up to seven people might have been shot dead, their bodies then shoved into a crevasse not far from Cho Oyu Base Camp.


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