A former university of St Andrews student, 27-year-old Zisimos Souflas, has gone missing while travelling in Nepal. His is but the latest in a growing list of foreign disappearances along the often dangerous Nepal hiking trails which has led to the banning of unguided solo hikers from September.
Family first became worried when Zisimos failed to return home to Sheffield on his booked flight on 15 May. He had travelled to Nepal for a friend’s wedding but stayed on to do volunteer work and was planning to climb Mount Everest. Zisimos’s sister Sophie Souflas said: “We last had contact with him on 16 April, but decided to wait until his flight before we started worrying.”
“Zisimos, although always travelling, was very good at sticking to plans and keeping us up to date if anything changed. However, it wasn’t unusual for Zisimos to be travelling by himself at all, he was a frequent solo traveller. He would meet up with fellow travellers and make friends in the hostels, but he would travel predominantly alone.”
Police in Nepal have tracked his final movements to the 24 April when he checked into the Tibet Hotel in Namche Bazaar and spent the night before leaving his belongings, promising to return in a few days. He was planning to head to the Mount Everest base camp but it is still unclear whether he made it to the mountains. Murder has not been ruled out, however authorities think an accident is more likely. The family have hired a private investigator to look into Zisimos’s case and are working with the police in both the UK and Nepal.
Zisimos was a popular student during his time at St Andrews: senior student of St Regulus Hall and an active member of the athletics team. He also ran a unique campaign for Student Association President in 2010 under the slogan ‘the naked president’, which saw him posing for a series of posters in the nude.
A close friend from his time at St Andrews, Samantha Levine said: “When he told me he was going to climb Mount Everest alone, I did not question it. He was a fiercely independent person and he enjoyed travelling solo.”
Zisimos’s disappearance is one of several in the area with twelve current missing foreigners and the decapitated body of backpacker Debbie Maveau, found in June. The Nepali government, under mounting international pressure, has recently passed a bill altering its rules for solo hikers. Groups have always been required to take a guide with them but now this has been widened to include solo hikers as well.
Sophie Souflas feels the move is premature: “It seems to be an unnecessary blanket ban, however of course this will prevent further cases such as that of Zisimos. The problem is that we do not know for definite that Zisimos went up to the Everest base camp and went missing on the way, we only know that he was planning to, so it can seem unfair to penalise experienced hikers for the lack of preparation by amateurs.”
Ms Souflas added: “Our family’s main priorities at the moment have been to ensure adequate press coverage of Zis and to keep it in the public’s mind. The worry is that Zisimos will be forgotten and become just another missing person.”
Ms Souflas has recently appeared on BBC Breakfast News to raise awareness and the story has been covered in the both the national and international press.
A Facebook group has been set up where friends and contacts can share information and ideas titled ‘Searching for Zisimos’, which has attracted over 230 members.
Behind the story – Erin Lyons
Over forty percent of visitors to Nepal arrive in Namche Bazaar, the common town from which those planning to climb Mount Everest begin their ascent to the base camp. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office strongly advises against trekking alone in the region. Since 2003, four Britons and eight other foreign nationals climbing solo have been reported missing. Dangers include the remoteness of the area as well as increasing reports of violence against travellers with the decapitated remains of Belgian backpacker Debbie Maveau found near a hiking trail in Langtang National Park only this June.
The new bill, passed this summer, and in place from September by the Nepali parliament will hope to curb the trend though it has been met with cynicism from some experienced travellers who feel the move is an overreaction and will lead to soaring travel costs.