This is a true story that I and my friend experienced together.
On a midnight train, things got mysterious.
My memory says that it was December. On his vacation, my friend Dharshana arrived in Sri Lanka. He had been studying in Australia. He called me one day and asked me to climb the mountain "Namunukula" with him. I agreed right away, and we arranged a convenient date for both of us.
As the day arrived, we took an upcountry train to get there. There were still eight or nine miles to travel by bus to reach the trailhead. We found a lodging to spend the night to begin our journey the next day. As night fell, we walked to the railway station at Badulla to reserve sleeping berths for the return trip.
Having gotten up early, we got dressed quickly. We took the bus to where the climbing began.
The road was very challenging due to many bends and pits. The short journey through rural areas and forests took several hours. The last stop was a small village where we got off the bus.
On our way, we stopped for a quick snack and bought two lunches from a nearby shop in that village. We asked an elderly villager for the directions. He showed us a narrow footpath leading to the forest. According to him, we were the only ones to climb that mountain during that period.
We set out in the direction he pointed. The path was full of rocks, stones, roots, and other obstacles.
We tripped over roots many times. We encountered two villagers on the way. They cautioned us against climbing the mountain.
Our question was, "Why?" They replied that police had caught a gang of treasure hunters last week. Hence, the villagers would suspect us as well.
We thanked them for their information. Then we explained that we only planned on climbing the summit. It didn't bother us that much. So we left those two villagers and moved on. We filled our water bottles with fresh, clean water as we passed a pleasant stream. The cool silver water helped us refresh our faces, hands, and feet.
Then we reached the most challenging part of our journey. The rocks here were steep and slippery, and we had to cross them. The appearance of the cliff made it seem so terrifying. It was even impossible to imagine climbing.
We saw a village woman carrying a bundle of firewood on her head, walking with her young child. What she said frightened us. She said there might be heavy rain and thunder during the afternoon. Villagers saw lightning hit the summit with thunderous rumblings. Then we were stuck between returning or moving forward.
We both decided that we would not go home without climbing the summit. The sky was getting dark, and the wind was raging.
Nonetheless, our enthusiasm had somewhat waned. We assumed that it would not be wise to return after traveling this far and decided not to return.
Then we began climbing those steep and slippery rocks using the bushes that grew on them. We struggled for a long time to even take a few steps forward. Other than bushes, we found only help in cracks between rocks and narrow flat spaces to climb up.
Looking down was frightening now, as we had climbed a considerable height by noon. We were suffering from hunger and fatigue. But, we decided to keep moving until we found a shelter of wood where we could rest.
Swallows flew swiftly in the sky, signaling the presence of rain. The intense rocky area came to an end. The dark forest we had been eagerly seeking emerged.
We wandered deeper and deeper into the forest in search of the summit. The summit was visible from afar, but once we reached it, it had vanished. Then we saw yet another peak in the distance. This illusion occurred again and again. We thought it was a mirage caused by the curvature of the bedrock.
Eventually, we became fed up with the summit chase. The darkness was engulfing us. So, instead of searching for the summit, we began searching for a way out of the forest.
Soon, we realized that trying to find a way out of the forest was pointless. The dense forest blocked our path in every direction.
Then I suggested: "Let's eat lunch first, rest for a while, and then think about what we should do." My friend also agreed.
We arrived at a grassy area. There were few and far between trees. It seemed a suitable place for rest. Though the place was strange, we decided to have lunch there, washed our hands, sat, and devoured our lunch.
We decided to meditate after lunch. We had practiced that at a meditation center before. Both of us sat cross-legged with our eyes closed, trying to focus.
"Do you sense anything unusual?" I asked my friend.
He nodded in agreement. It was the same feeling for both of us. It was like someone was watching and following us.
After taking some time to reflect, we again began searching for a way out. It was clear that rain was imminent.
The sky began to roar. A strong wind blew. We could see a flash of lightning in the distance. We decided to proceed straight ahead without turning. After about thirty minutes of walking, a rock plateau appeared. We could see the signs of a village from afar. Only then did we breathe a sigh of relief.
Without a break, we hurried towards that consoling sight. We were able to get there soon. There were only a few people in that small village. They directed us to the bus stop where we could catch the last bus to the city.
By the time we reached Badulla, we were exhausted. Our first sight was wood apple drinks covered in ice cream displayed in a small shop. Neither of us could wait to gulp them down. We were so thirsty. Soon, our stomachs began to hurt severely. We walked straight to our lodging. The bathroom required frequent visits.
We had only a few minutes to catch the midnight train where we had reserved seats. We packed all our belongings quickly but uncomfortably. Then we hurried to the train station.
Our sleeping berth was much noisy, as it was next to the engine. Once we found the right seats, we lay there as if we were dead. The train started moving immediately after a loud hoot. After a short while, we were fallen into a deep, deep sleep.
I awoke to a loud conversation outside the train. It was midnight when I looked at my watch. When I opened the window, I saw a few torchlights flashing. Four or five people were in a hurry to find something. I woke my friend and headed to the door.
The train had stopped in the middle of a dense jungle. It was drizzling and freezing. Thick fog and pitch darkness shrouded the jungle.
"Why is this train stopped? What are you looking for?" I asked the person who was looking under the engine.
He told me that both the train driver and the railway guard had seen a woman. She was covered in a white cloth, came towards the train and hit it.
"A woman? In this jungle? At midnight?" I asked in astonishment.
"They both say they saw a woman for sure," he replied. I wondered how such a thing could happen.
My friend and I also jumped off the train and began to help others to find that body. Rocks and bushes made it difficult to keep our footing. The engine driver explained to us what was happened. According to him, it was sure to be a woman. The engine's intense light could identify her.
There were no other passengers on the train aware of this incident. All the doors and windows had been closed due to the freezing weather and mist. Had some of them been woken up that night, they might have thought that the signal had failed.
After about an hour of searching, the engine driver emerged with a white cloth in his hand.
"This is the cloth!; This is the one!" he shouted.
"This is the cloth she was covered in," he said.
We examined it thoroughly using our torchlights. It showed no sign of having been worn by an accident victim.
"How amazing," everyone whispered.
"This is the first time I've experienced such a thing," said the engine driver. "Me too," said the guard.
A strange feeling touched both of us at that moment. It was like what we had experienced on the mountain the previous day. "Did someone follow us?" We wondered.
"There is no point in searching for a dead body any longer. Let's go," said the driver. The train rushed through the dark, misty forest leaving behind that incident in the past.
Even after so many years, we still have the same question. "Did someone follow us?"