Armchair Traveller

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Tourists disappear without a trace in the Himalayas

Tourists disappear without a trace in the Himalayas

Another backpacker vanishes in "the valley of the gods"

Kulu is a picturesque Himalayan valley in the far north of India, and its charms have attracted adventurous travellers for decades. Thousands of backpackers hike into Kulu each year, but not all of them make it home.

The latest victim is a 24-year-old Israeli tourist, Amichai Steinmetz, who went on a day-trek on 22 July, and never returned. Steinmetz's grandfather organised a private search and rescue team to scour the hills and rivers of Kulu, and offered a reward for any information about his grandson's whereabouts, all to no avail. But the Superintendent of Police in Kulu, K. K. Indoria, is not surprised.

"Amichai is not an isolated case of disappearance of a foreigner," says Indoria. "He is among 19 foreign tourists who have gone missing in the Kulu valley in the past 17 years. Only one Australian tourist (Burfitt Jacqueline Louise), who was reported missing in June 1993, has been traced so far."

There are three theories about the disappearances, according to police. One is that the harsh terrain claims lives of unlucky or unfit visitors, and keeps their remains hidden. In one case in 2004 a Swedish hiker's body was found frozen in glacial ice ... 25 years after her disappearance.

The second theory is that foul play is involved. A handful of tourists have been murdered in the area, and skeletons of others bearing the signs of an unnatural death have been discovered.

The final theory is that the missing travellers chose to disappear. Our police superintendent says "We have information that a large number of foreigners who disappeared mysteriously are illegally staying in various tribal areas." That's going off the grid in a big, big way.

This final theory isn't too far-fetched. Here's a gallery of the world's top ten places to disappear.

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