Footsteps, shuffling sounds and an eye. The story of the night we survived in a Sattal camp while camping in Uttarakhand forests.
The coals are slowly burning out, making the stars glow brighter. “We live in the mountains,” he conclusively says, “we can’t not believe.” We are just ending a session of spooky, even gruesome stories about the creatures of the wild and those beyond the natural world. Tales of leopards picking up dogs in the vicinity of where we are. White carcasses haunting the jungle path we trekked up in the dark a few hours ago. Some real experiences, some figments of imagination. As our newfound friend at Getaway, a Sattal camp says, living in this jungle for the last 20 years, he has seen everything and nothing at all.
The jungle is eerily silent tonight. Just after it turned dark, we could hear the calls of the flying squirrels. We grabbed our torches and set out to see the jungle on a night trek. But sitting on a plateau in the middle of nowhere, I could hear the silence in my heartbeat. Not a bird chirping, not a deer moving, not a leaf falling. The silence was uncharacteristic, even for our friend who has seldom seen the world outside of this jungle. Either the leopard has made his appearance in the jungle, or the weather will be stormy tomorrow. There is not a single cloud in the sky, nor the slightest breeze in the air.
We call it a night, thrilled at the conviction that we’ll hear a leopard call as we sleep. Sticking close together and clinging to our torches, we make it to our Sattal camp abode for the night. It’s cold, and a few minutes after we’ve tucked ourselves in for the night, the jungle reverberates with loud barking-sawing-growling sounds all rolled into one. I’m so worn out from a day of trekking, rappelling and night trekking, that I fall into deep sleep after trying to analyze the sounds as closely as I can.
At 1:45 am, I’m awoken by my tent-mate. Light footsteps outside the tent, then a swoosh. We lie awake, then dismiss the sounds as our imagination. What feels like a long time later, I’m jerked awake by loud shuffling sounds right outside my side of the tent. I can feel the footsteps getting closer. I roll to the inside edge of the bed, tightly clutch my blanket and hold on to my breath, scared that ‘it’ might sniff me out. No bucket lists, no flashback of my life. I only think of the sharp pain the moment it will strike my neck. My tent-mate breaks my thoughts and asks me to make loud noises and shine the torch, so it might shoo away. I obey. Seconds later, I hear it walking away from our Sattal camp. The time is 2:30 am. We leave the torch on because the dark feels sinister.
Just as I’m slipping back into my sweet slumber, the shuffling sounds are back. This time louder and more distinct. It seems to be sniffing the small flap-like window of my side of the tent. I jump awake and loudly wake up my tent-mate. We play Coldplay on my phone, make loud thudding noises on the floor of the tent, try to shine the torch on the window. I notice signal on my phone for the first time since we’ve been here. I quickly tweet, a last tweet, a call for help, or maybe a scared goodbye. We contemplate shouting out for our friend from the jungle. “He’ll get killed if he runs to our rescue,” my mate suggests. I anticipate that he’s already heard us talking at the top of our lungs, but he thinks we’re beyond rescue. The sounds gradually fade away. 2:57 am. It’s an incredibly slow night. Something drops on the top of our tent, and slips all the way down. Rain? Why did we venture out to this Sattal camp, into this Uttarakhand jungle, I ask myself.
At 3:30 am, the shuffling sounds are back. We replay our noise-making tactics, but the sounds won’t go away this time for over 15 minutes. Either come in or leave us alone, I yell. My tent-mate tries the “hush” sound used by shepherds to keep animals away from their sheep. “They probably don’t understand English.” We laugh. If it was out to harm us, we would have been harmed by now. Just as we are about to dismiss the sounds, I notice a shadow at the edge of the tent. We spot a nose with a thin hair sticking out, an open mouth with a sharp canine tooth, and on the inner side of the face, an eye. An intricate open eye, complete with an eyeball. We sit up. A dog it hunted? Maybe we interrupted a killing. I freeze in my spot, and ask the torch be shone on the light again. My tent-mate refuses. We don’t want to agitate it. We stare at the shadow, the open mouth, the nose, the bump on the back. We stare for what feels like hours. 3:48 am. A night has never felt longer.
