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Rahul Banerjee

Drama


3  

Rahul Banerjee

Drama


Disappeared at Parvati Valley

Disappeared at Parvati Valley

16 mins 205 16 mins 205

India is an ideal tourist destination for people from all over the world. Along with historic monuments and places depicting its rich ancient culture; it has many scenic spots that attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Place like Manali, Shimla, Darjeeling, Mussorie, Dehradun, Ooty, Goa, Bombay, Cochi, Pondicherry etc. see an influx of tourists every year. Parvati Valley, situated in northern state of Himachal Pradesh is also one of such tourist destinations From the confluence of Parvati river and Beas rive, Parvati valley runs eastwards through a steep sided valley from the town of Bhuntar in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh.


The precipitous journey through this valley leads to Kasol, another famous tourist spot. It is also considered a very sacred and religious place for two of the biggest religious communities in India; that is the Hindus and the Sikhs. But there is unfortunately a dark side to this mysterious and beautiful valley. Many people go missing in this region every year. There have been cases where people have disappeared and the authorities have not been able to locate their bodies also; thus surmising that either wild animals must have attacked the unwary or that person must have met with an accident. Similar cases of missing people are rampant all over the world, especially in the National Parks of U.S. and other regions of the world.


My following story is based on this theme where a tourist goes missing and how an amateur detective tries to solve the case and what kind of hurdles he faces while solving the case.

So here it goes. I hope you like it. All the characters, places, incidents are purely author’s imagination and have no resemblance to any real person, place or incident.


Alex and Elizabeth Peterson along with their children and a couple of friends Bob & Mark had come down to India for vacations. Bob and Mark had come along as they were avid mountaineers and trekkers and they wanted to experience the thrill and scenic beauty of India. Cindy and Jason ( Alex & Elizabeth’s children), both in their teens were also nature enthusiasts and also liked to trek, so for them it was supposed to be an exciting and adventurous experience. Right from landing in India at Indira Gandhi International airport to their journey to Himachal Pradesh, they were accosted by local tourist guides, cab drivers and others who wanted to make easy money from foreigners. But Bob had previously also travelled to India, so he had been the guiding influence on the rest of them to not fall in to the locals’ allure. Anyways they reached their destination in a few hours’ time and were welcomed in one of the most expensive and posh hotels of Parvati valley. Cindy and Jason were thoroughly excited and anxious on the prospect of seeing the natural beauty and also the prospect of trekking through the rough mountainous terrain.

***


After spending the day in their hotel rooms for rest and recuperation from the jet lag and their long journey, the Petersons and their friends decided to go out in the evening to get a feel of the place. Here they were immediately enthralled by the scenes outside; where the whole marketplace which was situated just below their hotel was dazzlingly lit up and it was full of liveliness and people were thronging the marketplace in thousands. There were a variety of shops, some were food joints offering all the local and international cuisines, and some were of exotic jewellery and handicrafts, whereas many shops were bristling with loads of clothes displaying all the latest international brands. The Petersons were surprised to see so many international franchises also dotted the market place.


The most unique thing was people were dressed in all kinds of colourful clothes and many local tourist guides, shopkeepers even tried to lure the visitors to their shops. The whole market place had seemed to come alive with different kinds of exotic smells from food joints, music playing from some shops and the intermittent hawking of street hawkers displaying their products for tourists. Cindy and Jason were just too overwhelmed by this carnival like atmosphere; that they did not want to leave the marketplace. Though the Petersons visited one or two shops but they had to get back as it was getting late and so they dragged the unwilling duo of Jason and Cindy back to the hotel. The next day Bob and Mark decided to go on sightseeing and trekking tour so they asked the hotel manager Sudhir, a quiet amicable fellow for a trusted guide. Sudhir thought for a moment and said “Sir, Birju is one of the most trusted and respected guides of the area, as he is an expert on the ways and byways of the whole of Parvati Valley and also he is loved by most of the tourists because of his happy-go-lucky attitude and cheerfulness on his face”.

***


So the next day the manager calls Birju to the hotel and introduces them to the Peterson family. Birju is a smart, handsome, well-educated fellow and he has the look on his face that can charm anyone. Birju and the Petersons immediately hit it off with each on the first encounter and they plan on the upcoming day’s schedule. Though Alex is not much of nature enthusiast but he also agrees to join his wife, kids and friends for the hiking and trekking trip. Therefore, they go out together with Birju on their first trekking trip in the Parvati Valley. Here on the way they are just mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the valley, with its lush green meadows and the turbulent waters of the Parvati and Beas rivers rushing by.


They are so gripped by the by the hospitality shown by the villagers and locals on the way that they feel like they have come in heaven. On top of that the weather is also very pleasant and they thoroughly their enjoy their first day trip until Birju calls it a halt and says “Sahib, it’s getting late and it would be better if you come back again tomorrow as wild animals like Wolves and Foxes come out during the evening and night times in the forests here and it is advisable for tourists not to venture out alone in the night”. So Birju guides them back to the hotel on the promise that he will come back the next day and take them deep in the jungles where rare species of birds and animals can be found.

