The Secrets Of Jorhagarh Fort
(short story- fiction)
I had met my friends after just few months and yet it seemed it had been years since we had spent time together, gone out together or chatted without any consideration of time. The reason was obvious, even though till few months back we were together; all four of us were studying for our pre medical entrance exam, which ensured that we hardly got any entertainment or chatting time in the past year. But now with God’s grace we all had cleared our entrance exams and were in our first years, but with same God’s handiwork, we all were in four different medical colleges in four different corners of this huge sub continental country. But even His wishes could not stop us four in synchronizing our first leaves to meet each other at our home town.
And now we all were very excited to be together, chattering throughout the day regarding our orientations at the colleges including Darjeeling, Shimla and Black holes or our schedules, faculty, deans and classroom. Each one finally trying to prove that he was in a better college than others. Thank God to “India Today” for its annual college rankings, I didn’t have to fight much. But by evening we realized we had but just few days and we needed to make the most of it, we all wanted some fun and adventure and there we hatched the plan for trekking to the Jorhagarh fort.
Jorhagarh fort was built by Nandi rulers who used to rule this area for nearly 200 years between 1300 –1500 AD, after which they were dethroned by Manekas. Nandi rulers were famous for their riches as well as for their architectural feats. Jorhagarh fort was also one of them. Built at the top of a mountain, with very steep sides going up to 1000 feet from surrounding area with a plateau at the top covering about 20 acres of area. That complete plateau was taken over by Jorhagarh fort with walls exactly at the margin of the plateau. It was a famous folklore that Nandi soldiers used to throw canisters filled with oil while standing over those walls on anybody trying to climb the steep mountain walls and then light the oil with fire. There was only one entrance on the southern end with a wooden gate capable of covering the moat which was present only on the southern wall and even till date to the surprise of locals had crocodiles swarming in that moat. However, the fort was taken over by the government from British (who had earlier defeated Manekas) after independence and now was converted to sort of historical monument with few visitors who used to come up on 4 x 4 jonghas travelling over the kutcha road built up to entrance of the fort. The wooden gate used to lie permanently over the moat while moat itself was now secured by a wired mesh placed over it to avoid any accidental fall into it.
There was an old gatekeeper who used to sit at the gate of the fort and was now sole in charge of this once great fort looked after by 4000 Nandi soldiers. His responsibilities included collecting meagre “five rupee” tickets from the 20 odd visitors who visited the fort in a day (half of whom were couples with no historical interest in the fort). Inside the fort, walls still stood strong despite their age and were adorned with few large floor to roof faded paintings here and there. In fact these paintings were the only historical heritage left in that fort along with few artillery guns at the top of the walls. There was no furniture, carpets, showpieces or jewellery left to remind the once great history of this fort. It is rumoured that half of the things were taken away by Manekas while whatever was left was later plundered over by the British. Only things they didn’t take were the huge faded paintings which they thought was difficult to carry and not worth to take down and the guns which were out-dated (original reason why Nandis lost).
We decided to trek through the western end which though steep was not so heavily covered by shrubs and trees. It was drizzling lightly when we started and so we kept all important things for any trek like rope, raincoats, torches, swizz knife and umbrellas in our backpacks, of course with lots of junk food, drinks and grass (the existence of which we had recently learned in our respective colleges and were now desperate to try). We reached the base camp (I mean the tea stall on the road along the lower end of western slope) early in the morning, took a strong cup of tea and started our trek. None of our mothers would have approved of such an activity and so officially for all the families we were going on picnic to the nearest hill station at Rowariahpur at a comfortable (for parents) distance of just ten kms.