My tent-mate has a eureka moment. “Move the cap, it’s forming the shadow of a head.” I oblige. The cap is in my hand and the face is on the wall. I move the pillow. The face remains. I shuffle in our Sattal camp. The face remains. I move the blanket, the face moves too. I crumple the blanket and shove it aside. The face is gone. The nose, the mouth, the bump gone. The eye is gone too. The sounds outside are gone. They’ve been gone a while, but we were too busy with the face to notice. I get back into bed, but don’t fall asleep till 5:30 am, when the first birds start chirping, followed by more. A sign that whatever was haunting the jungle has gone.
Over breakfast, we relate to our friends from the jungle at the Sattal camp how the night was, how our first experience of camping in Uttarakhand was, sans all our fear. One suggests the shuffling sounds were a barking deer outside our tent, walking on the leaves. The other says it was a good thing we didn’t step out at night. It could’ve been as much a deer as a leopard. Both called last night. We don’t tell them about the eye, we still don’t know where it came from. Such a well-formed eye, complete with an eyeball, alive. We’ve lived in the mountains a night, we can’t not believe.
Have you been camping in Uttarakhand? Would you be up for a Sattal camp adventure like ours?
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Welcome to my blog, The Shooting Star. I’ve been called a storyteller, writer, photographer, digital nomad, instagrammer, social entrepreneur, solo traveller, vegan, sustainable tourism consultant and environmentalist. But in my heart, I’m just a girl who believes in the transformative power of travel.
You do get around a lot! Don’t you? I am jealous.. Sounds like an adventurous night.. A very adventurous night.. And its true , living near unpredictable and uncontrollable does make one a believer.. Loved the post.. Looking forward to more
I do, and it’s only on nights like these that I ask myself why! Glad to have made it alive, and in retrospect, a thrilling story to tell 😉
Wow.. That’s the height of adventure! Amazing I say now, but how scary that might have been then.
Likewise, I say. Such adventures make for a good story, but only in retrospect.
Whoa ! That was something ! Or maybe you will never know what was it
Yeah, I’ll never know what it was. And that’s perhaps the best & the worst part!
wow!! what an adventure..but so scary! which jungle was this?
A jungle in Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, near Nainital.
My god, dear girl… Kumaon? Nainital? 😛
Hundreds of people in the area were eaten by tigers during the british time which later was described in the book Maneaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett. Next time bring a very loud whistle. Animals have keen ears therefore most cannot stand the high pitch.
Not Nainital! This is near Sattal, across the river and into the woods. I started reading that book in Corbett and it was kind of nightmarish :p Noted on the whistle, captain!
My goodness…shivya..really adventurous…and scary too…I would not have survived. I don’t think I would venture on these trips too.
Haha, it was scary but thrilling in retrospect. I’m sure you would have survived. It’s times like these that reveal your true strength & endurance!
Not what I call a restful night…hope you got some sleep. Enjoyed your writing style and the adventurous tale. Thanks for the post.
Got no sleep at all, but it was probably more fun (looking back) than a restful night would’ve been! Thanks for stopping by The Shooting Star 🙂
Well, these definitely are great stories to tell later, but it ain’t too funny at that time. :-). Glad that nothing untoward happened that night.
Kumaon can be really unpredictable at times. I have seen a leopard on the “highway” next to Corbett during late evening, but there have been people who spent days in Dhikala and have come back disappointed.
This camp looks semi-permanent kinds. Or did you guys set it up yourself?
Keep writing about more such adventures!
Absolutely right, Aditya, great stories only in retrospect. I would’ve given anything for that night to pass.
We didn’t set up the camp ourselves (thankfully). It’s set up by some great guys up in the hills of Uttarakhand, really awesome place to spend a few days 🙂
Good stuff shivya..while reading this good & scary stuff it seems like, i m also in that jungle feeling the beauty and scary part of nature …nice post..:)
Thanks Piyush, glad for your virtual company in the jungle!
OMG…Scary side of the jungle well portrayed..
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Hey Shivya, I am still confused about the eye part. You actually saw an eye ? wellformed eye ? How did you see that through the tent ? and if so, the eye of a deer and leapord are different.
It might be some supernatural entity shivya
I think you met Yeti Shivya and kudos to you the courage you have shown.