***


The next couple of days are spent in trekking through the jungles and mountains and it is particularly exciting for Cindy and Jason and they make videos of it also to show it back home. The Peterson family are enjoying their stay very well and especially in the company of Birju who also tells them stories and legends of Parvati Valley. Alex now is getting more and more interested to go on these exciting trekking and hiking trips and he even offers to take anyone willing to out with him during the evenings. But the whole Peterson family and Bob and Mark stop him from doing that during evening and night time. On the second last day of their stay in India, Alex suddenly has an urge to go out in the evening and he tells his wife that he is going to take a stroll in the market and will be back soon. Elizabeth wants to come with him too but he politely refuses and says “I will be back before dinner”. It’s been hours since Alex has been gone and Elizabeth starts growing worried, she goes to the rooms of Bob & Mark and asks them that “do you know when Alex be back?”, this surprises both of them as they were not aware that Alex had gone out alone. They ask her to wait for an hour or so before they start making enquiries. After couple of more hours when there is still no sign of Alex and even cell phone seems to be switched off, is the time when Elizabeth starts getting really worried and by this time even Cindy and Jason are also panicking.


Meanwhile Bob and Mark go down to the front desk and make enquiries, where the staff tells them that they had seen Alex go out alone long time back, but they haven’t seen him come back. It’s been way past their dinner time and Alex is still not to be seen anywhere and now even Elizabeth is completely in panicked state and Cindy has started crying. Bob and Mark then decide to take Elizabeth to the police station and file a complaint, where they are told by the station-in-charge Inspector Kumam Singh, who is bit flabby on the side but has a very sharp mind that “we cannot file a report unless it is 24 hours and we are very sorry for that”, hearing this Elizabeth flies into a rage and says “my husband is missing for the last few hours and you are saying that you cannot help?”. Inspector Singh just looks at her and says that he can understand but he is bound by protocols.

***

Bob and Mark just throw a disgusted look at the inspector and take Elizabeth away from the station back to the hotel. Hours were passing by and the situation was getting out of control as now Elizabeth and her children were hysterically screaming at the front desk of the hotel berating the staff and criticizing the whole system. While all this commotion was going on, another guest who had come in for vacations and was passing by stopped at looked at them. He asked a passing bell-boy that “what was the matter?” The bell-boy replied that since yesterday evening a hotel guest Mr Alex Peterson has been missing and the family is now very distraught as the police are also helpless as 24 hours have not yet passed before they can begin their investigation. This guest Arijit Bose was a retired ex- Crime Branch officer and now was an amateur private detective. He had started on this private detective work for some time now and as he used to say to his friends and family “detection keeps your mental and physical faculties alive and also I wanted to help people in need”. Arijit was a very well accomplished officer during his days and people still loved and respected him for sharp analytical skill and investigative powers. When Arijit heard about this, he quietly enquired about the room in which the Petersons were staying and then went back to his own room. Here he was staying with his long time servant Batuk, and friend Shishir Sen. When they saw him enter the room with a grim expression on his face; both of them exclaimed with surprised as to what was troubling him?.


He then told them of the incident downstairs and also thought of going and meeting them. At first Shishir was against the idea as to he was bit apprehensive about how would the Petersons react. But Arijit was determined and he went forward with his decision to talk to them. In the first encounter the Petersons were really in no state of mind to talk to Arijit or even acknowledge him when he entered their room along with Shishir and Batuk. Instead Bob and Mark made the introductions and started talking when Arijit told them that ‘ I am an ex-police officer and I think I can help you’. So when he asked Bob and Mark that at around what time did Alex leave the room?, they said it was around 7:30 p.m. last evening. When he asked that who was the last person who saw him leave?, everyone glanced at Elizabeth who was now in control though she was still sobbing. Arijit could understand Elizabeth’s mental condition and took some before asking her straight the next question that “did Alex look stressed or did you guys have any kind of argument before he leave?” Elizabeth said “no, he was quiet jovial and excited mood”. Hearing this Arijit looked at Shishir and Batuk who gave him a puzzled look.

***


Anyways after all the cursory questions and answers Arijit took their leave and gave them assurance that he will do his utmost to bring back Alex safe and sound home. The police had also by then and when Arijit met Inspector Kumam Singh, he felt that his officer can make trouble for him, but he did not say anything and just politely greeted him and left the room. Back in his own room the first thing he asked the other two was “what do you think has happened?” To which, Shishir said that “I think he must have wandered off and fallen in some deep ravine or wild animals might have attacked him”. Batuk on the other hand said that “Babu I have heard that this area is full of drug smugglers and other criminals, so he might have had a chance encounter with them”, he stopped. When Arijit asked him to continue, Batuk said that “criminals might have harmed him or something like that”. Arijit suddenly jumped with excitement on hearing that and clapped Batuk on the back said “well done even I was thinking on the same lines”. Batuk felt very glad with himself whereas Shishi’s expression was that of complete blank; when Arijit explained that “while I was questioning Elizabeth, I saw trekking boots kept underneath the bed which was covered in mud, I could take a guess that these belonged to Alex as this was his room and also judging by the size of the boots, I could discern that these could not belong to Cindy, Jason or Elizabeth”. When Shishir still could not understand, Arijit further explained that “ Bob and Mark could not have kept their boots in the Peterson room and moreover Mark had said that though Alex was an amateur trekker, but still he could take of himself; so the question of him falling prey to wild animals or falling into some ravine is out of the question”.

