The Mardi trek in the Annapurna region is one of the most accessible scenic wilderness areas. However, it is also deceptively dangerous.
The trek follows a narrow ridge that is the southwestern spur of Machapuchre and its side peak, Mardi. People tend to get lost because of unmarked trails and the steep, slippery terrain.
At least three tourists have gone missing without a trace in the last two trekking seasons, and tourism entrepreneurs say many more have died and were injured since Mardi was opened up to tourists in 2011.
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Corrie van Veggel, a 49-year-old Dutch woman, is the latest case on Mardi. After reaching the 4,500m Mardi Base Camp on 19 February, she took some selfies here and she descended to High Camp at 3,550m and spent one night there. ‘It is a kind of lodge,” she wrote in what turned out to be her last email — to her daughter Rein.
She emailed her daughters a few photos, including one in which she is seen at the base Camp (see pic), before heading further down to Pokhara. She had booked a place for a two-week course in April at Pokhara Vipassana Meditation Centre.
Corrie had told her family, including two daughters and two sons, that she would be out of contact for two weeks once she started vipassana. Even so, she was expected to inform her daughter about her safe arrival in Pokhara. But there was no more word from her.
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When Corrie’s daughter was informed by Pokhara Vipassana Meditation Centre that she was yet to enroll for the April course, the search began for her.
Last month, Corrie’s mother, 76-year-old Jennie van Veggel spent three weeks on the Mardi trek, piecing together all information about her missing daughter. Police also accompanied her with sniffer dogs, but Corrie was nowhere to be found.
Before leaving Pokhara after a futile search for her missing daughter, Jennie told Nepali Times: “I don’t know what to tell her daughter and her ex-husband when I get back.”
Jennie thinks her daughter chose the shorter but more dangerous route back to Pokhara via Sidhing (see map). This route cuts through a dense forest and is so steep that even yaks have fallen off the trail.
Pokhara-based trekking guide Dilip Acharya says: “This route is too difficult that it would be almost impossible to rescue a person who falls off the cliff.”
The other route back to Pokhara is longer and relatively safer. But even that one is not completely without danger.
In February, Bipana Upreti, a 21-year-old MBBS student at Manipal Teaching Hospital in Pokhara, lost her way around Pitam Deurali. She is still missing.
In October 2016, an Israeli tourist, 45-year-old Amit Reichman, went missing near the Mardi Base Camp and was never found.
What makes the Mardi Trek such a draw is the wilderness, but trekking guides say it needs more signage, to direct trekkers and also to warn them about the dangerous parts.