10.03.2012 - 11.03.2012 -6 °C
On that full moon night, when I was in Sandakphu, things were not the way usually it is.
We had a whole log hut to ourselves. Well almost, if the two men from Veitnam had not occupied the fourth room. Ours was in the middle of the three rooms. As you entered the cottage, the first room on the right was for Amar and Tshering. The next was ours and the third was occupied by the other three girls and the guy. The room opposite us was the one taken by the Vietnamese. Next to their room were the washrooms. Between the fourth room and the washroom there was a staircase which led to a mezzanine floor. Once or twice I did look up the stairs and the locked door. My guesstimate said “it might be the owner’s room.”
The first thing me and my roomie decided when we entered the room was to join both the beds before we sleep. We knew by night the temperature would drop beyond what our bodies are normally used to and the two quilts each we had at our disposal would not keep us warm enough.
In hills dinner is always served early, or to re-phrase, in hills the day starts early and people winds up early too. After dinner as we walked back to our cottage, Amar, our guide, gave us one final briefing before we’d embark on our final trek the next morning. And once we were done with the “briefing”, Amar asked Dipanjali and me if we’d care to join him for a chit chat before we retire for the night. It was still early to call it a day by our standards and we happily agreed to this deal. Our chit chat session had just reached its pinnacle when Tshering entered the room with two jugs of hot water and regretfully said pointing to his watch, “Ma’am, its time for bed. It’s already nine. The generators will be switched off in another fifteen minutes.”
Both Dipanjali and I were nonchalant, paid a little attention to what our Sherpa has just said and grabbed the hot water jugs like kids snatching their favourite toys and tried warming our hands. Tshering meant “business” with his sermon and we knew we had to cut short our great “adda” and proceed for a good night’s sleep.
As we exchanged “Good nights” Amar asked us to wait for a minute and was fumbling for something inside his first aid kit. He took out two pills and asked both of us to pop it.
“What’s this for Amar?” I asked.
“Alprazolam”, he said. “Have it. Tomorrow will be a long day’s trek and you girls are having problem with your sleep. This will de-stress you and you will be able to sleep”, he further added.
Yes, we both did not have a proper sleep since the time we embarked on this journey and we were happy that at last our guide finally gave us something to make us rest. Amar is usually a non-believer in sedatives and pain relievers.
We popped the pills and went to our room. We looked at each other and it was understood that now both of us were not in a mood to shift the table and join the beds – a deal we both had agreed when we first arrived Sandakphu.
Also we had this thing in our mind that soon the pill will work wonders and we will be fast asleep, so why bother with this chore of moving furniture?
But if truth be told, I could not get a wink of sleep the whole night. I tossed from one side to another, but it did not help. I don’t know how long I kept tossing and turning. Suddenly I heard sharp cries of a baby. You know a small baby – an infant crying out sharply because of some discomfort. It seemed the cry came from outside. I wondered who could be out there in this extreme cold and strong wind with a baby in hand. But the cries would not stop. It continued for quite a while. Fifteen minutes maybe, or maybe more. I was cold. I had covered myself entirely with the quilt, just keeping enough room to let some fresh air come in for me to breathe. Though it was a full moon night, it seemed pith dark and sinister. And I tried trying to keep my thoughts sane and not let any wrong feelings and thoughts get better off me. The more I tried to evade it, the more closer I could feel the cries. At one point I felt the baby was crying in the corridor. I did my best to shut my ears. And then it was gone. There was pin droop silence, except for the roaring winds outside. I somehow managed to take my headlamp, lit it and focused towards Dipanjali. She too was fully covered with her quilt and I thought she was in a deep slumber. I desperately wanted to knock on Amar’s door and ask either him or Tshering to come and sleep in our room. But then was I thinking too much? Was I behaving like a lunatic?
And then I heard footsteps in the corridor, it was crystal clear, similar to the sound of a tennis ball bouncing on a wooden floor. I had a sigh of relief. I said to myself, “So this must be the owner who has a baby and has come to the room upstairs.”
I tried to sleep with this positive thought in mind but yet I failed miserably.
