A night I spent
In a house haunted.
Ghosts and spirits
My supernatural heroes
Are running their chores,
In disbelief I think
Why they are gone.
They fade into shadows
Still grateful to them
For that enchanting oasis.
“You plan too much”, my daughter complains.
She strongly believes that because of my obsession to planning, we do not travel much. She feels, we should just pack our bags and hop into a train and push off. On the other hand, I feel, before we start for any place, we should be hundred percent sure of the trains we will be travelling by and positively the hotel rooms need to be booked in advance. I’m not the type to get into any train or move into any hotel. I have a fetish of cleanliness. I like to travel clean and stay in a spic and span hotel. Frankly speaking, if my pocket had permitted, I would always travel five-star like taking “The Palace on Wheels” or staying at the Taj or at the Hilton. Unfortunately, with my middle class budget, I cannot afford this luxury and therefore so much preparation is needed before any travel. And if I cannot travel well, I would rather stay put in my house and watch TLC, and enjoy glimpses of different places in the world, in the coziness of my living room. My daughter, on the other hand, is not even bothered if, for some reason, she has to travel in a sleeper-class. She is a true traveler, I am not.
Anyway, a couple of years back, during the long weekend of the 15 August, I decided to surprise my family. I planned for an impromptu visit to Nainital. When I informed my daughter about this proposal, she was very happy indeed. However, when I told her that I had not reserved any room in a hotel for our two days’ stay, even an adventurous person like her got a bit taken aback. She thought, it was too much all at once, and felt that it was injudicious of me not to reserve a place beforehand. I was of course, determined to prove her wrong and was ready to take any risk to disprove my reputation forgetting that I was not the only one travelling and we were three people. I just collected a few hotel names and numbers and I told my family, once we reached Nainital, we would contact them. Somehow, I was certain, there would not be any hitches.
In spite of my daughter’s and her father’s insistence, I did not contact any hotel. They ultimately gave in to my resolution and were hoping for a pleasant surprise. The day came when we started our journey very early in the morning. It is about ten hour journey in a car from Kanpur to Nainital. The journey was long but smooth. The weather was almost perfect for such a long drive although there was some threat of showers in between. When we reached Haldwani, there was still daylight; it was probably three in the afternoon. But since we were not used to the hills and they get dark too abruptly, we were really in a hurry to reach the destination. Ultimately, we reached Naini at about four thirty in the afternoon. The few hotels whose names I gathered from the internet were approached first.
The first few rejected us saying that there was no vacancy. Disappointed, still hoping against hope we went to the other side of the tal but with no success. My daughter suggested a hotel named Mannu Maharani where her friends stayed during their vacation. My daughter’s insistence on booking a hotel was then haunting me; I immediately took her suggestion and went to the said hotel. It was a very good one indeed, but alas, there was no vacancy as well. Looking at the helpless face of my young daughter, I felt so miserable. I entreated with the people there at the desk. They were very sweet though, tried many other hotels and even a few bread and breakfast for at least one night but without any success.
When I came out of the hotel, I did not know what to do especially having a teenager with us. Looking at my guilt ridden face both my husband and my daughter decided not to complain. We had at that time three options—the first– spending the night in the car itself which was absolutely out of question considering the fact that we had with us our young girl. The second option was to go back to Haldwani and stay in a hotel there. And the third one was to go to Mukteswar, travelling about hundred kilometers from Naini and it would probably take about three hours to reach there. We knew that by the time we would reach Mukteswar, it would be really dark. In spite of that we reserved a hotel for one night in one Mukteshwar hotel, on phone.
However, by that time my temporarily adventurous existence had surrendered to my permanent, intrinsic self and basically a coward like me ruled out this third option especially when I had already got a bitter taste of this one time escapade. For the last time, I tried a few more hotels in Naini itself but it seemed that the entire India had decided to visit the place for that weekend. I sat in my car dejected trying to find some sensible alternative. God had probably listened to my desperate prayer. A great idea struck me all of a sudden and I remembered that one of my friends had her family living in Naini.
