I was running hard and fast. I could feel my legs giving up on me. Trembling with fear, all I could think of was what I would do if it caught hold of me. I couldn’t see what it was, but I knew it was following me. I turned back a couple of times to see make sure I was well ahead of whatever that was chasing me but all I could see was long trees with green moss on them. I could feel its malevolent presence. I knew it was chasing me and all I could think of was to run as fast as possible. My vision was blurred momentarily because of a drop of sweat which had made its way into my left eye. The twigs and leaves rustled as I stumbled across a branch. I somehow managed to stay upright and was still running. I could sense it catching up to me. My heart was pounding with fear so immense I could barely breathe. Oh dear, I could feel something cold on my shoulder, still running as fast as I could. It pushed me from behind and I fell down…
As I woke up in my seat because of our bus driver’s utter disregard for passenger comfort and ignorance towards inertia, I was sweating all over on a cold, misty morning most certainly because of my dream. I looked around and we had reached the forest. My friends were getting ready to get down from the bus and I was still trying to comprehend where we were. After a moment of scanning my surroundings, I realised we were in the middle of the Fog Valley – a forest in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. I got down and could feel the chill in the air. Thankfully I had a sweater and a jacket on me but my face was feeling the cold. Street vendors were excited to see a bus stop in the parking lot and were looking at us anxiously with a hope that we would buy a jar of cucumbers or carrots from them but none of us was interested. Primarily because of the fear of Monkeys which outnumbered us ten to one. Our guide started to gather us in a herd and we started walking through the woods. My friends and I were probably the last to get off the bus and consequently, we were the last in the line. I was still pondering about the dream I had during my brief nap on our way there, ignorant of what my friends were talking about. It was a dream alright but I could so feel the chill running down my spine.
The forest was dense and was filled with tall trees with long barks and green moss all over them (just like in my dream). It was a cloudy and misty morning and along with the green canopy the trees had made, there was barely any light. One of the guides warned us to stay together as fog would get intense as we went deeper into the forest and gradually the visibility would decrease to a few meters. I was probably the only one amongst all of us who was silent. All of them were shouting and taking pictures but I just wanted to stay silent and feel the cold, calm breeze. We reached a point where it seemed as if we had reached the end of the visible horizon. For a moment, I felt as if we were walking on the edge of a floating castle in the sky and we had reached the boundary of it. I struggled my way out from the crowd and all I could see was fog. Nothing beyond that. The land we were walking on seemed to just stop existing after on point. There could have been a stairway to heaven two steps from where we were standing and there was no way of seeing it without taking the leap of faith.
Excited and terrified, we started to walk along the edge of the valley. I somehow gravitated again to the end of the line with my friends and one of the guides was with us in the back now. We stopped at places to take some pictures and that made the rest of our group go ahead of us. We started walking again, not trying to catch up with the rest of them, just pacing ourselves slowly through the forest. I could feel the leaves rustle beneath my shoes. I turned back for a moment and didn’t see anybody. A sudden feeling of fear crept along my nerves and when I turned back, I stumbled on a branch, almost falling down. I just couldn’t stop remembering what I had felt in my dream earlier.
We reached a point which was low and was open. It was bright and there was a bit of free space as opposed to the tightly packed path we had been walking on. The five of us were separated from the rest of our party along with one guide which made us a group of six. All of us stopped walking. To our right, we could see a restricted place filled with ‘No Entry’ signs and barricades and that caught our eye. The guide told us that the place was a ravine which would lead to a drop so deep, if fallen, the body would never be found. He told us the place was called The Devil’s Kitchen.
With a name so eerie and a place so restricted, all of us naturally wanted to explore it and we requested the guide to take us inside. He was reluctant in the beginning but he caved in after all of us started pestering him. We made our way through the fences careful not to get caught in the wiring, and we started our trek downwards. I was still wondering what could be the reason to name this place the Devil’s kitchen. We were carefully following the path which was led by our guide and the path down was no joke. It was steep and slippery due to the recent rain and the mist which was collected on the grass. All I could think of was that if one of us fell down, it would result in a chain reaction turning into a snowball effect.
There was a vibe in the air which was almost haunting. It was probably the name and all the stories of suicides our guide was so kind enough to tell us just before we started our descent. We reached a flat land which was like a cavity under the huge boulders. We looked around us and the atmosphere was suspiciously silent. No one was speaking and we could hear the noise made by the wind in a distance. I had a queer feeling about the place we were in. We could see a pond of which the other end seemed to just disappear under a rock. I could swear and I saw something similar to a bone inside the pond but it could have been a rather long twig also. I preferred to go with the twig explanation. The dream and the atmosphere had given me enough to be scared about. There was a slit in between the rocks so narrow, that only one person could fit sideways at a time. We followed the guide who once again led the path carefully through the slit and he stopped about a meter from the edge and asked us to come forward. We struggled our way through the rocks with great difficulty and came near the place where our guide was standing.
When we had started our hike through the forest, we had seen the edge of the forest beyond which we couldn’t see and now we were in a place beyond which we didn’t want to see. The wind was gushing up the rocks and was howling loudly. None of us dared to lean forward and see where the fall would end. Maybe we didn’t want to see where it would end. Our guide reminded us that this was the very place many people committed suicide and all of us had only one thought in mind – TO GO BACK UP.
I took a stick which was lying near the pond and we started climbing back up. That stick would be known as the symbol of our little adventure. We were soon on the surface and started walking towards the rest of our group. I looked back at the barricades and the cave beyond them and I could understand the sinister aura surrounding the place which would have led to its name. The wind was still howling away, carrying the screams of all the people who had lost their lives there and we were on our way forward.