I was very tired tonight, but I always am nowadays. May be, it’s the old age creeping up! I was walking on the desolate road of Pasarani Ghat towards Panchgani, which is 10km from Wai, West Maharashtra. I live there.
Panchgani is a small hill station, around 5,000 ft above sea level. It’s around 200km from Bombay. Wai is a small town at the foot of the Sahyadri mountains. It’s famous for its Ganapati temple near Krishna river. The huge 20ft statue of this temple is said to reduce in height by 5mm every 5 years. It’s said that once the statue is reduced to oblivion, the world as we know of will end. I’m an agnostic and don’t really believe or disbelieve in God, so there wasn’t much attraction for me. I kept walking on the deserted road, snaking towards Panchgani through the mountains. The silhouette of brooding trees enhancing the melancholy of the sad night. It was full moon and the road was lit up. I shivered, even though it wasn’t a cold night. The winter breeze rustled the leaves of the trees, who were swaying like connoisseurs nodding their heads to the beats of music at a concert.
The Pasarani ghat is one of the more picturesque roads in India. the road is barely 50 feet wide with one way traffic. It’s protected on one side by the lofty Sahyadri mountain and as if to negate and counterbalance that safety, the other side spills into a 1,200 ft ravine. There is no parapet wall, neither lights, which make it very treacherous and dangerous for a first time visitor, especially at night. Like all ghats in India, even this one has an abundance of sharp turns and hair-pin bends. Statistics say that around 365 people die each year on this road. That makes it about a death for a calendar day. I don’t know how they arrived at this number and never ceased to wonder on the stupidity of the statisticians! They also kill people on holidays and festivals! I giggled at the thought.
Suddenly I froze! I sensed, rather than saw someone or something. One of the shadows detached from the grove of trees on the side of the road. A deep voice whispered. “Hello!”
Everyone knew that the ghat is haunted. You cannot have a place, where 365 people die horribly in a year, and don’t expect it to be haunted! I’m speaking on data, mind you! I mean, come on! Where would the ghosts go!
I was rooted for a minute. The shadow said that he was going towards Panchgani and was afraid of the lonely scape. He asked if I’d mind if he accompanied me. Of course I did, but I agreed. It’s very difficult to deny someone, who has the good manners to ask you if you would mind it.
It was a breathtaking nightscape! The roof above was ablaze with the full moon and its tiny twinkling companions. The floor below was glittering as if a few of those tiny stars have slipped from their lofty perch and were fallen below, where the villagers were using them to light up their meager homes. I always loved the ghats, mountains and oceans. Nature has a very weird sense of humor. The most beautiful things are usually the most dangerous. The same beautiful ghat has claimed 365 lives a year. Again, I’m quoting those statisticians.
We started walking towards Panchgani on the lonely road, our footfalls echoing off the stone walls of the mountain. He broke the uneasy silence, “I’ve heard that this stretch of road is haunted. Are you afraid of ghosts?”
“No.” I replied. “Are you?”
“It is an unfair question to ask to anyone, if you expect an honest answer. Everyone is scared of ghosts, but their false bravado will make them refute it.” He replied philosophically “I believe in ghosts but am not really afraid of them. Most of us believe in them in varying degrees, whatever we claim. The fear of ghosts is nothing but simply the fear of unknown. Once one understands the unknown, the fear is replaced by a challenging thrill.”
I gave a non-commital grunt and rolled my eyes at this impromptu gyan, “Well as a fact, I don’t believe in supernatural. All my life, I am yet to see a ghost. How can I believe in something which I haven’t seen?” I asked him logically.
“Then, you must not believe in wind, because you haven’t ever seen it!” He giggled. “I won’t ask you to believe it against your conviction. Let me tell you one of my experiences, then I’ll ask you to be a fair judge and decide if the supernatural really exists. Deal?”
There was no harm in agreeing. Anyway it was a long and boring walk. He began, “Ten years ago I and one of my friends were going to Mahabaleshwar and were passing through this very ghat. We had heard about the rumor of a man and a lady in the middle of the ghat, who always asked for lift from the unsuspecting strangers and then the strangers invariably met with a fatal and gruesome accident, usually killing everyone in the vehicle. We swore to not to stop on the ghat for anyone, without exceptions.”
