"The sound felt like someone crushing wrappers. I knew it was no human because there were no one around. I started thinking which animal could it be. The sound was coming from so close that it was haunting me. I kept lying to pretend that I was dead," Isa Khan talks about that night.
"Jungle mein jhaadiyon se awaz aaye na... to mud ke nahi dekhte (Don't turn to look if any mysterious sound emerges from the bushes when in the jungle)" is something all of us remember from the movie 'Ye Jawani Hai Deewani'! But does this happen in real life too? Can we have enough patience to not look back when such sounds emerge? Well, at least not in the case of Isa Khan, a traveller from Delhi, who along with his companion, did look back during a trek in Uttarakhand. What happened next was astonishing for both of them.
This story dates back to 2018 when Isa Khan was all set to go to Uttarakhand, with a photographer from Mumbai named Parag, who had approached Isa to take him along. "It was going to be the first trek of Parag on the Himalayas and he was my responsibility," remembers Isa.
Isa says, trekking in the Western ghats is different from that in the Himalayas, where the ascents are mostly steeper. Nevertheless, the duo started their trek to Dodital lake, which is popular for a Ganesh temple situated at an altitude of 3,024 meters from the sea level in Uttarkashi district. An amazing fact about Dodital is that locals believe it to be the birthplace of Lord Ganesha.
On the first day, Isa and Parag found a homestay, as per their plan. But the second day had planned something else for them! It was the month of December, and the trek route was fully covered with snow. There was no one around as other tourists had already gone ahead. Isa and Parag were moving with their speed when Isa gained the pace, and Parag was left behind. On realizing this, after a while, Isa decided to wait for Parag on a ridge of a hill that overlooked an entire valley. Thirty minutes passed by followed by another 30 and yet, another 30, but Parag did not come!
Finally, Isa spotted him coming and called for him. He came, and they started moving again. But the entire waiting period had taken enough of their time, and Isa knew that they would not reach Dodital before sunset. "I do not prefer trekking after the sunset because going through the jungles makes one vulnerable to the exposure of wild animals. Locals often spot bear and other dangerous beings at night," Isa says.
During this time, they were 5 Km far from Dodital and were walking at a speed of 2 km per hour. It was going to take them almost 3 hours to reach the destination, after the sunset. Isa was not prepared for this, as he had planned the homestay for the first day and other places for the next days, which was, now, not possible. For the same reason, they had not even carried their tents thinking that they would reach on time and just had biscuits, a water bottle, 'Chole' and a couple of 'Parathas' which they had carried before starting the trek.
While thinking about where to spend the night, they reached a place where Chhaniyan were built. "Chhani is a local term for stables, where the villagers keep their cows and buffaloes. During summers, top areas are covered with grass, so, they build these stables with mud and wood and live there. However, the arrival of winters make them come down in the village with their animals," Isa Khan says.
There could not be a better place for them in such harsh, biting cold. Isa, along with Parag, entered the Chhani and luckily found thin sheets lying there, which they laid out for themselves and lay down together without leaving an inch in between to fight the cold. Gradually, they felt comfortable and slept. It struck 1 a.m. It was dead silence all around. They were amidst a jungle with no one up to 5 km of distance. Suddenly, some strange sound started coming, and Isa woke up from sleep.
"The sound felt like someone crushing wrappers. I knew it was no human because there were no one around. I started thinking which animal could it be. I kept lying to pretend that I was dead," Isa talks about that night. By this time, even Parag got up from sleep but kept holding Isa and said, "Koi hai (Some one is there)." Isa said, "I know. Chup chap lete raho (Keep lying like this."
They both remained still for some time when Parag lost his patience and urged Isa to check who or what it was. As scary as it might be for him, Isa stood up and put on the torch of his mobile phone to look for the source of the sound. Though he did not ask "Kaun hai" like in most Hindi horror movies, he certainly moved his torch all around to check. He noticed the packets of Chole-Parathas were spread all over the surface, and even the spread biscuits were all crushed.
They knew someone was there who was, now, nowhere to be seen. Did it mean "that strange thing" could attack them, any moment? Or was that "thing" gone? Neither Isa nor Parag had any idea about this. Diverting his mind from there, Isa took out his camera and clicked a few shots. The cold had increased, and they decided to collect some wood kept in the chani for fire.
They lit the fire and laid down. Someone was there again making the same sound which could not be of human's. Isa understood that it was nothing he could do now. He had to lie down, ignoring the sound and his fear. The only thing he could do was to promise himself to never come unprepared ever. It had become the longest night for him. "I kept saying to myself bas yeh raat kat jaaye (May this night gets over soon) and I reach Dodital," Isa said, adding he did not sleep for the whole night.
To their relief, Isa and Parag survived the night and took no seconds to leave for Dodital with the first light of the morning. While leaving the place, Isa said to himself that he will always go prepared for any circumstances during a trek and will not leave any scope for "ifs" and "buts" in the future. After completing the 5 Km journey, they reached Dodital but Isa could not forget what happened with them last night. He went on to narrate the whole story to a staff of the forest department and asked who or what could it be. What he got from the staff was even more surprising for Isa! "Wo choohe honge (They might be rats)," the staff said. "Four to five times bigger in size than that you see in your cities," he added.
The incident left Isa speechless, but he had learned his lesson. "I made up my mind to never take a chance with anything while planning my treks and trips," Isa Khan says.
On the other hand, while there are no traces of Lord Ganesha's birth at Dodital, a lot of evidence can be found of his vahana (vehicle)! Remember, those scattered biscuits and Chole-Parathas?