Long ago, a friend of mine and I had planned a vacation. A simple three day holiday at the nearest hill station. He always insisted that I should try to enjoy the beauty of a royal palace at least once before I die.
‘Hey Sailesh, how about a royal palace available for rent? Are you ok with that?’ I asked him eagerly.
‘Wow! That sounds amazing! Sure, let’s move,’ was the thrilled response.
The destination was fixed- Ooty. We packed our baggage and started our journey. I had already searched the sites, location, and rented an ancient royal palace turned into a hotel. Cheaper than most hotels. I booked one room in that old palace.
When we reached there, it was already evening. The weather was too cold and a little foggy. The first thing that caught our sight was the huge rusted iron gate. A chain attached with a large brass lock dangled over the giant entrance.
Sailesh became impatient- he knocked at the gate. Banging at the lock with the gate. Five minutes passed. It was silent all around. Chilled air whipped at our faces. Plunging his hands into his jacket pockets, Sailesh whispered, ‘Hey, pal! Can you see the palace? It is far away from the gate, I can barely see it, this place is huge!"
I tried to spot the building through the heavy mist and instead I saw a blurred figure coming towards us.
‘W- wait, saheb- coming,’ the figure spoke from the distance. He was an old man. A bunch of keys jingled loudly in his hand. Hands shaking, he meticulously picked out a key and swung the creaking gate open.
‘Watchman. Name- Ram Prasad, sir.’, heavily accented the man gestured us inside," Sorry to make you wait in the cold! Come in, Sahebs, come in."He led us through the dense fog right towards the sprawled out palace itself.
We marched forward with our luggage. ‘Oh my goodness! What a palace! So huge?!’ Sailesh commented staring at all sides. The palace truly was a beauty, golden and warm inside with attendants dressed in traditional garb waiting to greet us.
The receptionist smiled at us and handed our room key to one of the attendants. We followed after the lad, all the while staring at the tall arches of the palace in awe.
The attendant stopped at 201- the first room in the long corridor.
‘Anything anytime, sir. We are at your service,’ he said humbly and smiled at us while opening the door.
‘Thanks! We’ll be in touch,’ I responded to him.
‘Hey pal, at least we should have reached here in the daytime. Are we the only visitors?!’ Sailesh whispered.
‘Why?’ I was stunned with his absurd query.
‘Except two-three attendants, no other visitor is in sight!’
‘What so?! Don't you feel weird?
‘Shh- Sailesh. Others may be inside their rooms. Quiet yaar! Let’s see.’
The attendant opened the door and switched on the light. With courtesy, he slightly hunched, saluted then went away. Sailesh and I were gazing all around the closed room. A double bed- the wooden cot was intricately carved with ancient design, the nylon net was dangling from a very high rooftop around the cot, beautifully tugged in two sides exposing the full view of the amazing bed-sheet, two huge oil paintings of- most likely ex-king and queen on the sidewall and a beautiful small table with its chair were all well placed inside that room. An intercom was there for required calls. The attached bathroom was equally a big one. The funniest part was- the small size mirrors were fixed in a circular manner around the ceiling fan. Any damn person would get scared if suddenly they would see their own reflection overhead!
‘Hey pal, this place is so scary. Look at that oil paintings. T- that, that eyes are staring at me any direction I move.’
‘Come on Sailesh! Don't be a kid,’ I continued, ‘Sailesh, go, freshen up yourself next I would go, ok? Hurry up yaar- feel hungry.’
Both got ready within a short time. Sailesh immediately asked, ‘What about dinner? Room service or dining hall?’
‘Wait, let me ask.’ As I dialled, the voice responded, ‘Yes sir.’
‘Could you please tell me, dinner—?’
He grabbed my half-finished words said, ‘Yes sir, either way. If you want room service is there or you can go to the dining hall. That's at the end of the corridor- left side,’ the receptionist promptly answered.
‘Ok. Thanks!’ I put the receiver and asked Sailesh the choice he had given. He left the choice on me. ‘Ok Sailesh, let us enjoy the royal dining hall.’
We locked the room and moved towards the dining hall. The entire corridor was lit up with beautiful yellow lights. ‘Wow! What a dining hall! Spacious, beautiful table chairs, chandeliers, oil paintings everything was glittering brightly. One thing was lacking- no crowd. Although the delicious food and service at the dining table were good enough, we sensed a weird feeling.
I was too curious to know why there was no one in the dining hall. ‘Nobody comes here?’ I asked the attendant.
‘They would come here after 11 pm,’ curtly he replied. I was surprised but kept silent.
‘Next two days we would have room service, ok?’ Sailesh muttered in low pitch.
‘Ok, now finish and let's move,’ I gulped my last bite hurriedly.
I didn't know why both of us crossed the corridor quickly until we reached our room. Shutting the door inside I spoke, ‘Sailesh! I really feel strange. What about you?!’