We had been climbing almost for an hour now. Sunny was among the more sturdy ones among us, and so had taken a lead of almost 100 metres by now, while Vipul and Nitin were climbing along with me. Suddenly we noticed that Sunny was not visible at all. We became anxious and started running towards the last spot we had seen him. On reaching there we found his backpack lying there but Sunny was missing. All-around there were creepers on the ground , with large greenish yellow leaves but all seemed to emerge from a small opening in a vertical section of the cliff from where they were spreading around. Did those creepers have movement of their own! Did they abduct our friend?!!. We were just starting to get disoriented when there was a sudden movement of leaves of the creepers at my feet. My heart sank. I immediately looked down fearing the worst…… but it was a mongoose running nearby which had passed very close to my feet. But if there were mongoose, there had to be snakes nearby. It didn’t comfort us a bit. We picked the backpack and started running towards a nearby banyan tree which was going straight upward almost 100 feet but at an angle of hardly 30 degrees from the ground because of slope. However at least there were no creepers around it. As we were nearing the tree, Vipul cautioned that there could be snakes in the branches of tree as well…..but even before I could hear him clearly something landed on my shoulder. I cursed myself for coming on this trek and swung around, but it was Sunny’s hand ….. he was hiding behind the tree……and all the while, he was enjoying our show. We all started screaming at him, warning him not to do it again, picked him up and gave him bumps to ensure he remembers it.
We started climbing up again and within an hour or so we were just 50 metres from the starting of wall but beyond this the walls were so steep, there was no way we could have climbed. So now we had to go around to the southern end to make our entry through the main entrance. As we were walking around, Sunny exclaimed, “Can you hear a waterfall!”. None of us was in any more mood to hear his jokes. There was no water source in this entire hill and we all knew it. Further moving on , we reached the starting of the moat. We peeped inside, and gosh, those crocodiles were huge, and hungry, for the movement they saw us they opened their mouths in unison as if they were waiting to get their favourite dish. We literally ran to the entrance and there he was, the gatekeeper sitting there as expected. We bought our tickets and went inside.
In the centre of that 20 acre fort was the biggest hall of the fort, apparently a sports arena or auditorium sort of thing, with massive pillars supporting the 100 by 100 feet and 25 feet high roof. On those huge walls were old faded paintings, right from the floor to roof top. We all four started walking along trying to decipher the abstract arts in those wall mounts, when Sunny said, “Vernie, guess where is your mobile!!”. My hands instantly went to check my backpack, where I had kept my new “Galaxy note”. Alas, it was not there. “Sunny stop this crap, give me my note back or I’ll kill you”
“It is in this room,…find it if you can”, he giggled.
“What’s the problem with you, my dad is gonna kill me if something happens to it!”
Vipul interrupted, “Chill Vernie, let’s enjoy it, I was part of it, your mobile is safe and within this room. Now you two find it.”
Nitin and me looked at each other and then around the room. It was huge room, but then to make things easy, there was not much to hide there. We looked around the few stones lying on the semi pukka floor but didn’t find anything. We looked around the walls , but there was no opening, nothing …except the paintings.
“Paintings, yes they must have hidden it behind one of those paintings.” Me & Nitin started moving the paintings holding them from bottom and tilting them forward from bottom just enough to be able to see behind them. Surprisingly for their size, the paintings were much easier to move than expected. When we came to the fifth one, the only one whose colours still seemed bright despite the age, we bent down and pulled. But it was stuck, it didn’t move a bit. We asked for sunny and Vipul’s help, but they said “it’s not behind this one, so no point spending efforts over it”. Our suspicions rose. We tried with all our efforts to move it, and suddenly a blow of dust and air puffed at me from behind the painting. Seeing that, Sunny & Vipul also came running to us and tried to peep behind the painting. Their seemed to be an opening behind it. All four of us got an adrenaline rush, we caught our backpacks, took out the torches, together pulled the painting forward enough for each of us to get inside the opening one by one and entered a tunnel.
There seemed to be cool breeze coming from somewhere along the tunnel. We all decided to go deeper inside to see what was this tunnel all about. On looking at walls, we saw carved paintings depicting some king and his courtroom. Nitin cried out that these were similar to Nandi paintings, which he had worked on over his school project the previous year. We started moving forward into the dark tunnel. The wall had paintings, but no grass or any sort of vegetative growth while floor seemed earthen but well grounded into a flat surface. We walked looking at the paintings with sunny again in the lead. And as if history repeating itself, sunny again vanished from front of our eyes. I was damn angry as I shouted “Stop playing your tricks in this place please, it can be dangerous,….come out immediately” But there was no reply. We started moving our torches over the walls, but we didn’t find any gaps. Until we looked at the floor ahead of us. There, just few feet ahead of us was almost a 9 feet gap, we all looked inside and saw Sunny lying unconscious 20 feet below on the floor.
