27th October 2010. Night. Around 2200 hours. Khirsu.
The jeep fell silent after a rancorous cough. My ears are still ringing. The forest rest house (FRH) was tucked away atop an incline. 1800 m above sea level. The crickets and the eight of us are the only ones making noise. The chowkidhar turned up after yelling for him for five minutes. Harish Negi. He told us his name.
The Forest Rest House, built in 1913, has a solemn ambiance. The cream-yellow, angry walls stared at us. ‘1913?’ I thought. ‘There must be ghosts here.’
28th October 2010. Early morning. Khirsu. FRH Compound
It is cold. Too fucking cold. I step out. The Himalayan range stared back at me. Snow clad, regal, and absolutely breath-taking. In the backyard garden of a house, I spotted activity. Black-lored tits. Grey headed canary flycatcher. Grey treepies. I settled down. Got a decent portrait of the Black-lored tit. The birds seemed to not mind the villagers or the school kids. They were wary of me though. They sensed I was an alien I think. For people getting into bird photography, here’s a tip: don’t chase the bird. Sit your ass down. Wait. As much as we all love to get great pictures, be mindful of the fact that some of us like spending time amidst the birds. Photos are a bonus to us. Time for break-fast. Aloo parathas. Pickle and curd.
28th October 2010. Morning. Khirsu. Bhuvakal road
The mountain road echoed the chirps of bulbuls. We spotted the Black Bulbul. First sighting for me. I had seen the Himalayan Bulbul couple of years back though. The Eurasian and Black-headed jays abounded. There was only on kind of bird that was on all our minds: a raptor. But no luck today. We spotted a few more Jays, Bulbuls, and Treepies. The walk back from Bhuvakal road to the rest house was a little tiring. The Himalayan sun is harsh. At 1800 m, I expected it to be cold throughout the day!
Lunch. The hole-in-the-wall eatery which was used to serving the rural folk, was take over by the pricks from the city: us. The owner of the eatery, a diminutive, soft-spoken man was overwhelmed. ‘Where’s the curd?’ ‘Kuch pyaaz milega?’ ‘Ek aur omlet yaar!’ A staccato burst of hungry calls unnerved him I guess. A portion of his kitchen was his bedroom too. His daughter, a little girl probably around two, hid behind her mom’s sari and stared at us. Possibly, she was thinking ‘What are these animals?’
Raghu ordered some snacks for the evening. Not some, but a truck-load. And, we left the eatery. Post-lunch birding. Saw the Blue whistling thrush. Resident. She kept flying about but never perched for a nice portrait.
The sun went down. Cold. Negi, the chowkidar was generous enough to start a bonfire in the lawn. We sat around. Drinking rum. Mr. Thomas started his favourite topic: ghosts. We asked Negi. “Any ghosts?” He settled down near the bonfire, took a sip of the rum and said “Most part of the year, no one visits. I take care of it alone. And on some nights, after I finish checking on the guest house, I have seen a white man, clad in a suit walk out and vanish in the backyard.” An owl hooted from afar. I shuddered. Negi continued. “I believe it is the spirit of the white man that built this guest house.” I quickly turned around to see the backyard. Nothing there. Crickets.
When we were done, I was suitably inebriated. And I crashed. I dreamt of an Englishman clad in a suit, telling me ‘Owls. Look out for owls old chap!’ His face was ashen and eyes green. He had thick, dirty finger nails. When he laughed, I noticed that he had betel nut colored teeth and saliva dripped at the corners of his mouth. ‘Owls. Growwwwwwls. ha ha ha’.’ I woke up with a start. [to be contd…]