Yes, ask foreigners, esp those whose friends remain untraced after years of last contact and they will reply in one voice that Parvati Valley (or more precisely areas around Kasol) is a valley that eats up people, leaving no trace of them. They will cite their own reasons varying from murders to looting and whatever else is imaginable under such circumstances!
Also, ask Indians who have lost friends in that area and they will also give you a similar reply though in most of the cases (Indians, ie), losses would get attributed to accidents of various kinds. Unlike foreigners, Indians don't generally vanish into thin air.
Before you start shaking your head, here is my own small bit - Kasol (as well as Parvati Valley) is a zero-crime area. In fact, if Chandigarh is probably the safest city in the North, Parvati Valley is one of the safest valleys in HP. Having spent a considerable amount of time there, lemme say it with conviction that acts like murder, rape and looting are very very rare. Locals have occasional issues but grass root level administration in HP is by and large very effective and conflicts don't blow out of proportions unlike elsewhere. As we move deeper into valleys like Parvati, crime scene becomes rarer and rarer. Just to cite an example from a first hand experience, I had been sitting in the balcony of our cottage, sipping tea one evening when a group of Indian-foreigners mix drove into our parking lot. Being a beautiful place that it is, most of them jumped out of the two SUVs that they had come in. One guy who meant business, came forward to ask directions to some place while others started soaking in the atmosphere. Suddenly, one of the females, in her 20s, apparently realised the sudden drop in the temperature as compared to insides of their cars. So, she leaned back into the car, pulled out a full sleeves sweat shirt and changed then and there only. Naturally, she was down to her undergarments for a while as many locals, the passers by, watched in dismay. In fact, the local guys started looking other side even though my own staff (from plains) kept on gaping at her with open mouths!
So, what happens then! Why people die there!
Firstly, I shall share a trend that over past ten odd years, ratio of Indians visitors to foreigner ones has almost reversed. Though foreigners stay for longer duration, our cousins outnumber them courtesy our capacity to reproduce! As a corollary to this, number of Indians dying (and not missing in a classical sense) has overtaken that of foreigners missing (and presumed dead).
As far as historical trend is concerned, foreigners have been visiting the area for over two decades or more and a few have been reported missing since the very start. Many of the posters in lodges and public places indicate such a trend. My own research shows a few things. Number 1 - Mountains, valleys and forests around are beautiful and mesmerizing. But at the same time, these natural pearls of beauty demand respect. Locals don't venture too deep into jungles alone and the reason for it is the fact that should you simply fall and break a bone, no one will come to know and you may die of bleeding or exhaustion while waiting for some help. Skidding, slipping (it drizzles almost 300 days an year and even when it is sunny, moisture in the forests is pretty high) and falling is nothing rare. But if you are alone and you skid and more so if you skid and fall off the path, you are gone. There is a very low footfall beyond villages in the foothills and beyond paths that lead to higher settlements. So, chances of you getting discovered are remote and that is end of the story. Number 2 - getting lost in the forests is a big possibility unless you have lived there for years. Once you are lost and it gets dark, the possibility of finding the way would go down drastically. And then if you hurt yourself, you are done! Number 3 - Wild animals - well, incidents of attacks don't get reported as a routine. It is only during harsh winters when snow covers the area, leopards get sighted but the frequency is once in a few years. There is no threat per se. But if you venture too far and high and any of the two things above happen to you, you may meet a wild soul and then he will have a feast. But once again, chances are very very rare. Number 4 - Ghosts - Mountains have own folklore. There are stories everywhere but no ghost, if there are any in the first place, is a killer. They may scare you or tease you (ie if local stories are to be believed though majority of locals don't believe in such kahanis themselves) but would not eat you up. Ghosts, after all, are energies and have no digestive system.
Incidentally, four scenarios, as narrated above, affect foreigners more than domestic visitors. Firangs are adventurous, fitness freaks and tend to go solo. Our country cousins, however, are more content with 'Shiva's Regal' in and around Kasol. Then treks like Kheer Ganga, Grahan, Malana, Rasol, Bijli Mahadev etc are well-beaten treks and those like ones via Pin Parvati Pass or Sar Pass or Chanderkhani Pass are a bit too logistically heavy to be done solo. Places like Mantalai are now seeing some traffic but such routes are still lonely. So, foreigners tend to explore as also tend to go free-rock climbing without really taking due precautions. Om Negi (Himalayan Camps) is a part of rescue team and he will tell you stories about bodies found at the base of huge rocks and unlikely places, away from beaten treks. But as said, all such issues basically affect solo firangs. Many friends of the personnel who have gone missing, do believe (without any evidence though) that their kins who had been carrying a considerable amount of foreign currency, might have been mugged and looted and then killed by locals who might have found the visitors too far away from any settlement. That is a debatable issue since there is no evidence to support the belief. Also, many foreigners have gone missing from different places that may not be inside Parvati Valley to start with. Their friends, desperate to find them, search for them here in addition to other areas. And the posters keep getting pasted, strengthening the belief of many that some criminal activities must be happening here. I may not be too accurate but I am convinced that that is not the case in most of the cases.
Coming to our own citizens. Of late, the average number of youngsters getting washed off by Parvati River has been in the range of 6 to 7 per season. That is virtually one per month and that is very very high! Such numbers beat the numbers we find associated with foreigners! But here, the reason is mishandling the marijuana. Synthetic drugs are slowly creeping in but police and narcotics guys are very pro-active in their actions and crackdowns against synthetic ones happen as a routine throughout HP. Grass or charas, however, is seen a bit differently because of its association with gods and valleys since times immemorial. Even then while no one may say a thing when people smoke here, they will catch you if you try to take it out of the Valley. Such catches, like everything human, are not leak proof though!
The scene, therefore, is very plain and simple and tragic. A group of friends go down to the river side and start smoking (if they are not already high) or start drinking beyond their capacities to absorb such ingredients. Then one slips and in a blink of an eyelid, the guy is gone without giving a chance to others to pull him/her out though many would not be in a position to do that in the first place. Parvati River is very aggressive during summers and monsoons (though typical monsoons like weather doesn't last long here) due to snow melt and increased levels of water in the catchment area. In an accident involving a bus last year, none of 42 passengers' body was found.
Yes, that is another tragedy. Bodies are seldom found esp during high waters. Once Parvati meets Beas at Bhuntar, the next place where bodies may come up floating is Pandoh dam. But for those who may not know it, water that is held in the dam at Pandoh, is diverted through a 20 odd Kms long tunnel that empties its load into Sutlej near Sunder Nagar. Electricity is produced there and not at Pandoh. So, if body does not float to shore before Pandoh, it gets pulled into the tunnel and tunnel is nothing but a grinder!
The aim of writing this piece is only one - to caution people so that vacations don't end up in tragedies of different kinds. Adventure is alright but take a guide. Smoking is debatable but do it safely. Bravado and selfie mania need to be avoided, especially on big rocks that stand on the edge of the river.
Wishing you all a very safe outing into the Valley of Ma Parvati!
This blog was originally published on 'Dying in Parvati Valley'