When someone invites you to vacation with him, what do you do? If you were me – you make sure that he thinks twice before inviting you again. Hold on before you let lose your imagination and let me explain. My friend “Nonjan” (aka weak –his college nickname) Velu had been inviting me for quite some time, to spend a weekend with him at Krishnagiri where had been working at a local hospital. He had been providing me updates on how he has been preparing for the civil services exams in his spare time and how he had now built up his body (with mutton biriyani/3 times a day) to pass the physicals for his dream job of IPS- to become a police apisarrr (p.s. – he complained constantly that a junior rural practice did not earn enough money to survive let alone marry/support a wife/children- leading to permanent bachelorhood due to poverty). Well, that piqued my interest and having a spare weekend – with lots of leave at the office about to lapse without having been taken- and the office administration warning me about it- I decided to take the leave and pay him a visit to see what’s going on.
I reached his place on Krishnagiri, via Dharmapuri, early on a Friday morning and after having freshened up and breakfasted on the local idlis/podis combo- we decided to visit the nearby Denkannikotai or the land of the honeyed fruits. It was a cool pleasant place to visit, complete with lots of fruit orchards selling freshly plucked mangoes. After gorging on a different kind of (fruitarian) lunch of Maa/Pala/Vazhai- the three favorite fruits of Tamil culture – we came back to my friends place and sat around in his room digesting the fruits and deciding over the rest of the tour. My friend let slip about a place in the foothills of Shevaroy hills (Selvarayan Malay)- a small rough-housing place – a so called nature resort reached by a walk/trek through a dense jungle and from which we could easily reach Yercaud the next day for the ongoing flower show/boat race. I think now, looking back, he was just jesting when he mentioned that 6 hour trek- he didn’t expect me to take it seriously, but on a sudden whim I decided to call his bluff. I said “well then, let’s leave early tomorrow”. Now he was caught he couldn’t back out without making a chicken of himself, especially now that he was a “fit” police aspirant. So we decided to leave early next morning for the jungle and spent the rest of the day reminiscing over the bad old college days.
So we left krishnagiri early the next morning and after reaching our starting point at a village I forgot the name of, we entered into a broad path on a scrub field which soon narrowed into a true jungle path…the locals had told us that they usually make it in three hours but we had budgeted for double the time as we were in no hurry and wanted to do some nature photography along the way (or at least I wanted to do). And then started the real adventure. The going was fairly easy at first on a dried muddy trail well trampled by cattle and we had a lot of honeymooners with us for company. But as we started going deeper and deeper inside the path, it became darker and gloomier courtesy the closely entangled trees on either side of the path. Sometimes the trees formed a canopy above us filtering the light to a minimum- great for taking photographs, but a little disconcerting too. And then we met the bear.
Actually we didn’t get to meet it in person- just stare at it… after numerous false alarms of elephants, when we met a group of honeymooning couples standing in a tight group and staring off into the side of the path- we joined them to enquire what they were looking for. One of them pointed out something in the gloomy recess of a nearby bush and said “that’s a bear”. I turned to look that side and stare with all my might at the supposed bear- but all I could make out was the dark brown bark of a tree. If the bear was really there, it was a making a good job of hiding behind it, but my instinct told me it was just a false alarm, that having come so far down the path without having seen a single specimen of the advertised wildlife, the group now busy clicking with their cell phone cameras, had simply invented the bear to inject a little adrenaline kick of danger for the rest of the trek. Rather than going up to the tree and peering behind it (and disturbing the bears privacy) we opted to go our own way and after a long and tiring trek reached the resort compound by late afternoon – for a cup of hot chai and bread toast from the local canteen run by an ever enterprising malayalee chetta- deep in the forest.
After checking out the bare basic accommodation available- under asbestos roofed huts… we hurried over to join the conversation of the communal dining room. When we got there the hottest topic we heard being discussed was about the overabundance of Yakshis, Yallis, Katteris (raktha) and all sorts of creepy low life which seemed to infect the forest we had just passed through. It sent shivers through the spine of my companion as he sat there, sipping more, what else, hot chettakada chaiya..and a few bondas and spicy vazlakka bajjis. He turned towards me and said in all seriousness what a happy coincidence that we hadn’t lingered long on the path as I wanted to, but hurried on to reach the safety of the lighted compound before dusk- safe from those blood sucking ladies who were looking for kanni pasanga (p.s- unmarried males to seduce, like on Facebook?) like us- unfortunately, he was celebrating too early, without having an inkling of what I was planning for that night.
