The Curious Case of Justin Alexander: Adventure Tourist or Murder Victim?

Landscape view near the river between Manali to Leh Ladakh in India. Getty Images.

The Parvati Valley in the Indian Himalaya — known for its overwhelming beauty — calls to those who want to shed their possessions as part of a quest for spiritual enlightenment. As Harley Rustad reports at Outside, it’s also known for a plethora of missing and (presumably murdered) Western adventure tourists.

But beneath Alexander’s glamorous tales was a person searching for higher meaning, sometimes at the expense of sensibility.

In December 2013, at age 32, Alexander announced his retirement. Disenchanted and restless, he sold the majority of his belongings, packed a backpack, and took off. In the first post on his travel blog, Adventures of Justin, he wrote: “I am running from a life that isn’t authentic…I’m running away from monotony and towards novelty; towards wonder, awe, and the things that make me feel vibrantly alive.” He spent the next two-and-a half years on the road, backpacking through South America and Asia, and driving his motorcycle around the United States.

On the surface, Alexander embodied the “I quit my job to travel” trope, and he amassed a horde of followers—more than 11,000 on his Instagram account alone. Many gravitated to his stories of climbing the Brooklyn Bridge at night, partaking in a shamanistic ritual in Brazil, undertaking a monk’s initiation ceremony in Thailand, and helping build a school in earthquake-wracked Nepal in the spring of 2016. Others were drawn to what his adventures represented: Alexander was minimalist but not rejectionist. His smartphone didn’t disgust him; it enabled him to tell his story. And his path appeared to be one not of disassociation but of action, as if he were the protagonist in his own epic novel…He once said that his life was about “walking that razor’s edge” between living in modern society and a free existence.

However Alexander’s journey ended, something happened at Mantalai Lake. In the September 3 photograph taken by the hikers, Alexander is wrapped in his gray shawl. He appears calm and stoic. Maybe Alexander’s realization wasn’t about himself but about the man he trusted to guide him—that he came to see the holy man as a fraud, unable to offer what he sought. It’s possible Alexander found what he was looking for: a dreamlike revelation while sitting near the source of a holy river, listening to the minute motions of nature, that showed him the way forward. Or maybe at the end of the trail, he found nothing; that the harder he tried, the more it felt like he was grasping at mist—chasing tendrils higher and higher into the mountains.

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