I immediately took out my rope, told the other two to hold one end of the rope as I climbed down. On reaching there, I found it was a huge muddy swampy area with a small opening in roof through which I had come, with some kind of pool or lake nearby, and to my surprise, there was actually a waterfall beyond that lake. I started shaking Sunny trying to feel his pulse the way my physiology practical teacher had taught me, but before I could do any of my bravado attempts, Sunny regained consciousness. His right leg was lacerated below knee, he could stand straight, but moved with a limp and was covered all over with mud. I helped him move near the water, to clean the mud. With the corner of my eye, I saw something moving but when I turned, there was only the lake. Sunny moved his hand towards the lake, but the movement his hands came near water, an open mouth of a crocodile plunged towards him. I pulled Sunny back just in time and started moving backwards. And it was then we noticed that complete lake was swarming with crocodiles, with all of them huge & hungry with their mouths open. And we realized that these were the same crocodiles of the moat, somehow moat was connected to this lake, and maybe this was the reason, crocodiles were still alive despite ages and that small moat. We ran backwards and clutched at the rope. But Sunny was injured. He could not climb up the rope. One of the crocodiles started moving above the mud towards us. I gave rope in Sunny’s hand and tried to push him up, but he was heavy. Other crocodiles started following their leader. I saw the opposite wall of the pit, which had a much gradual slope while lake was not reaching till there. I grabbed Sunny’s collar and pulled him towards the other wall. The lead crocodile also changed his direction with us and was now just two feet from my feet. We both reached the other side in no time, and then I helped him climb the slope. The croc made a final attempt as it plunged forward and closed his jaws. My feet escaped just in time to let his teeth grind against each other.
As we reached the top, we realized we were back in the tunnel but now I & Sunny were on the inner side of the pit while our two friends were opposite side. Normally we all could have jumped this nine feet pit, but with an injured leg there was no way Sunny was going to make it across it. We could still feel the air, so there had to be another opening. We decided to continue our journey into the tunnel and so Vipul & Nitin also jumped to this side. We started walking inwards, this time much more careful about the floor. We walked for about thirty minutes with no end coming nearby. However the atmosphere of tunnel seemed changing, with wall paintings gone, air more damp & humid and greenish patches of moss now present over the walls. Something came and hit me on the forehead. As I bend down and looked ahead I saw a group of bats flying towards us. We all ducked and they passed above us. As we looked behind, they had turned and were now coming back again at us as if with vengeance, as if how dare we entered their territory. We started running with as much strength as we had but the bats were fast. They started hitting on back of our heads. As I tried to shoo them, one stuck to my shirt hanging by its beak. I tried to shrug it off, and another bit me on my forearm. I looked for help but Sunny’s condition was even worse. Bats were trying to bite his blood soaked leg. And he was trying to run as fast along with all of us, as he could with his bleeding leg.
And suddenly we all fell one over other. Something had got caught in our legs. However, as if bats had sensed victory, they all turned back and went away. Or were they scared of something….I wondered. Except Vipul, we all had lost our torches while running. While even his torch was also very dim, likely due to battery drain. I remembered I had a spare set of batteries in my backpack which I took out and put in Vipul’s torch. Gosh……….creepers………..the same creepers with big greenish yellow leaves all entering the tunnel from a small opening high up in the roof, spreading along the walls, covering the ground and then moving towards their roots on the other wall. As we tried to ascertain the origin in the walls, there it was, a large snake sitting with its hood spread, sharp & attentive and watching us.
Nitin shouted, “Run back out of the creepers……”
Vipul shouted, “Look, bats are coming back….”
