The October heat was stifling. Even at 10 in the night, the atmosphere was claustrophobic and clammy. The wind was completely listless, seemingly defeated by the sweltering temperatures. And just then, to make matters worse, the electricity decided to play truant. The building plunged into darkness and a collective moan could be heard. I could not bear the heat and climbed the flight of stairs to the relatively cooler confines of the terrace. The entire block was awashed in black. It looked like a major fault. I glanced up at the sky. Even though there was not a speck of cloud on the horizon, not a single star could be seen shining on the residents of the city. They were probably hidden behind a blanket of smog. I sighed. It was pitch black all around. Quite similar to that unforgettable night in Coorg all those years ago…
It was the summer of 2004. College vacations had just begun and 11 of us had decided to go to Coorg, which was to be the first of what was to become our annual holiday ritual. After an eventful journey, we decided to knock off the list of the must-see items one by one. Abby falls, world famous in Coorg, was the first on the list. It was at a distance of some 8-9 kms from where we were staying . We set off around 4 pm in 3 autos on a narrow road which carved through a forest lined with dense trees and coffee plantations on both sides. It was almost like a wallpaper. We stopped to lech at the scenery while one of the autos carried on. Initially, we had planned to just “see” the falls, take pics and come back since we had started quite late in the evening.
But when we reached the site, apart from other tourists who were standing on the bridge posing in front of the falls, our friends who reached there first were nowhere to be seen. “Yaahooo” we heard from somewhere up above! “Yeahhhhhhh” sounded another war cry. And we saw them. Four of them were climbing towards the falls. Testosterone and sense of adventure had prevailed over good sense. How could we stay behind? And so off we went as well! After an hour or so of reaching the top, bathing and frolicking under the falls like Liril soap models, we decided to come down. Not that we wanted to, but the fading light forced us to think rationally for a change. After lots of slips and slides and scratch marks, we finally reached the bridge. It was now pretty dark and we quickly walked out to the road. But there was just one auto standing! The other two autos had left since it had gotten quite dark and it was dangerous, we were told. Those were comforting words indeed. Three people decided to go in the one auto and said they would send autos if they could find any. The auto started and the lights from the auto, bobbing up and down, disappeared into the distance. It was now completely dark. Luckily we had a couple of torches but what could two torches do against an army of darkness! Our hearts sank. The thought of what lay ahead now hit us with full force.
9 kms. 8 guys. 2 torches. 1 narrow road amidst dense forests. Infinite darkness. Unknown dangers.
Most of us were terrified, I have to be honest. We had never experienced something like this before. We formed 2 groups of 4, each one with a torch and started walking, slowly. The night was absolutely still. We were walking in eerie silence. The thud – thud – thud of our heartbeats could be heard. Fear started manifesting itself in ways only fear can as it gradually took control of our senses. It numbed the ability to think rationally. Even the most harmless noises sounded scary. Every time the leaves rustled and the wind blew through the trees, we stood still and flashed our torches wildly. The road which just a few hours back seemed so serene now took on a sinister shape. The silhouettes of the tall trees seemed to hide something or someone, waiting and watching.
The first 20 odd minutes everyone walked in silence, alert to the slightest movement or sound. Gradually, the distance started whittling away. As no untoward incident happened, the confidence started returning. The mind freed itself a bit from the vice like grip of fear. We found our voices. A few lame jokes were cracked and we allowed ourselves to laugh a bit. It was at that moment we saw it. An illuminated tree. As if someone had hung 100 min light bulbs on it. As we inched closer, we realised it was full of fireflies. It was a breathtaking sight. We smiled and our fear seemed to melt away. We stood there for a few seconds marvelling at the sight, soaking it all in. Our pace now quickened and a few of us even started singing. The road inclined upwards and we looked up at the sky above for the first time. It was full of bright twinkling stars. Stretched out as far as the eye could see. Millions and millions of them. We city folk could never experience such simple delights. We looked behind. The tree of fireflies was still illuminated. We saw the stars above which illuminated the sky. It was a glorious sight.
It felt as if we were almost halfway between the fireflies and the stars.
The next hour we were enjoying ourselves. We reckoned we could not be too far away now. Suddenly, we saw a light from a bend on the road. Some 200 metres away. It seemed like a small shop. That was it. We just ran. Usain Bolt would have been proud. We reached the shop and saw each other’s faces for the first time after close to 2 hours. Relief was evident on each of our faces. We laughed, more out of relief than anything else. We knew we were never going to forget that night ever…
..I smiled and then I sighed. There were no fireflies to illuminate things around here. Only the the dim light of candles flickering and dancing through the windows..