A faint knock on the door – thump thump thump – stop and thump thump thump again; akin to a sound you’d hear if you knock someone’s door with a coin or with a ring you’re wearing in one of your fingers. I again consoled myself, “it must be the winds, that’s what is making the door thud.”
As I tried to sleep yet one more time, I tried playing a small game. I could hear Dipanjali breathing in and out and I tried breathing in when she breathed out. I thought maybe this would be equivalent to counting sheep to lull me to sleep. But I was wrong. To add more miseries to my state of wakefulness, I felt a third person breathing in and out and that too with a blocked nose. I again tried to shrug off this feeling. Maybe it was one of the girls or the guy snoring in the next room; it was after all just a thin wooden plank that divided the room.
Soon it was time to get up. Dipanjali shook me by my shoulders and I saw Amar too. “Come outside to catch the rising sun and get both the cameras”, he said and walked away. I was still groggy and unsteady. As I walked outside in that cold, I told Dipanjali, “I could not get a wink of sleep.”
“Same here”, she replied.
“What?” I asked her. I further said, “I did check you once but you were all covered up and I thought it’d be rude to wake you up. Tell me the pill did not work?”
“It did not work”, she said.
She looked hesitant and then asked me, “Nandini, did you hear a baby cry at night and someone walking in the corridor?”
“I did’, I said. And then I gave her my logic. I told her, it must have been the owner of the cottage.
And then she further asked, “Did you hear the knocks in our door?”
I again nodded in affirmation and explained her logic number two – the roaring winds must have made the door go thump thump thump.
“But there is no way from where the winds could come in. The whole cottage has glasses which are fully intact”, she said.
I knew. I knew what she meant. But I was trying to be logical.
The sun rose and it was the most picturesque thing I have ever seen with my eyes. It’s something to be felt and experienced.
As I was taking pictures, I saw Amar a few steps away. I walked towards him and asked, “Tell me did you hear a baby cry?”
“Did you?” he asked back.
“Yes we both did” I told him.
“So the pills I gave you were of no use? You did not sleep?” he asked.
I was perplexed. I wanted clear answers.
Amar, shaking his head from one side to the other looked at me and then at Tshering and said, “So you felt her?”
I was still clueless. It was cold and I was in no mood for jokes and I wanted straight and simple answers.
“Strange things happen in this cottage. Believe it or not. I did not say anything earlier because if nothing spooky occurred you girls would be still scared to sleep. So I gave you the pills. Just in case, just to make sure you girls would sleep soundly”, Amar explained.
“How do you know? How can you be so sure?” both Dipanjali and I asked him.
“Well, I have had spooky encounters myself earlier when I was here”, he said and did not care if we believed him or not.
We looked at each other. It was like an unsolved jigsaw puzzle. Maybe it was a hallucination… an optical illusion. Whatever the case it was we did not speak much about it.
As we walked towards the room, I was feeling uneasy. There were uncertainties. How could two people have the same feelings? How could the sedative not work on both of us. It was too much for me to comprehend at that time. For we had a long day and we had to get ready at the earliest. These things could wait.
As a rule drinking plenty of water is mandatory, especially when you’re trekking. Dipanjali reached for the jug of water, the same one Tshering had filled in with hot water for us the night earlier and we used it as hot water bags. The water we knew obviously would be cold by now. As she tired pouring the water in a glass, not a drop came out. She opened the jug and gave out a cry.
“Nandini, did you gulp the whole jug of water during the night?” she asked.
“Crazy are you?” I asked her back.
“Even I did not have a drop of water”, she told me. And also added, “but look at this”, she showed me the opened jug. It was empty and was completely dry. It seemed the jug had not been used for days.
We asked the other four if they heard the cries of a baby, or the footsteps or if there were knocks on their door. But none of them heard.
Dipanjali and I looked into each other. And we were scared. We did not discuss the matter, until we were inside the safe confines of our home.
The only times I’ve been terror stricken was while watching movies like The Blair Witch Project, The Paranormal Activity series and a handful of Bollywood horror flicks. I never believed paranormal activities happened in real life until I encountered a of them myself! The first few I can give a miss – much like scientists says – it might be a case of hallucination or optical illusion, though there are chances something was downright spooky….