In one of my very early columns, I wrote about a ‘Zone of Silence’ that lies astride the route taken by the chairlift from Pindi Point to Cliffden Camp. It was after publication of this story that friends and relatives began contacting me, claiming that they too had experienced the phenomenon. As far as I was concerned, I was born and raised in a house, where paranormal ‘goings on’ were an everyday affair, with the difference that this activity was benign and even protective.

Coming of age, I adopted a career, which required me to spend much time on rural roads and in lonely pre independence era rest houses, some of which had stories attached to them. I went through some inexplicable occurrences during my stay in these ‘dak bungalows’ and surprised many a caretaker, when they found me ‘sound of mind and body’ in the mornings, happily enjoying a rustic breakfast. My most unforgettable experience (featured in an earlier write-up) occurred in the Canal Rest House on the outskirts of Kamalia, where an unseen presence led me to a neglected grave hidden amongst overgrown shrubbery. The much weathered marble slab indicated that it belonged to Margaret. The child was the daughter of an irrigation engineer and had succumbed to the deadly cholera somewhere in the early 1900s. Needless to say that the grave was cleaned up and as I recited verses from the Holy Book, the oppressive feeling around me disappeared, as if the spirit had finally found rest.

One of my father’s child hood friends (who was more of an uncle) would go into a wild state of panic on seeing a common house gecko. This abnormal behavior, we later learned, stemmed from a strange experience from his student days in Secunderabad (India). On a hot summer evening, one of these lizards was spotted, clinging to the verandah pillar and brought down with a well-aimed air gun pellet. The dead creature was thrown into the courtyard and forgotten. Sometime later, a screaming housemaid ran into the house babbling something about ‘jinns’ and ‘bhoots’. As the family rushed out they saw a spectacle that made them breakout in cold sweat. The spot in the yard, where they had thrown the dead lizard was swarming with hundreds of the species and more were converging on the carcass with each passing minute. Right before their eyes the limp creature was dragged out of the gate into some wild growth, followed by what could only be described as a very large funeral procession. The family were so distraught at the occurrence that they immediately moved to a new house, harboring a fear of geckos for the rest of their lives.

A few years ago, I decided to add some storage accommodation to my house. The contractor, who undertook the work was a decent individual from a place midway between Kuldana and Barian near Murree. It was while we were sipping hot tea on a freezing winter morning that he told me this amazing story. He had contracted to rebuild the wall and outhouses of a pre independence era structure within Kuldana Cantonment, but was having labor difficulties on account of rumors regarding a monstrous snake that had allegedly devoured some children. On a warm sunny day, as he sat on a large rock waiting for a consignment of bricks to arrive from Rawalpindi, the normal sounds of birds and monkeys turned into a cacophony of panic stricken alarm calls. Catching sight of movement in the forest he froze with fear as the dense undergrowth some distance down the slope began to flatten itself as if something huge and very long was moving towards him. The man swore that the creature or whatever it was, must have been at least thirty to forty feet long. It was at this moment that the trucks arrived and the ‘monstrous snake’ (the man insists that it could be nothing, but an ‘azdaha’) changed course, to disappear into the forest. What I am sure is that the man was telling the truth in as much as the fact that he had seen something extraordinary large moving aggressively towards him.

These are just a few incidents in a list of many that date back to the colonial era right into our own times. There is the legendary ‘Mum’ from the hills around Quetta – a half human half animal beast believed by the locals to have carried men into her lair, never to be seen again or strange mists that engulf the forbidding yet beautiful meadows of Kohistan amid stories that men and livestock entering them disappear forever. Our world is a strange place, with secrets that are still undiscovered. The existence of paranormal activity is now being taken seriously by the scientific world and leading Universities like Duke in the US are leading this research. Only time will tell as to what terrifying discoveries lie ahead, as man explores this new frontier.

 

The writer is a historian.