Immediately, I called her. My friend even today teases me about my frantic call. When she heard the complete story and the sound of desperation in my voice, she started calling a few of her friends for helping us. And I was so eager to get a positive response that any phone call I got at that time, I thought, it was from her. Ultimately, thanks to providence and of course, thanks to her, an apartment in a hotel was reserved for us for the weekend. But it was in Khurpatal, a half an hour journey from Nainital. However, beggars cannot be choosers. Any tal would do at that time. After thanking my friend profusely, we started for the hotel Dynasty in Khurpatal. But the day was not meant for us.
On our way, there was a huge jam; so many cars creating an insurmountable traffic; probably all were going to the Dynasty. As it was getting dark, I lost all patience and decided to stay overnight in any other place if it happened to come on our way. Lo and behold, we found a decent bed and breakfast on the way. It was already six thirty in the evening. We decided against going to the Dynasty and instead chose to spend the night there, of course, if there were any vacant rooms. We took the car through the cobblestone driveway and reached the reception. Surprisingly, it was an unexpectedly quiet place considering the number of visitors in Naini.
In fact, we were probably the only guests over there. Perhaps very few people notice this quaint place in the middle of long pine trees. There was literally a jungle around the house. The place was however very neat and clean and was run by an old couple who came to greet us themselves as though they were very happy to see human faces. After a long journey we desperately needed rest and very soon we were ushered to our small room, neatly arranged with the bare minimum furniture, a wardrobe, a bedside table and an antique chest of drawers. The wooden floor was covered with a small rug, a little worn and torn. The bathroom too was clean and it had a geyser too. So we all decided to take a shower and at last I could look at the faces of my daughter and her father without guilt.
Meanwhile, we sent our driver to the city to get some food for the night since the host had a little difficulty to provide us dinner. There was no television in that room and so there was no other option than to hit the sack early once we finished our dinner; we were exhausted too. At night, while on bed, all three of us heard some voices and were assured that we were not the only guests in that somewhat silent and eerie house. Due to our fatigue, in no time we were fast asleep.
The next morning when we got up, we found our host family getting ready with our breakfast but there was no other guest apart from us. We asked them about the noises we heard the night before. They smiled and replied that although they did not hear such noises, whoever came to their house had complained about this. Somehow we felt a little strange and did not like their answer. Very soon, we finished our breakfast and thanked them profusely before we left for the Dynasty.
On our way, we were discussing about this place and were expressing our concern why this place did not have too many visitors. Our driver butted in our conversation. He said that the previous night he did not spend the night in the quarters of the bed and breakfast; instead he spent the night in the city in the car itself. While he went to the city for our food, he talked to some people in the city and in conversation, it came out that the place was a haunted one.
And in fact, there was no old couple living there, they died a long time back; after their only son committed suicide there due to some problems in his job, they too strangled themselves in the same house. After that, that house was left deserted and no one was ready to purchase either the house or the surrounding land although its real estate value rose immensely. All of us had goose bumps and I started shouting at the driver accusing him of being unnecessarily discreet about the whole matter. He should have informed us immediately. He sheepishly replied that when he brought us food, he saw that we had already unpacked and seeing us so tired, he did not have the heart to reveal the truth. He thought it judicious to keep the secret till the sun came and hoped somehow we would manage one night.
I still cannot fathom how he expected us to spend one whole night with a non-existent couple in almost a non-existent house. But the reality is, we did. We even had breakfast cooked by them and believe me, it was really good —toast, omelette, coffee, et al. It means we now have a pretty good idea how ghost-food tastes. I can joke about it now but could not do so at that time. The thought of having spent a whole night in a haunted house, having a chat with two living ghosts and having breakfast cooked by them gave all of us a creep. The next two days’ stay in the Dynasty was much duller compared to this eventful stay. On our way back, just out of curiosity, we wanted to have a look at that haunted place. Mysteriously, the house did not look livable from any angle even from the outside.
My daughter still teases me by saying that for her coward and extremely boring mother the adventure was too much in one trip.