The dinner that night, a candle night dinner because of power failure, was an awesome hot parotta/chicken kuruma combo…in the chill forest night, it was a fantastic experience. Having not had lunch, because we had spent the lunch hour trekking, my friend tried to overcompensate with dinner. Result? Bloated stomach and indigestion. And that’s when a brain wave struck me – what about a late night post dinner walk? Just to loosen those crampy feelings? I suggested to him. In the discomfort he was in he would have agreed to anything. As we left the compound the caretaker informed me that pretty soon they would be closing up the doors and switching on the electrified fence to keep out the elephants from trampling inside the compound during the dark hours of the night. Assuring him that we were just taking a little stroll nearby and will return soon, I hurried my friend opposite to the path we had taken that morning further along the way…soon we were once more in dense jungle and then realized the folly of not having bought a torch with us. The cold black jungle closed on us from all sides and something slimier than stomache clamped on my companions guts…
“Thala, shall we go back, its getting late” he whined. “Dei”I said teeth on edge with that whining “its not even nine yet, when did we ever go to sleep at nine in college?” I asked him. “Lets go a bit deeper and then turn back “I suggested “lets see if the bear comes out now that no one is here”. He pleaded “its not about the bear…its those other things, you know, I don’t want to say those names now, they might get attracted to us” I was trying hard not to laugh now “Attracted to us? Ah, ah? If they do, they must be the only female things on this world to get attracted to us…Dont worry I am here, nothing will come to you” I tried to cheer him up. But he was not consoled “how can you be so sure?, do you have any powerful thayathu (magic charm) with you?” he enquired plaintively… “No”, I told him “you are just imagining things….do you really think a Raktha Katteri would come down now, if I called like this, to bite us both and drink our blood?” I asked in a loud voice. You should have seen the horrified look on his face (sight to remember forever)…he was half expecting a bite on his neck anytime. I felt it was imprudent to push matters further and so giving into him having had my fun and also feeling a little err….tired by now, I graciously agreed (because of him and him only, I wasn’t in the least bit afraid) that we should probably be getting back before they locked the gates. That gave new impetus to our return march, and he started hurrying up the path before I stopped him and politely enquired why he was going up the opposite way deeper into the forest? That stopped him cold. He wasn’t sure whether I was serious or pulling his leg. He hesitated a bit and then said “but I thought this was the way we came here?” I looked at him askance “are you sure?” and having done that bit of good deed to destroy his confidence, I started to follow him back the way we had come.
As we walked back the jungle sounds of insects buzzing around was painfully loud and my friend was so obviously upset, that he kept tripping over small stones and holes on the path. I felt real sympathy for him then and asked “why don’t you hold the cell phone (we were walking by the cellphone light) a bit lower down so you can see where you put your foot?” he answered pathetically “But how can I see what’s in front then?” I couldn’t help asking “what do you expect to see in your front then?” “thala..please don’t make jokes,” he requested “this is not a laughing matter, I am walking holding my life in my hands and am now confused whether we are even going the right way, otherwise we will have to sleep here only tonight” he said almost on the verge of tears. I though hold on, the jokes gone too far, before he either had a stroke here or loose bowels, I must help him back to the resort and putting my hand in my pocket, I whipped out my other cell phone- the costly one with a flashlight app. And switched on the bright flash. The look on my companions face was pure joy “Ennanga, edha sollave ellaye…(Trans-why didn’t you tell me about this?) He asked pathetically and I smiled “Chumma scene panna venamnu dhan (I didn’t want to make a big fuss about my costly phone)” and then lighting the path ahead I led him back just as the compound gates were closed and the fence electrified for the night. If any elephants came visiting that night we didn’t know, we slept that soundly and left for yercaud the next morning.
In Yercaud we went the usual rounds of boating, flower show, etc and all the usual touristy things, before heading back to Salem and back home to re-join office on Monday. But nothing on Yercaud matched the thrill of that night walk on ghostly terrain deep in the jungle. Although nothing did turn up, we had felt a pleasant sensation of having been accompanied by someone throughout the walk….err, I am just joking.
So do you have any similar ghost stories? If so please share..