Thinking back to the incident, I don’t remember which one of my idiot friends came up with the genius idea of going on an overnight camping trip in the Dhar district, Madhya Pradesh. Granted, I was keen on the idea back then. The district is known for being picturesque due to its location, surrounded by forests and lakes. It sounded like a good idea. However, looking back, I am glad I got back from there.
The trip started off well. I caught a flight from Mumbai, and met my friends at Devi Ahilyabai Holkar airport in Indore. Pritish, Saanvi and Advik were all geared up to go camping. We settled ourselves in Pritish’s Skoda Yeti. Advik was the group-appointed shotgun. He informed us that according to Google maps, the camping location was a couple of hours from Indore. It was around 5.30pm when we left. The ride was incredibly smooth. We raced across the highway, blasting our speakers at full volume, giving other cars a taste of AC/DC and Metallica. At about 7pm, the map directed us to take an exit from the highway. This road was not so smooth. The Yeti handled itself well, but Advik, not so well. Fifteen minutes down the line, he felt his nausea kicking in. After taking a brief stop for Advik to churn out his lunch, we resumed our trip. I took over as shotgun while Advik decided to catch some shut eye. After another half an hour or so, we ended up reaching a crossroads. Pritish turned to me.
“Well, which way now shotgun?”
I looked down at Advik’s mobile. Since the road had been pretty much straight, I had not bothered to keep a tab on the navigation, choosing instead to focus on the evening scenery. The screen read no signal.
“There’s no signal on this piece of junk.”
“I need to do everything myself all the time. Okay, let me check.”
He fished out his mobile from his pocket and found his screen flashing the same.
“I have no signal. Saanvi, shotgun, both of you try your luck as well.”
Saanvi chirped from behind me.
“Just did, I have a no go on the signal.”
I looked at Pritish and shook my head.
Pritish ran his hands through his hair. It was his habit to do that when he gets frustrated.
“This is great. We are stuck here with no signal. I think we should just head back.”
“Whoa, whoa! Who said anything about going back?”
Advik had woken up.
“We’ll use our sense of nature to guide us to the right destination.”
I burst out laughing, much to the annoyance of Pritish.
“Wow, just listen to our joker-navigator. He can’t even handle his lunch, and he wants to handle this trip.”
Saanvi cut him off.
“Stop it Pritish. Let’s go with Advik’s sense of navigation. He did take the responsibility to get us to the lake. Besides, we don’t want to waste this trip, do we?”
Pritish calmed down. Typical, happens every time. Saanvi has Pritish wrapped around her well-manicured fingers.
“Thank you Saanvi. Now my sense of direction says that we take a right from here. The forest is thicker over there, so that must be where the lake is. Which means that is where our camp site is.”
“As you say, Chewie.”
Pritish took the right and we were on our way again.
Soon we had entered the forest we had seen from the crossroads. It had grown really dark. The only light in our vicinity came from our car’s headlights. After driving in the darkness and increasing cold, we came to a point where the road forked into two.
“Which way do we go now navigator?”
Advik popped his head outside the window.
“Well, I don’t know. But, I think we could ask at that house close by.”
He pointed towards a small cottage near the fork. A faint light coming from the lone window was visible. A small dirt road led to the cottage.
“Good idea, let’s go.”
Pritish nodded. He drove the Yeti down the dirt road towards the cottage. As we neared the cottage, we saw a female figure sitting on the steps that led to the cottage door. She had pulled a garment over her head and was sitting next to what appeared to be a sack. Her hands were holding something close to her mouth. We could not make out what it was due to the garment. I rolled down the window.
“Hey! We are lost. Could you please help us out?”
She did not respond. I called out again in hindi.
“We would really be grateful to you if you could help us.”
She tilted her head downwards. She had heard us and was ignoring us. Maybe, she did not understand hindi. Pritish decided to honk at her. But, it was to no avail. She continued ignoring us.
“She’s ignoring us. Let’s see if she continues doing so when I shine my headlights on her.”
