On the invitation of my friend Indro, I made the journey from Delhi to Gangtok on a November morning. Indro said he will reach from Ranchi to Siliguri and from there we will travel together. I took the morning flight to Bagdogra and reached Siliguri around 11:30 am. But there was no sign of Indro at the appointed place instead there was a WhatsApp message from him that his flight was cancelled and he will reach directly to Gangtok the following day, advising me to proceed to Gangtok.
I had no option but follow his advice, went to the taxi stand and got into a shared taxi with three other strangers. The journey from Siliguri to Gangtok is picturesque along the river but roads can be treacherous at some points. Anyway, we reached Gangtok around 4:30 in the evening and I started hunting for a hotel for the night. This turned out to be a nightmare, because there was no room available in any of the hotels that Indro had suggested I should check. The enthusiasm with which I had started hunting for hotels was now ebbing as was the sun in the distance. In hilly areas, once the Sun sets, it becomes really dark and the surroundings become deserted within a short time.
It has been almost an hour of my futile hotel search and I was feeling tired and anxious with thought of spending the wintery night on the road in a hill station. Just then I felt someone was tugging my jacket. I thought of pick-pocket and turned to hit the person but controlled myself. A dwarfish guy with a half smile on his asking “Are you looking for a hotel, Babu?” Though his appearance was not so welcoming but at that moment he was godsend. I nodded yes and he immediately picked up my rucksack and started walking, I followed him in earnest. After a few minutes of walking through winding streets and lanes that elevated us at least 100-150 feet from the street below, we stopped in front of not so attractive house with signboard that announced Paradise Hotel. A guy seemingly with unstable mental health was sitting by the gate and having some deep animated conversation with no one in particular. We went inside.
The receptionist cum manager of the hotel recognised my guide and said, “Boltu, how are you? Not seen you for a long time. ” Boltu now smiled openly and said “I had gone to the village for my daughter’s engagement; the marriage has been fixed for April.” Then indicating me said “Harenbabu, this gentleman needs a room, so I got him here to your hotel.” The manager, Harenbabu hesitantly said, “But today, I do not have any room vacant.” I was really at the end of my tether after climbing up here with darkness engulfing the valley rapidly. I requested Harenbabu, “Please let me spend the night on this couch at your reception.” Before Harenbabu could respond, another figure from the side of the reception counter appeared and addressed Harenbabu, “Sahib, why don’t you allot him Room # 401?” Harenbabu was taken aback and admonished him resoundingly, “You shut up and don’t you know that room is not any use anymore?” Then turning to me said, “Sorry Sir, but we do not letting out that room since last year.” I said, “But why?” Harenbabu said, “Sir last year around this time, one English gentleman committed suicide in that room. And later some guests did complain of unusual happenings in that room at night. So we decided to keep it locked and let out to anyone.” Harenbabu’s honesty was applaudable but I needed a room to stay in warmth, so I said, “Listen, I do not believe in ghosts and spirits, let me have the room for tonight at least.” Reluctantly, Harenbabu took out the key of room # 401 and handed over to Boltu who picked up bag once again and climbed up the stairs followed by me and Harenbabu.
The room was decent and above all very clean despite not being used. I was relieved and tipped Boltu for his efforts and I am sure he will get his brokerage for Harenbabu also. I decided to take a walk of the Mall Road 150 feet below my hotel and try out the Momos from Rocky’s as suggested by Indro.
Momos were truly delicious; I tried the chicken, pork and mutton of which the pork ones were the best. Then I roamed around the mall and realised the night settles down much earlier in the hills than in the plains. I checked my watch, it was only 8 pm but it seemed well past 10 pm as by some magic the crowd in the mall were thinning out. I decided to go back to the hotel as weather also became chilly. There was no one at the reception, Harenbabu must have gone home or does he stay in the hotel itself? I did not know, the keys were with me only, so I went straight to my room. Even though, I had shown tons of courage earlier while accepting to stay in this room, now my enthusiasm was not so high realising that this was the only room in this floor. There are two terraces on either side of the room for clear view of the horizon but who would want to go on the terrace at such a chilly night. Also at the back of mind was the fact that someone had committed suicide in that very room and that made the surrounding a bit eerie. I took out my half read book hoping that reading it will make me fall sleep early. After some time I realised that I have almost finished the book but no sign of sleep in my eyes, may be when you are too tired, it takes time to sleep, I thought. Around this time I felt something unusual, it seemed there is someone else in the room besides me. The air in the room seemed to stand still! I got up with a start and switched on the main light in the room. There’s nobody in the room, I assured myself that it was all my fertile brain that was imagining things because of what I had heard about this room. I decided to have a sleeping pill to have a sound sleep. Thereafter, I switched off the lights in the room letting the bathroom lights on and the door slightly open so that the room does not get totally dark. I pulled up the blanket right over my head and slept.
I do not know what time it was but I was awakened by severe shaking of my body, it seemed someone was trying to wake me up and pushing me out of the bed. I could make out the main lamp in the room hanging from the roof is swaying like a pendulum but all the windows and doors are shut close, where is the air coming from? I started sweating in some unknown fear, I looked for the glass of water at the bedside table and it seemed someone has lifted it up in a shaky hand and water in it splitting on the floor below. It seemed there was some super unknown power that was roaming inside the room shaking up everything that came in its way. The power was angry that I have occupied the room that solely belongs to him. I clanged on to the bed fearing that if I get up the unknown evil power will throw me out of the room to the valley down below. I mustered up courage and shouted, “Who are you?” The reply was a spine chilling laughter that reverberated across the valley. It unnatural, uncanny laughter that was unending, I lost consciousness.
When I came to my senses, it was bright morning with Sun shining in all its glory and brightness. However, the room was in complete disarray, it seemed there have been storm inside the room. The glass broken into pieces, the table on which it was places is upside down, the bed itself has moved to the middle of the room by some unknown force. I decided, enough of my courage and bravery for one night, I will vacate the room that very moment. In any case, Indro should be reaching by evening and he has contacts in some better hotels and it is better to spend the night in some monastery than this haunted room!
I packed my rucksack and went down to vacate the room. Harenbabu was at the reception; he smiled at me and said, “You do have a sound sleep, Sir! The whole Gangtok was woken up last night and you slept through the night without waking up even once!” I was taken aback and hesitantly asked, “Why? What happened last night?” “What? You didn’t realise there was massive earthquake that shook up the entire city of Gangtok. Not once but thrice and the last one was the severest. It was 6.4 on Richter scale!!”
Undeterred, I said with conviction, “I know but decided to stay put in the room only. But tell me who was laughing so loudly?” Harenbabu guffawed “Oh that was Nitai, the mad man you must have seen at the hotel gate who was finding it funny that people were running helter-skelter and laughing his heart out!”
I simply handed over the key to Harenbabu saying, “Can you just get my room cleaned up while I go and take a round of the surroundings? And yes I expecting my friend to join me in the evening so from tonight it will be double occupancy.”
Harenbabu said, “No worries, another room with clear view of Kanchenjunga is getting vacated today, I will shift you and your friend in that room. You come back soon then we will have breakfast together.”