Sunny shouted,’’ Run forward and cross the creepers…..”
I didn’t have anything left to shout. We all started running in the creepers, trying hard not to get entangled in its branches. I felt my feet land on something soft and slippery. I didn’t have the courage to look down. I kept running until finally the creepers finished and bats were not following us and I found myself along with all others flying in air.
It seemed as if earth had given way under our feet. There was nothing to catch hold off, nothing to claw at, noting to look at. In short, none of us had any idea, what was happening. And this floating thru the unknown territory continued for eternity, at least for us, but actually may have lasted for 3 to 4 seconds. We prepared ourselves for the imminent impact with ground, whenever it came and accompanied shattering of bones. And finally the impact did come, but instead of the shattering of bone it came with tinkling of metal. Not one piece, but many, so many so as to absorb our falling impact. And they were blunt.
Each of us called each other to confirm that everybody was fine. But our last torch had lived its last! So we were unable to see, until, we all turned our heads synchronously towards a shimmer we thought we saw. Was it a mirage, but no, we started seeing it at regular intervals all around us. One flicker of light came from somewhere each time, and on reaching our feet, seemed to reflect all around. Sunny shouted, “You all stay here, let me go and see….”. But despite his bravado, he couldn’t move an inch, his leg hurt bad as it was, had further aggravated by the just accomplished free fall. So I decided I will have to go and see, maybe we have finally found a way out. I started moving towards that light in small steps, keeping my feet on ground firmly, to ensure there were no more free falls. Every time, there was a flicker of light, I moved two to three steps towards it, and then waited till next light came. And with each new flicker, the light seemed to get stronger and stronger.
It took me almost an hour to reach the source of that light. And on reaching the source, I found to my shock that the creepers were back. Very dense creepers were apparently covering almost a 4 by 4 feet opening of this tunnel, so dense that no light could enter when all of them were in their normal position. However, whenever there was an air drift, few of the leaves just moved enough to allow few rays of light to enter the tunnel. I kept standing there for I don’t know how long, wondering whether to try untangle the creepers, and possibly get caught in them, with maybe a snake lurking nearby, or go back and try to find another way. But then I decided, there was no way we could go back the way we came, and we had been inside the mazes now for almost 12 hrs., and sunny was badly injured, and our parents must be worried,…..so this had to be it, I have to go through it. I started breaking smaller twigs initially and gradually progressed to larger & larger. And slowly, but soon, had a small opening between them. With more light, I was able to work faster, and within ten minutes, the opening was large enough for each of us to get out one by one. I ran back, with nothing to fear in presence of plenty of light now in the tunnel and exhilarating to surprise my friends to give the good news that I have finally found a way out of this mess.
But what a man thinks will happen, never happens. Instead of me surprising them, I got a much bigger surprise once I reached my friends. Complete room was shining bright as if glowing by 100 bulbs. On the roof was a large wall to wall painting of the Nandi emblem. And on the ground were coins,……solid gold coins piled almost 3 – 4 feet high which I saw when entered from the tunnel. It was a famous folklore that despite the loot by Manekas and British, Nandis had treasures hidden somewhere much greater than anyone could have imagined. We had found that treasure today.
When we all came out from the tunnel, a final surprise awaited us, we were on a small hill in Rowriahgarh, 10 kms from original Jorhagarh fort, and the place we had lied to our parents that we were going.
Next day, photographs of all four of us were published in all newspapers titled, “ The Four Doctors ”, going on further to describe our adventures of the day before, how the government had expressed its praise for us and that we were given 10 % of the treasure, and that each of us was now richer than all winners of KBC combined.
Our holidays finished very soon among all the hoop la la, and all four of us met one last time. Sunny said, “I am so glad that we could unravel the secrets of Jorhagarh Fort”.
Vipul, “How do you know that this was all, that the fort has got”
Nitin said,” Is it possible, that there are more secrets hidden, what do you say Vernie”
I replied, ”Why not, after all we found our way on the fifth painting, there were still 25 more paintings in that hall”.