Apart from usual chit-chats, certain conversations among drivers community are spine-chilling. While plying on deserted road in the dead of the night, many drivers complain experiencing something scary, very scary. Bilal Handoo reports the telling nightmares of men at wheels
It was a routine evening of August 2014, when young Hilal drove his passengers through deserted stretch of Ladakh. At around 9 pm, the two male passengers onboard asked him to stop the vehicle somewhere on Srinagar-Leh Highway for answering nature’s call. For a while, Hilal reclined on his seat, set gaze on a vast desolated land before his eyes and took a breather. It was then, a woman dressed in black apron with unkempt hair flashed past his windscreen. Before he could make sense of woman’s presence in what looked-like a hinterland, inside his chest, Hilal could hear his heart pounding very loud.
He saw that woman walking towards the lacklustre hills, descending down the gorge and vanishing from his sight. When he recounted what he saw to his Leh-bound passengers, they pleaded him to move fast. The hangover of haunting sight didn’t fade till they reached Leh.
Once back to Srinagar’s Taxi Stand at Lal Chowk, Hilal would narrate the travel ordeal to his colleagues. Most of them chuckled, while others cautioned him, “Now, get used to it.” What exactly the young driver was told was that such experiences are part of every driver’s life. As for long, drivers would talk about their night horrors.
Among those advising him that day was a driver having over forty years of ‘dreadful’ driving experience. Ghulam Qadir, a fifty plus man from Maisuma, makes no secret about his tryst with night horrors. In one winter in early eighties, young Qadir was travelling in his cab alone after dropping passengers at Baramulla. “Already, it was late and dark,” he recalls. “Not many vehicles were plying. Near Sangrama, I saw a man with lunatic appearance waving hands at me for a lift. I didn’t stop, as I was advised by my seniors not to stop the cab during dark, or during odd hours. But to my shock, I saw the same man in rags standing in the middle of the road near Palhallan staring at me with those frightening looks. Though I was terrified, but I didn’t lose my head. I sped up and whisked past it.” Till he reached Srinagar, Qadir was a scared soul behind wheels.
Qadir says travel nightmares have been part of Kashmir’s folklores and pep-talks, as people are excited to talk about their and others’ horror experiences. But one night, when a tested driver from downtown, Abdul Majeed Khan, returned to his office at Srinagar’s Press Enclave, it was less of a pep-talk and more of a chilling moment for his colleagues.
At midnight, Khan had left his newspaper office to drop one of his colleagues at Soura. Near the SKIMS, he saw a woman wandering on a road much to his disbelief, given the timing of her night out. While returning, Khan almost froze to see the woman reaching Moulvi Stop in a flash. “For a woman, walking barefoot, passing paramilitary pickets in the dead of the night, and covering a 15 minute distance in a few moments was near impossible,” Khan still shudders while recalling what he saw that midnight on road. “I saw her, perhaps wearing shroud, to enter in one of the lanes, and vanishing.” Such was the level of the shock instilled by the scary sight that Khan found it hard to regain his normal composure for one complete week!
Khan might be back to his business usual now, but in the intriguing world of travel, drivers’ rendezvous with supernatural experiences continue to fascinate and frighten people. The storytellers having such haunting tales to tell mostly converge in an otherwise rundown building of State Regional Transport Corporation at Lal Chowk. Many retired drivers, now pensioners, keep meeting each other over a cup of tea inside Corporation’s shabby yard. Among them is Sidiq Bhat.
Bhat retired in mid-2000 after running the Corporation’s buses for 37 years. He sounds incredible, when he says, “I have seen ghosts sitting in my bus, an arm stretching across road somewhere in Bhaderwah, frequent calls from invisible women on road and unsettling shaking of parked buses”.
In late seventies, a woman embarked on his bus near Kupwara. Bhat says there was something unusual about that woman. “I could see from my rear view mirror, how she would pass those strange smiles at me,” he narrates. “And then on relook, her facial expressions would change. She would then beam those stern and scary looks, and drop her head, menacingly.” Out of naivety, Bhat thought of woman being a mental case. But he was seriously wrong. At the right turn near Kulangam village famous for its cheese making, Bhat saw no woman in his mirror. As he turned his head back, he almost shook to see her staring hard at him! After sometimes, she disappeared. “It sounds like a film script, isn’t it? But, that is how it was,” he says.
Even more scary stories are being told by Batamaloo Bus Stand drivers. Many of them have experienced close encounters with supernatural things. In the winter of 1993, Shabir Najjar, a driver from Sopore had his worst road nightmare. Somewhere in the North Kashmir’s Bandipora, he saw a man walking down the road while ferrying passengers in his cab. “That man from distance appeared very elderly to me,” Najjar recalls. “As I inched closer to him, he stopped, turned back and waved hands at me to stop.” But perhaps, no driver would ever endorse to give lift someone during odd hours close to midnight, that too, in a place surrounded by woods.
But Najjar defied the norm for the night and shortly tasted the terror. “The moment I stopped cab, the man lunged at my front door and told me: ‘What do you think, you are doing here at this time?’ And then, he almost screamed, ‘Out of here, fast!’ It happened so quickly that I couldn’t realise what to do, but to speed up.” No sooner he drove away, his rare mirror terrified him. The man who just spoke to him was nowhere in view. “It was a long stretch without any link roads and lanes,” he says. “So, obviously, that man wouldn’t have walked into one of such lanes. His sudden disappearance shuddered me for days to come.”
More or less the same shudders were felt by Najjar’s colleague one night in early 2000. A man in his mid-forties, Nisar Kachroo, had to spend a night on road near Qazigund after his cab’s tyre bumped off. Weary after day’s travel, he decided to heal the wheel next morning. “I remember, it was a big tree where I parked my cab,” he says. “I slept immediately.” Around midnight, he felt like dreaming, as if riding on see-saw. But it was no dream. Once regaining his composure, he was shocked to find his vehicle shaking. “I was hell scared,” he says. “And then, I heard a woman wailing nearby, as if, calling me out.” Kachroo realised who’s beckoning outside. He checked his door locks and decided to spend his night in his cab, still shaking.
But, it isn’t always a human form of scare that makes drivers edgy on roads during night. They often talk about their encounters with animals, birds, and reptiles during odd hours. At SRTC yard, a retired driver tells how a snake would criss-cross before his vehicle at a particular spot on Srinagar-Jammu highway. Others talk about the abrupt emergence of hen and chicks in the middle of the road amid darkness and their instant disappearance. They also talk about their encounters with strange animals calling their names in human voice. And still scarier are the sudden and strange events on road, like sudden scattering of logs.
For Yaqoob Mir, a driver stationed at Srinagar’s tourist centre, a night in August 2008 is still haunting. That night while travelling from Jammu to Srinagar, he had to apply sudden brakes near Banihal Tunnel. A pile of logs placed at periphery suddenly scattered and blocked his way. What followed made him shiver till this date. “As I stepped out to clear the road, a man appeared out of nowhere and asked me, ‘Show me the way to Srinagar?’ His appearance was scary, very scary indeed. He was in rags and had his head down. As I pointed my finger to show him the way, he had vanished behind me.” The next moment, Mir was running towards his cab and sped his way to Srinagar.
Similar experiences have been reported by the common people (not professional drivers) while driving during odd hours.
While returning from a marriage party late one night in recent past, Farooq Wani, a Habak resident, saw an unusually tall man attired in white dress walking down the road to Lal Bazaar. The sight of the man terrified him. And then suddenly, the man stopped his secluded stride and waved at Wani.
Later, Wani was a trembling man stepping back home.