Parvati Valley-Bermuda Triangle of India?

By C K Nayak

Parvati Valley-Bermuda Triangle of India?

Parvati Valley in Himachal Pradesh’s Kullu district is at the confluence of rivers Parvati and Beas. Unlike the Bermuda triangle it is not in the North Atlantic Ocean. But it has earned the moniker over the years for the traceless disappearance of many who visit it, mesmerised by its mountains and mystics. The idyllic valley a part of the Himalayas is also known for its psychedelic trance festivals, hippie cafes, and the quality hash grown in its villages though it’s illegal in India. But apart from all these oddities, the valley named after deity Parvati, consort of Lord Shiva, is infamous for the disappearance of some of the visitors. The visitors include tourists, adventurers and even trekkers, some of them foreigners who got mesmerised by its natural beauty.

Parvati valley attracts thousands of visitors every year and is famous for its quirk festivals frequented by hippies and others. With its natural beauty and Lost Horizon feel that appeals to seekers of spirituality, Parvati Valley appears idyllic. Many yogis, hippies, backpackers, and other free spirits visit this Himalayan enclave every year, hoping for enlightenment of some sort. But the picturesque valley has a dark side- unexplained disappearances and deaths from time to time.

The valley is characterized by towering peaks, glaciers, hot springs, and rugged terrain. It features the Parvati River, the Pin Parvati Pass, famous treks like the Kheerganga, and ancient villages like Malana and Manikaran. But apart from its spiritual significance and natural beauty, the Parvati Valley is home to an unofficial drug empire. Illegal hash and poppy plantations are scattered throughout the region and hidden at higher elevations.

Locals also grow Datura, or devil’s weed, for its psychedelic properties. Sadhus often use these substances ritualistically. The drugs also attract adventurous Westerners, most of them in their youths. But as foreigners flooded through the valley, stories of attacks and disappearances thrived. In 1991, two women (Australian Odette Houghton and Swiss Marianne Heer) vanished. It wasn’t just foreigners who were vanishing. Indian hikers also disappeared in the valley. Apart from a couple of women, most of the missing persons were young male backpackers.

The most famous missing person’s case is that of Justin Alexander Shetler, a 35-year-old American who went to the valley to live off-grid. He had quit his high-profile job to travel the world. He was no stranger to the wild, with survival training and extensive travel experience. He documented his nomadic life on a blog and on Instagram. In the summer of 2016, he became acquainted with a local sadhu. Soon they were hiking together, and Shetler expressed his excitement and admiration for his new friend. However, cryptically, in his last post to the world, he wrote “If I’m not back by then (mid- September), don’t look for me.” Locals found Shetler’s belongings on the banks of the Parvati River and authorities concluded that he might have died in a landslide.

Police arrested the sadhu but he hung himself in his cell before his release. The entire case is murky, and many believe that the sadhu had something to do with Shetler’s death. In another cryptic post before his death, Shetler had written that “Police won’t arrest them, even for murder.” The topography of the valley itself is dangerous. The valley has some very deep gorges, sheer drops, extremely narrow roads, poorly marked or defined trails, and dangerous fast-moving water in the form of springs and torrents. Roads are treacherous and vehicles often drive dangerously. During monsoon season, it gets worse. Landslides are common, and the river can flood. For a man or woman from a different country with little knowledge about this remote area to get lost and never to be found dead or alive is not unusual.

From the points of law and order there have been many instances of robberies and murders in the region. Examples of high-profile incidents include the shooting of two German hikers in 2000 and an Israeli hiker who was stabbed to death in 2007. There are many more cases like these. Because there are cannabis and poppy plantations throughout the valley, some hikers might have gone in search of them. It is possible that they saw things they shouldn’t have or they could have died from a drug overdose. Or perhaps foreigners just make easy targets for bandits and anti-socials. 

In August 2015, a 24-year-old Polish national named Bruno Muschalik disappeared. Police arrested two people, from Delhi and Manali but it remains unclear what happened to Muschalik. His father continues to search to this day. In 2016, seven hikers from Punjab were missing. In 2021, 32-year- old businessman Dhruv Aggarwal vanished while trekking to Kheerganga. Last year, 22-year-old Vijay Massari Jadeja was hiking from Kheerganga with three friends before disappearing. There has been no news on these cases since.

The origin of the Parvati valley is itself a mystery as per folk lore. An appeal was made before the serpent god, Sheshnag, to pacify Lord Shiva. Sheshnag hissed thereby giving rise to a flow of boiling water. The water spread over the entire area resulting in the emergence of precious stones of the type Goddess Parvati had lost. There is a place in the valley named Manikaran which is derived from this legend. 

Source: Himalayan News Chronicle