Drugs, Hikes, and Vanishings in the Himalayas

Justin Shetler disappeared in September on a pilgrimage—and he's apparently not the first
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 3, 2017 2:40 PM CST
A Spiritual Trek on the 'Hippie Trail,' a Missing Hiker
Mystery in the mountains.   (Getty Images/kapulya)

Justin Shetler's last blog post was in August of this year, detailing how he'd just been invited on a Himalayan pilgrimage by a local holy man, or "baba"; his last photo on Instagram (posted around the same time) noted he "should be back to the Internet world by mid to late September," adding on his blog: "If I'm not back by then, don't look for me." Shetler never returned from that trek into the Northern India state of Himachal Pradesh, as detailed in a piece by Ariel Sophia Bardi for Roads and Kingdoms. Bardi also explores her own time on the region's "hash trail" (also known as a "hippie haven"), which has claimed the disturbing disappearances of more than 20 foreigners in the area since 1998, most of them mysteries that haven't been solved and which have led to a more menacing-sounding nickname: the Valley of Death.

Bardi traveled to the village of Kheerganga to document some of Shetler's baba's history (with drastically different stories emerging), as well as the area's heavy drug use that's blamed for its "seedier elements." She finds the region seems to draw people "on an incomprehensible, solitary quest," a magnet for supposedly "thousands" of nomads who choose to live "with little more than basic necessities in a vast, harsh land." As for Shetler, the baba who led him on the trek was detained by cops—but he killed himself in his jail cell. Meanwhile, Shetler's family reveals on a GoFundMe page set up to raise money to find him that his motorcycle and some personal items were found, but he never turned up; he was last spotted on Sept. 3. "We thank you from the bottom of our hearts, and pray that Justin is returned to us safely," the page reads. More on the mystery here. (An American woman and her Canadian husband were kidnapped by the Taliban while backpacking in Afghanistan.)

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