Latest technology and satellite imagery have helped the Himachal Pradesh Police recover the priceless and centuries-old idol of Lord Raghunath, the chief deity of the Kullu Valley.
A Special Investigating Team, with the help of Google Earth, last week managed to track down the exact locations where the three idols were buried and another was "disposed of". The case virtually saw the police and the Nepalese prime suspect trying to outsmart each other with the help of technology.
Nar Prashad Jaisi, the 30-year-old suspect, was nabbed Jan 22 from Nepal, 45 days after the theft of the idol of Lord Raghunath, dedicated to Lord Rama, from a historic temple in Sultanpur in Kullu town. He was keeping a close watch on police activities on the Internet after the crime, one of the investigators said.
The accused broke into the temple Dec 9 last year and took away the idols, valuables and artefacts.
"After the crime, he travelled between Kullu and Haryana between Dec 9 and 13. His last cell phone activity was traced on the Indo-Nepal border Dec 16," a police officer told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"During interrogation, he revealed that he abandoned his plans for the time being to take the stolen idols and valuables out of the state as the police had sealed the inter-state borders. He was closely following the police action through social media and news items via Internet," the officer added.
Sensing the high alert and help being sought from Interpol, he decided to bury the idols and valuables in a bag along the Beas river near the crime spot for the time being. Arrested near Kohalpur in Banke district with the help of the special Nepal police, his interrogation revealed that he was in a contact with a monk in China to dispose of the idols.
"A day before his arrest he came from Kathmandu. He also travelled to Tattapani (a two-hour road drive from Kathmandu and located on the Nepal-China border) to negotiate the deal," another police officer told IANS, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Initially, he was lying that the idols he had stolen have been sold off. Later he agreed to give exact details of where he has concealed the idols. Since he can't be brought to India, we have decided to use Google Earth to know the exact location where the idols were dumped," he said.
He said a team in Himachal was in touch with its counterparts in Nepal via WhatsApp. "From the photos sent through WhatsApp the accused identified the exact locations."
The idols were dumped at a place close to Bajaura on the Kullu-Mandi border.
"Three days after the theft, he decided to carry the idols only. As he was travelling in a bus, it was stopped by the police near the Kullu border. He hurriedly got down from the bus on the pretext of easing himself and buried the bag containing the idols in the forest. He kept the smallest of the idols (of about three inches) with him. But when he saw the police frisking the passengers, he threw the idol out of the window," the officer said.
Acting on his revelations, the police Jan 23 recovered all the idols from Bajaura and ornaments comprising one kilogram of gold and 10 kg of silver from Beasa Mor near Kullu.
The three-member team deputed to Nepal comprised inspectors Lokinder Negi and Raj Kumar and head constable Sanjeev Walia.
Additional Director General Sanjay Kundu, who supervised the investigation, said that the accused is currently in police custody in Nepal. "We have approached the government of India for his extradition," Kundu told IANS.
Police sources said the footage of the accused obtained from CCTV cameras installed in the temple area and the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number helped cracking the case.
Besides the idol of Lord Raghunath, an idol of Hanuman, a stone statue of Narsingh Shila (covered with gold), a silver Ganesh idol, a pair of Charan Paduka and ornaments were stolen from the temple.
Idols of Lord Raghunath and Hanuman are made of 'ashtadhatu' - a composite of eight metals.
The Lord Raghunath idol is a historic one and has huge antique value as Raja Jagat Singh, the erstwhile ruler of Kullu, obtained it from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. It was then installed in the 17th century temple.