Before I could dissuade him from doing so, Pritish had already turned the car. The beams of light started moving towards the female figure. The light revealed the sack lying next to her. Only, it wasn’t a sack as we had guessed. It was the headless carcass of a goat. From the looks of it, it had been freshly cut. The beams now shone onto the figure. Her black saree looked ragged with parts of it torn out. The parts of her hand that were not covered seemed bruised and bloody. As the light hit her, she stood up. My suspicions were right. The object in her hands was the missing head of the goat. As she stood up, the garment covering her head fell back. Her eyes did not seem to reflect the light being shined on her. She started walking towards our car. The four of us immediately grew uncomfortable.
“Pritish, I think we should get going.”
I turned towards him. His eyes were fixed upon the figure and his fingers were shivering. I looked back at the figure. She had almost made her way across towards us. Having stepped outside the beams of light, I could make out more of her features. And what I saw, did not give me any sort of comfort. Her face was full of cuts and scars. Her unkempt hair looked as if she had not had the touch of water on her for a long time. Her mouth hung open, red goat blood dripping from it. The worst part of her visage was her eyes. Not only were they inhumanely wide but also were bloodshot. As she edged near, I could see her eyes were fixed on me. I rolled up my window. Advik whispered.
“Pritish let’s go.”
The saree-clad figure had reached right next to my window. She dropped the goat’s head and dug her hands into her cheeks. As her nails drew blood, she let out a shrill scream and proceeded to make gurgling noises. She placed her palms on my window, bloodying it up. The female started hitting her palms against the window laughing eerily as she did it. Saanvi screamed. Pritish snapped out of his trance and gunned the engine. He turned towards the forked road and accelerated. The lady limped across chasing our car, but she was soon left behind in the dust. As we reached the forked road, Pritish decided to head back the way we had come. The camp had ended for him, and we were all in silent agreement. As we went down the road, we saw a group of saree-clad females heading towards the forked road. Pritish stepped on the accelerator and did not slow down until we hit the highway.
We were soon running low on fuel and decided to stop at the first petrol pump we saw. It was still too close for my comfort but we needed the fuel. As Pritish got out of the car to get the car refueled, the three of us decided to pick up a snack at the adjacent dhaba. As we went inside the dhaba to order food, we saw that were a few villagers already in queue to place their orders. As we took our place behind them, one of them turned towards us. Looking at our pale faces he must decided to ask us the reason for them.
“What happened? You look very scared. Was there an accident? Are you okay?”
I gave him a weak smile.
“Yes, we are all okay. You could say we were in an accident.”
The man looked at us knowingly.
“Did you come from Shivpur lake or the surrounding area by any chance?”
I was surprised he had guessed it.
“Yes, we did come from the forests at Shivpur.”
The man nodded.
“Say no more, my friend. I know what you saw there. Haven’t you heard about Shivpur? I guess you haven’t.”
“Well, we know it has a nice lake and forests, and so is a good camping spot.”
“That is true. The lake however, is a different story. It is believed that Shivpur lake is blessed with unearthly powers. It can cure unexplained ailments and is most famous for curing possessions. People who are believed to be possessed take a bath in the lake to cure themselves.”
We listened to the man with our mouths wide open. He continued.
“In fact, there is a fair that is held in Shivpur every year – The Ghost Fair, it is called. People from around India attend the fair.”
The three of us exchanged looks.
The man’s friends left and he started walking with them. He stopped in his tracks and turned towards us.
He gave us a chilling grin that revealed sharp teeth, dripping in red.
“We are heading to Shivpur. Want to come with us?”
The words sent a chill down our spines. We ran out of the dhaba, got into the refuelled car, and asked Pritish to gun the engine again.
Like i said, looking back at the incident, i do not think it was a good idea. But now I know one place I will always stay away from. But, unlike me, if you are the adventurous kind, or if you suffer from a possession, Shivpur lake is the place for you.