Hari Simran Singh Khalsa, a 25-year-old New Yorker with a wispy red beard and a contagious smile, was visiting Mexico for a yoga retreat.
He arrived with his wife, Ad Purkh Kaur, in Tepotzlan, central Mexico; a mysterious, elegant village overlooked by a mountain, at the top of which sit the ruins of an ancient Aztec pyramid.
Like many visitors, the practicing Sikh couple was drawn to the region as a center of spirituality. A healing, creative energy is attributed to the town owing to the legend that it is the birthplace of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. As a result, Tepotzlan has become a focal point for Amerindian and Eastern spirituality. Its cobbled streets are lined with shops selling crystals, yoga mats and New Age books.
At 11 a.m, on day four in Mexico, Singh Khalsa set out on a hike, taking only a bottle of water, some trail mix and a knife.
The yoga instructor sent his wife a selfie from his phone. “Looking down on you,” he wrote from the top of a nearby mountain.
At around 2.30 p.m., he sent another: “I accidentally summited another mountain. Looks like I’ll be a little later coming back. Save me some lunch if you can.”
It was the last his wife heard from him. Three days later, a search team found his lifeless body at the bottom of a cliff. He had apparently died from a head injury sustained during a fall.
Stories like this are all too familiar in Mexico. Every year, newspapers run reports of foreigners on spiritual or artistic pilgrimages that ultimately end in tragedy.
The Beat Generation presented some disturbing examples. Joan Vollmer, the wife of writer William Burroughs, was shot dead by her husband in a Mexico City game of William Tell. Neal Cassady, the inspiration for the hero of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” froze to death while walking along the railway tracks on a winter night in Guanajuato.
French psychiatrist Regis Airault has studied the phenomenon of “India syndrome,” when westerners lose their bearings in their search for truth on the subcontinent.