There's no such thing as ghosts, there's no such thing as ghosts, there's no such...
How do you deal with life and all of the bouncers and googlies she throws at you? I run away... when the going gets tough, I get going... to far away places on my bike. There's no better way, in my opinion, to help you get some perspective than on a bike. Almost every bike trip I've made has helped me understand how trivial most of my problems back home are.
One of my favourite biking routes is through the valleys of Himachal. The surprises around every bend - flowers abloom, little waterfalls, quaint villages - lure me there. The last time I visited (and maybe the last time I will ever visit) was during the monsoons last year.
My biker bud, Shubhi, and I cut through the dense jungles, sanctuaries, and thick monsoon fog of Western Himachal Pradesh. Along the way, we stayed at the different jungle lodges and huts that dot the highway. Most of these stays are inconsequential – nothing to write home about, just a place for your head for the night; but some of them... they leave a mark.
We reached the booking office of an old English row of cottages now serving as a guest houses for travellers like Shubhi and me. We climbed up a flight of stairs, every step raised at an uneven height, to an office shut behind an 'Under Renovation' sign. I called out to check if someone could hear me, but in vain. Just as I was about to exit, a man wearing a monkey-cap jumped out at us, from nowhere! He apologised for the condition of the Booking Office and led me to a small concrete structure which was the manager’s make-shift one for now.. He helped us through the check-in procedure swiftly and assured me of all help and service we would require during our stay.
The cottage we had booked was at the farthest end of the meadow, a kilometre and half away from the booking office. We walked briskly, following the bell boy, who very skilfully carried much of our luggage. As we approached the cottage, it all seemed unreal – the fairy-tale cottage with a thick forest behind, chirps and songs of birds unseen, lofty snow-clad mountains and greenery you can only dream of!
Hardly a fairy tale cottage!
The caretaker of the cottage lived right behind and came to welcome us. He said he would be the one serving us our meals and to call him for any assistance. Since there was no intercom or phone in the cottage, he gave us his mobile number and left us for the afternoon. As I got busy clicking pictures of birds, Shubhi was unpacking her stuff. We set out to explore the place, made friends with the locals, ate corn and returned back to our cottage just in time for our evening tea.
Enjoying the monsoon drizzle from our sit-out, we watched the sun set as we sipped on hot cups of sweet, milky tea. Very soon, the evening changed colours – from warm golden to a romantic orange-violet melange and soon to an overbearing grey. Just then, a loud clap of thunder startled us. The drizzle had now turned into a heavy downpour with loud thunder and frequent flashes of lightning. The air turned cold and we slipped into our woollens. Staying put inside the cottage wasn’t our idea of enjoyment and we waited for the rain to stop. Well, it didn’t stop but decreased over a couple of hours and I was happy to open the main door that led into the meadow. Although Shubhi didn’t approve of me stepping outside on a cold, dark night, I could not resist the ‘calling’.
Walk in the wild
Minutes later, she called me inside as we had to order for dinner. We relished our dinner in the sitting area and listened to melodies of by-gone eras before retiring for the night.
Just as we stepped into the bedroom, our room lit up with the crack of the biggest lightning bolt I had ever seen. And then we were in darkness. Our power was out and the room heater conked off. We were stuck in the dark. I had a head torch in my bag which was Shubhi’s soon-to-be idol of worship! Shubhi hates the dark and sleeps with a small light by her side, switched on, all night! So this, was not at all a ‘good night’ for her, though she wished me one before we pretended to sleep.
SCREEEEEE SCREEEEEE SCREEEEEEE
There was a noise coming out of our ceiling. Not our roof. Our ceiling. It was like nails on a blackboard, or metal grinding on metal. At first it came in breaks, but then later, the sound grew louder and lasted longer. Disturbed, I switched on my torch and pointed its beam towards the noise and the noise stopped… only to restart at another point above the ceiling. I continued to shine the torch in whichever direction it need be but later got tired of the monotonous game. I was sleepy.
Thinking it to be pigeons, I convinced Shubhi to sleep as well.
Moments later, we heard a similar sound right next to our bed! We were too shocked to move and stayed pinned to our pillows, wide eyed! The noise was coming from Shubhi’s side of the bed and it travelled to our saddlebags that were at an arms distance from her. We then heard various kinds of rustling noises, which oddly enough, sounded familiar. The rustling was of the different plastic bags we packed our clothes and other items in and arranged them in the saddle bags to keep them free from rain.
IT -- WHATEVER IT WAS -- WAS IN OUR BAGS.
Who’s there? Image source: thoughtcatalog.com
Trying hard to keep ourselves from screaming, we moved gently, without a noise and flashed the torch directly on the saddlebags expecting a rat or a snake… but no! Not a thing to be seen. Then again the screeching from the ceiling began and we let it, as we lay in silence. We were tired and sleepy and wished this would end. Calmed ourselves down and decided to ignore the ruckus just when the wooden floor next to me creaked aloud, as if someone walked past. We both jumped up in bed and Shubhi yelled, “Who is it?!” – Silence inside the cottage and winds howling outside – no other noise but our the panic in our breaths.
Shubhi insisted we call Mr. Caretaker to ‘take care’ of the issue. He said he will check for any animal or miscreants loitering around, if at all. Although he pacified us, we do not think he actually searched the place as no beam of light or torch was seen moving outside ever on that deadly, dark night.
Tired of all these games, I was in half a mind to quit sleeping entirely and to get out of bed. “Get out of bed and do what??” It was dark, we could see nothing and do nothing until daybreak.
Then, out of nowhere, my stomach decided it wanted to join in the cacophony of horror. Rumbling, rumbling, it made me want to go to the bathroom. I knew I had enjoyed dinner a little too much. Just as I stepped out of bed, I heard a clang in the bathroom.
Wow – whoever... whatever this noise-making thing was, it knew my every movement. My bowel movements included. Control – control – control but for how long? I really needed to go… and I did, with Shubhi at the door. Well, we were scared and took turns being the Guard of Honour that night.
She-ghost. Image source: hauntingindia.com
Quietly, we returned to our blankets and told ourselves to ignore all commotion and sleep. I did but before that, I saw Shubhi praying and then she spoke to ‘whoever’ it was, “We are only guests here, leaving tomorrow. Please don’t harrow us this way! Let us sleep. Please!”
Silence. Pin drop silence. I swear, the storm outside had let up as well.
At daybreak, we woke up tired. The power was back and the heater was working. Our saddlebags were still packed, and intact, none of the plastic bags seemed to have been opened. Everything seemed normal but for one – everyone who came to the cottage, right from the caretaker to the bellboy, everyone was curious to know if we slept well. The manager too asked us if we managed to sleep through the storm comfortably. “Of course,” Shubhi exclaimed, “it takes more than a little power outage to scare us biker chicks.” It sure does.
I'm never going back to Himachal again. Or at least for a while. When the going gets tough, I'm going to stay the hell in the comfort of my home.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Sheetal Bidaye
Photographs by Sheetal Bidaye
Cover photo credit: kahramangiller.com