‘Me too yaar! I don't think we can spend another two days more. It's so weird!’
Somehow we finished our chatting, went to bed. Although we knew the mirrors were fixed on the roof, still we were shocked at our own reflection. Sailesh clutched me tightly. I didn't oppose him because I was also scared. Half an hour later Sailesh started snoring. He draped his hand and leg crossed over me. I tossed myself left and right then I dozed off a little. Suddenly I heard a sound- as if someone trudged just above our bedroom. The sound stopped for a second then the intensity of the sound increased. I checked the time- almost midnight- around 3 am. There was no more room above it that I was sure of. My heart pounded heavily. Sailesh got up with a heavy jolt pressed me tightly, ‘Hey what's that sound?’
‘I don't know, just wait.’
‘Boom!!’ Again the sound reverberated in the room.
‘Tomorrow morning we’ll be out…no more! I- I can't s- stay—- ' By that time Sailesh jumped to my lap, eyes wide opened with fear.
‘Shh…shush! Do you want to wake everyone? Let me see.’ I pushed Sailesh but he pulled my hand, whispered, ‘Are you mad?! No. Don't open the door.’
‘You heard that knocking sound just now? Stay calm Sailesh! Let me see.’ I freed myself stood behind the door asked, ‘Who is it?’
No answer. Again I repeated but no answer. I peeped through the peephole- all empty. There was a stink in the air, filling my nose as I pressed against the door. I breathed heavily and rushed to the bed. We were so scared that we were afraid of our own shadows!
Three hours later the day broke with feeble sunlight. Slightly I opened the door and gazed at the corridor. A beautiful kid was running through the long aisle of that corridor and her mom was running after her. She distorted herself while giggling aloud. ‘Samya stop honey. I am tired darling. Back to the room, please,’ her mom pleaded. Suddenly she cocked her face and spotted me. She smiled at me then grabbed her daughter's hand gushed into her room. It was on the opposite side of our room.
I took a deep breath. ‘At least someone is there in our next room!’ I rushed to Sailesh and informed him of the good news. We breathed a sigh of relief! Other visitors were also there! Second day! We finished our morning work came out of the room to stroll around the open space to enjoy the scenic beauty of the royal palace. The whole palace was surrounded by amazing varieties of flowers, trees, somewhere artificial falls and very alluring stone statues.
Suddenly a music sound swirled in the air. ‘Hey, can you hear that music?! It's coming from that room. I think someone is learning music,’ Sailesh pointed an outward room afar. ‘Let's see,’ Sailesh became curious.
‘Why? No, we won't.’
‘Please. Just for fun's sake.’
Hesitantly, I agreed.
When we reached the room we saw that it was locked from outside. That itself was so strange. Sailesh still tried peeping in through the crack of the door . It was semi-dark and empty. Nothing was visible clearly. He turned instantly said, ‘It's empty! But you heard the music na?!’
The next instant, he grabbed my hand literally pulling me. That room gave us the heebie-jeebies. ‘Let’s move out right now. Enough!’ said Sailesh.
‘Wait' I replied. 'Let me ask that lady who is our next-door whether she ever heard this music. Come- come with me.’
We gushed towards the room. I pressed the bell, once twice, thrice. No answer. The fourth time I was trying, the attendant on the reception desk said aloud, ‘Sir- who is calling? No one is there.’
‘W- what? That lady with a baby girl on our floor, I have seen them today morning. Is she around? I needed to ask her something,’ I told him.
‘Sorry, sir! You must have mistaken. The key is with me, I am the one who hands over the key. There is no lady with a baby in that room. How can you've seen someone?’
My face went blank and I was stunned.
Sailesh tugged at my arm and we both rushed to our room. It took less than a minute to pack all our stuff and somehow , rushing, panting, with pure fear on our faces and hearts, we ran back to the reception desk.
I screamed, ‘Attendant….hello.. anybody is there?!’
It was silent everywhere! More so it looked like no one had been here since a long time. The clean desk, the beautiful lobby, now had a look of years of abandonment and neglect. Our knees started giving up, but somehow we gathered our senses and started running for the gate. ‘Ram Prasad Ji, open the gate,’ we screamed from a distance. Nobody responded. The gate was closed but thankfully, not locked. We came out and ran for our life. Almost missed our heartbeats! ‘Yes Sailesh, you are right. It's a ghost land!’
After touching the main road, we tried for a taxi. Half an hour later the taxi arrived. After boarded inside I opened my laptop and checked about that palace. It was mentioned- Among some ancient palaces- this one, where we had just stayed a night, was the scariest one, abandoned since years. Pages after pages wrote about the plight of people who had experienced one or the other horror at this place. There was also a list of people who were missing after last being spotted here.
We clicked that link, and it started opening up with the pictures of people who had gone there to stay, but were reported lost after.
Sailesh snatched the laptop and read the pictures. The receptionist's photo was there. So was the lady and her daughter.
So was ours.