“And, you met them!” I was unable to keep the scorn out of my voice at such a predictable yarn in which a so called ghost asks for lift and murders the good samaritans. Come on! Even I’m more imaginative than this!
“Yes. We did meet them.” the stranger in shadows replied quietly. “But, they didn’t stop us for lift. In fact, they didn’t even meet us in that sense! We just found their dismembered bodies stretched on the road which were crushed by passing vehicles, which did not stop.”
I didn’t initially follow what he said, then it sank in. “You mean, a real couple who needed help, were crushed by vehicles on this ghat?” I was aghast, my hands waving across the deserted road.
“Yes.” the stranger nodded solemnly. “It was a haunting scene. The road was slick with their blood in bright moonlight. Have you seen blood splotches in moonbeams? It’s like nothing you have ever seen! The blood looks like tar and emits an unearthly glow!”
“Then?” I wasn’t interested in any such morbid spectacle.
“We stopped the car and got down. It was impossible to assume that they would still be alive in this dismembered and crushed state, spread all over the highroad. We decided to rush to Panchgani and get some help and boarded the cab. I shot a fearful glance at the carnage behind and my blood turned to ice! The road was awash with bright moonlight with not a spec of dirt on its face. There was no sign of the blood and gore we just witnessed a minute before. I looked at my companion with wide eyes, who was equally terrified. We jumped into the cab, wound up the windows and shot towards Panchgani.” He seemed to shudder at the recollection of the event.
“May be, you hallucinated!” I offered helpfully.
“Both of us? At the same time?” He shot back. “Hallucinations don’t work like this.”
That shut me up. “Then?”
“We hardly went a kilometer ahead when both of us felt that we were not alone. It was an eery realization. Something caught my sight in the rear-view mirror and I froze. I felt as if two shadows were sitting quietly watching us, their faces invisible in the deep shadows. I nudged my friend and indicated towards the mirror. The way his eyes spread in terror told me that even he could see what I saw. One of the shadows raised an icy claw and kept it on my shoulder, caressing my nape of neck. I suddenly realized that the interior of the car was filled with a stench of rotting flesh, as at a morgue. Another shadow hugged my friend from behind, with its bristly arms around him. Its arms were splotchy green with a mottled texture. I screamed. So did my companion. We were crossing this hair-pin bend at breakneck speed.” He waved his hand.
We had reached the major blind turn, mid-way to Panchgani, where the road turns in a hair pin in its upward climb. Many boards are erected there, warning the drivers to go slow as it’s a major accident spot.
“Then the car got out of control and cannoned into a tree, and then bounced away into the ravine, ricocheting off the numerous rocks.” The shadow said, pointing towards the glowing villages at the foot of the mountain. “I was thrown out of the moving vehicle and felt my head held in an iron grasp by the creatures in the car. I saw my body sailing through the flying car and then it vanished somewhere into the thickets over there. my head was still in the steel vice of the creature.” He stopped and turned toward me. Suddenly the night was silent. The incessant chirping of crickets became inaudible and the rustling of leaves by the breeze was muffled. In the dead silence of the night, the stranger whispered, “It was a horrible death! I don’t think that you can imagine yourself without a head, can you?”
We had stopped under a huge tree. He was standing in moonlight, his facial features barely visible.
“Like this?” I pulled out my head, kept it on my palm and walked towards my new friend.
He looked at the grinning head on my palm for a second, then screamed hysterically and fell down. He tried to crawl away from me. The face on my palm was animated with a malevolent laughter and my headless torso was heaving with it. The stranger tried to scramble away and then stumbled at the low parapet. He fell over in the ravine, his terrified screams waking up the sleeping birds.
He was trying to scare a ghost! The comedy of the situation overwhelmed me and I laughed like a maniac. A high pitched ultrasonic laughter, which only bats could hear and shiver in fear. I cackled in monstrous laughter and rose above those ghats like a giant and invisible bat. I saw a couple of dark figures crawling out of the woods. May be the friends of this practical joker, who may have been wondering why was he talking to no one! I rode the wind to St Patricks cemetery in Panchgani.
366. After all, this is a leap year!