***


The next day Arijit decides to interview Birju, the guide who was with the Petersons. When Birju arrived he looked a little bit scared and when Arijit asked him the reason for being scared, Birju just shrugged it off. Birju was straight forward in answering all of Arijit’s questions and even said that he had started liking this group of tourists very much.

After Birju had left, Arijit had a worried look on his face. When Shishir and Batuk asked what was the reason for his worry?, was it that Birju had any hand in Alex’s disappearance?. Arijit said no ‘Birju is an honest guy but he is afraid of something or someone’ and I have to find what that is’. Next he planned to meet with Inspector Kumam Singh and here he saw from the first encounter that Kumam Singh was not very forthcoming in cooperating and in fact was trying to stall him. When Arijit said that “I have worked with your superiors and if I complain against you, then your job might be in jeopardy”. Hearing that Kumam Singh’s face grew ashen and he promised to give all kinds of support and cooperation to Arijit.

***


Arijit while coming out of the station just smiled and said “I bluffed and he took the bluff” with that all three of them laughed and went back. The next few days were spent in interviewing people around the nearby areas where ever the Peterson family had gone. They also went to the particular antique shop where the Petersons had spent the longest time and here they questioned the owner Shyam Singh about the Petersons. Shyam Singh initially was very accommodating and gave them a warm welcome but when Arijit explained the purpose of their visit, his face had a serious expression and he looked that he might bolt from the room. Still Arijit said that if he did not cooperate then the police will come and arrest him on suspicion of kidnapping Alex. This was again a bluff but Shyam Singh grew scared and started cooperating but was still somehow evasive in his answers. After a few minutes when the three of them left Shyam Singh’s shop, Arijit said that he was convinced that Shyam Singh has something to do with Alex’s disappearance. When both Batuk and Shishir looked a puzzled look at Arijit, he said that he had seen something in Shyam Singh’s eyes that told him that he knew the truth. As they were returning back to their hotel in the evening, they were attacked by some people and with utmost difficulty they managed to rescue themselves. Shishir and Batuk were thoroughly shaken by the encounter and wanted to report it to the police but Arijit said that he might know that who had sent these hoodlums after them.

***


So he instructed Batuk and Shishir to keep a close watch on Shyam Singh’s shop for the next few days and inform him about anyone who comes and goes into the shop. Just couple of days later both Batuk and Shishir come running to Arijit at the hotel where he was further questioning the hotel staff and tell him in an excited voice that that they had seen one of the guys who had attacked them enter Shyam Singh’s shop. On hearing this Arijit is convinced that Shyam Singh was involved in Alex’s disappearance and the next day with police go to his shop where he is planning to elope. On seeing Arijit and the police Shyam Singh gets scared and breaks down and confesses that he is involved in a a narcotics ring and Alex that day had unfortunately seen him dealing with the criminals and while he had tried to run from them and warn the authorities, the criminals had captured him and were keeping him along with Birju’s family as prisoners.

***


When Arijit demanded that Shyam Singh take them to that place where the smugglers were holding Alex and Birju’s family, at first he grew scared and pleaded that they will kill him. When Arijit grew furious and said that he will personally kill Shyam Singh if he doesn’t take them there now, he had no choice but to take them to the place. It was deep in the jungles where an old cave like structure was built and where Arijit, Batuk , Shishir & the police party could see that some people were roaming around with weapons in their hands. Arijit then immediately instructed Inspector Kumam Singh to go and arrest these people and he went along with them. At first the smugglers were taken by surprise and they quickly surrendered and when the police party and Arijit entered the cave; here they saw that Alex and Birju’s family were kept in appalling conditions. Immediately they were unbound and rescued from the cave and taken home where quick medical attention was given to Alex and Birju’s family.

***

c

On hearing the news of Alex and Birju’s family, both the Peterson family and Birju along with Bob and Mark quickly rushed to the hospital and here everyone was overjoyed to reunite with their loved ones. Birju literally fell on Arijit’s feet and thanked him and said ‘you are our lord and saviour, I will never forget this’. He said that from now on he will remain in Arijit’s debt forever till the time he is alive. Even the Petersons were too overjoyed and they thanked Arijit with all their heart and said that “‘whenever you come to England, it would be our honour and pleasure if you stay with us”. Arijit just thanked them with a polite smile and said that he was thankful for the offer but he was just trying to help and with that Arijit and his party took their leave.




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