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Vanishing in valley of death

Shimla, Aug. 21: Two kinds of foreigners descend on Kullu Valley every year: tourists who want to enjoy a trek across its beautiful landscape and relatives searching for those who never come back.

At least 18 foreign tourists ' 30, according to unofficial sources ' have gone missing in the valley in the past 13 years, two of them this month.

Australian Daniel Mount Whitten, 23, and Japanese Kajuya Uaeno, 32, were reported missing on the same day, August 2. Whitten vanished from Manali’s Parvati Valley, 265 km from here, and Uaeno from Mandi town.

The serial disappearances are giving the tourist hotspots of Kullu and Manali a bad name. Lonely Planet, which publishes popular tourist guides, has dubbed Parvati Valley, where at least six foreign tourists have gone missing, the “valley of death”.

Security agencies fear that most of these tourists were robbed and killed. While one foreigner was beaten to death at Hampta pass four years ago, another was stoned to death in Tunda Bhoj.

“Lonely hikers carrying precious watches, cameras and money are attacked by local people. They are either buried in the forests or thrown into rivers with stones tied to their bodies. Some are also killed by landslides,” a police officer said.

The towns of Kullu district are dotted with posters pasted by worried relatives, announcing cash awards for information leading to the missing hikers’ rescue.

Whitten’s parents and sister and more than 20 other relatives and friends from Israel have joined Kullu police in the search.

His Australian father and Israeli mother have chartered a helicopter from Delhi and hired 40 casual labourers to look for him and have announced a reward of Rs 1 lakh for leads.

“The family has distributed posters in Kullu, Manali and Mandi town,” an officer said.

“I will not return without my brother,” said Whitten’s sister Daniela. “He’s trapped somewhere or has been manhandled by unscrupulous people.”

Uaeno’s family and friends, who have arrived from Tokyo, were told some people saw him jump into the Beas.

Other than Whitten and Uaeno, the list of missing tourists includes three Australians, two Americans, two Israelis, a Briton, a Russian, an Italian, a Yugoslavian, two Swiss hikers, two Dutch tourists and one from Ireland.

Two other tourists, Canadian Francis Granier and Briton Andrea Nelson, were rescued by air force helicopters from Kurgiakh beyond the Zhanskar in Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday. They were part of a 27-member trekking expedition that had started from Himachal Pradesh.

“Granier and Nelson were struck down by high-altitude sickness on the Hingola,” the officer said.

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