Author: Nishiraj A. Baruah
Time: midnight. Place: Jaisalmer. Mode of conveyance: Toyota Fortuner. Destination: A village. Mood: Apprehensive.
How would they make their presence felt? Would we hear screams? Or wails? What would be their shape if at all they decide to make an appearance? Would they harm you? What if they decide to play mischief on us from their invisible existence? Has it been wise to bring my four year old daughter along? Won’t she be frightened?
We have all the reasons to be anxious, of course. Earlier in the day, the guide had flatly refused to come with us for this tour. And now that we are here, our driver refuses to come out of the car, locking himself in. The belief in some paranormal presence is so strong that the locals don’t even like talking about it – your probing questions eliciting no more than monosyllables.
The haunted trail organised by the Suryagarh hotel, a luxury property 15-minutes drive from Jaisalmer city, is downright spooky. Our car rips through the heavy-as-hell darkness, the headlights sawing off the thick black blanket. Suddenly, the driver takes a sharp right turn. But where is the road?
Far up we see the blue stars. Far ahead we see blinking red lights – hundreds of them. Are we on an industrial wasteland? Or is it the landing ground of UFOs? The moon overhead is pale – the kind of moon that breeds wailing werewolves. Our four-by-four grazes over the rough and tumble with the force of a bull, until it stops with a jolt in a clearing. “Those lights are not really blinking. Those are windmills, the rotating blades creating the illusion,” says the driver.
We climb out of the car and take in the eerie quiet of the place. Up ahead, a ‘two-headed’ hill stands silhouetted menacingly against an inky sky. “And there,” says our driver, “is where the women burnt themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyre.” For the uninitiated, this Rajasthani practice was called Sati. A vertical stone column marks the space. A chill runs through my spine. Everyone falls silent. We don’t really get good vibes. Despite all your education, it’s a place where superstitions get extra credence and you don’t really want to linger on. It doesn’t help when you hear that only the day before, an Australian tourist has caught 80 energy points on his iPhone with a special app that can detect paranormal activity. Something is not right for sure, as we hasten to climb back into our car.
Now we drive in the opposite direction. Our destination: The spectacular ruins of Kuldhara, one of the places where Indian Paranormal Society has registered a significant paranormal presence. Again our SUV veers off the road, traversing a rocky, roadless territory. Our little girl gets a whiff of our dark mission and asks, “We see ghosts, mama?” Before we know it, a tall wrought iron gate appears in front of our car, standing like the skeletal remains of an ancient sentinel – unnerving and unwelcoming. The moment we are there, we want to return. “I don’t like this place one bit,” says my wife. A hotel staffer quickly gets down and pulls the gate open for the car to pass. A row of roofless houses stand in various states of disrepair, as the yellow light from the car headlamps search through the crevices of the broken houses. The lanes are too narrow for our SUV, but our driver expertly takes us past the houses supposed to be the habitat of the souls of its original inhabitants – the Paliwal Brahmans. This is a village abandoned overnight 170 years ago. In fact, there are 84 other villages in the area that were similarly abandoned. No one is sure where they have gone. And no one really knows why they left. Stories say that the ruler of these villages pounded the Paliwals with heavy taxes as a result of which they had no option, but to vacate and just disappear from the reach of the ruler. Another story refers to the Prime Minister who had developed a glad eye for the village chief’s stunningly beautiful daughter. To save her honour, the Paliwals left the villages, but as they did so, they left a curse that nobody can inhabit the villages ever. Jaisalmer residents say that some families have attempted to stay there, but they did not succeed.
Moving forward in the second gear through this doomed village, we pass by a town hall, a broken temple, a small roundabout, finally stopping by a 3-storey house where the chief’s daughter was supposed to have stayed. “Come, let’s take a look inside,” says the hotel staffer. All of us decline. It is probably for the first time in my adult life that I have got a bit psyched out by something unseen. It is almost as if the girl would come out of the house singing Lata Mangeshkar’s haunting number Gumnaam hai koi…
“Let’s get out of here, man,” I say and we take a U-turn and drive past the gate. But wait, what is this? Right outside the gate a car – a white Tata Indigo – stands parked. It wasn’t there when we entered! There are no people too inside. Why would anyone park a car in this middle of nowhere, the nearest human habitation being miles away. This is strange. The hotel staffer has no answer.
Want to experience the thrill? Check into Suryagarh (web: Suryargarh.com; email: Karan@Suryagarh.com), bang in the middle of the golden sands of the Thar, that organises this horror tour. Built like a fort with golden sand stone, complete with canons and massive gates, the fort reveals itself step by step, dropping her ghunghat teasingly, leaving you curious for more. Leopard skins, Persian carpets and other fifteenth century embellishments declare its royal sophistication. The luxuries on offer – spa treats in the Maya spa; lal maas and daal vati choorma in their restaurants; the list of single malts at the Colonial bar; a massive swimming pool – are impressive. Our suite boasts of dark polished wooden floors, period furniture and rescued artwork from forgotten attics. All very good except that the Gothic grandfather clock standing in the corner of our room never fails to startle me and my family every time it goes dong, dong, dong…
Fear, you see, leaves a lasting impression.