By Vishal Gulati
More than 20 foreigners have reportedly gone missing in as many years from the picturesque valleys in Himachal Pradeshs Kullu, known for growing world-class cannabis.
Their illegal settlement in inaccessible hamlets and the changing trends in drug trafficking and addiction amongst the youth is a stark reminder of the deepening nexus between local peddlers and the international drug mafia with the tacit support of some powerful people, including politicians.
Chandigarh-based senior journalist Aditya Kant’s debut novel “High on Kasol” uncovers the changing trends in drug trafficking and substance abuse in Kullu Valley and has created a buzz a week after its release on online platforms.
The crime thriller, which is a murder mystery also, touches upon the issue of the mysterious disappearance of foreigners from the valley in the past several years.
The whodunit mystery has already figured amongst the hot releases in the Indian writing category at Amazon, soon after it went live for sale last week.
Speaking to IANS, Kant, the debutant author, said: “With the Himalayas and the famous Magic Valley, known for growing world-class cannabis as its backdrop, I have tried to uncover the hidden aspects and the changing trends in drug trafficking and addiction amongst the youth in the valley and how it is affecting their lives.
“The racy plot of the novel also delves into the contentious issue of the disappearance of foreign nationals and their illegal settlement in the valley.”
He says more than 20 foreign nationals have gone missing from the valley in as many years.
The book also raises the issue of conflicts between locals and outsiders with a large number of foreigners settling in the valley.
Kant says though his story is a work of fiction, it is a stark reminder of the deepening nexus between local peddlers and the international drug mafia, which with the tacit support of some powerful people, including politicians, has made inroads into the lives in the hills and adjoining states like Punjab.
The book’s catchy title, “High on Kasol”, Kant explains is a play on the traditional agriculture of psychedelic plants in the far-flung areas of small hamlets in the Himalayas.
The story is told in the words of an aspiring writer who goes looking for a ‘great plot’ and winds up in a web of love, deceit, and unimaginable horror.
Kant, who has about 25 years of journalistic experience and has worked with leading English publications in Delhi, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, and Shimla, told IANS that it took him about four years to research the subject and complete the book.
Born and brought up in the hills, Kant says his background and familiarity with the valley, coupled with the journalistic experience, helped him a lot in developing and writing the story, in which most of the characters have been inspired by real-life and look realistic.
When asked to elaborate about the plot, Kant briefly mentions that the story unfolds with the mysterious disappearance of a young Israeli woman from Kasol, who ironically had come to the Himalayan town to lift the veil over the missing foreigners in the valley.
The lead character is an aspiring author who is staying in a shady guest house in search of solitude. Soon an unexpected turn of events leaves the struggling writer with faint clues, setting him on a trail of murders and a drug syndicate involving a few locals and foreigners.
Though it’s a thriller, the racy plot moves ahead with elements of humour and romance.
The story is written in the backdrop of the quaint customs and beliefs of the locals and their conflict with the foreigners, including Israelis, many of whom have settled in the township, giving Kasol the dubious identity of a ‘Mini Israel’.
It also breaks the myth that life is simple in the hills.
The twists and the unpredictability of the plot and characters keep the readers hooked till the mystery is solved.
Elaborating about the writing of the book, Kant says he had written the story with youngsters in mind. “But later it turned out to be a blend of crime, suspense, and romance, and is now drawing an overwhelming response from all the age groups.”
Elated over the initial response to his debut work of fiction, Kant mentions that “the powerful idea and effective narration of the story make it a fit case for transforming the book into a web series or a movie, as it has all the elements required for the visual media”.
The narration takes readers to the unexplored mystic Magic Valley in the Himalayas that has fascinated foreigners, as well as the local tourists, for many years.
The growing narcotics menace in Himachal Pradesh can be gauged from official figures that 2,126 cases were registered across the state under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance (NDPS) Act and 2,909 people were arrested between January 1, 2020, and April 31, 2021.
During this period 682 kg charas, 15 kg heroin, 50 kg opium, 4,805 kg poppy husk, 376 kg ganja, 128,330 synthetic tablets and 52,194 capsules were seized.
To check the supply of contraband, illicit cultivation of 12,52,455 cannabis plants in 7,917 bighas and 266,353 poppy plants in 52 bighas was detected and they were destroyed by the police during this period.
The police also succeeded in tracing 66 bighas under illicit cultivation with 15 lakh poppy plants in a remote Tikken sub-tehsil in the Chauhar Valley of Mandi district.
The police have attached properties of drug offenders worth Rs 11.37 crore in 19 cases.
Even Governor Bandaru Dattatreya, addressing police officials at a function to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26 in the state capital, warned of the alarming situation.
“Himachal Pradesh is known as Dev Bhoomi and its culture, lifestyle and ideology is very rich but it is unfortunate the problem of drug abuse has cropped up severely and if we do not check it immediately, the situation may become worse in the days to come,” he said.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at [email protected])