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The Headless Horseman, Murkatta in Nepali, was the bogeyman conjured up by Nimbu Didi every time she wanted to frighten me into submission. The mere thought of this Netherworld being shut me up promptly and I meekly ate the uneatable porridge, or drank the untimely glass of milk or went to sleep when it was still playtime. Murkatta was galloping amok at the Kalo Pul, the Black Bridge constructed by Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana bridging the Patan side of town to Kathmandu at Teku. I could imagine this fearsome creature stealing past sentries into Kiran Bhawan, my father's mansion, at midnight looking for me. I used to shudder at the mere thought of it. The Pachali Bhairab Temple near the Black Bridge was the least of my favorite deities simply because the place was too spooky to explore. They told me one of the martyrs was hanged there. Even during my teens I never dared drive across that forlorn bridge, day or night.

The Nepalese ghosts have so much in similarity with those in distant shores: either human imagination is alike or these beings once roamed the earth freely. The headless horseman appears in countless literature across the world. One of the most imaginative and thrilling movie sequences I viewed was filmed by director Peter Jackson in the Lord of the Ring's first installment when a group of headless horsemen thunder across the screen in an eerie chase. Another dreaded being is the Kichkandi, the voluptuous damsel out to seduce unwary travellers at night. It is believed this evil spirit in female human form slowly sucks the lifeblood out of men in repeated sexual acts. In China they have a similar female ghost known as Nu Gui and in medieval European folklore there is the Succubus. Perhaps it was the ancient version of the HIV Aids epidemic. There is one tell-tale physical abnormality of the Kichkandi, the ankles are joined to the legs backwards with the feet protruding behind. Men are advised to check the feet before giving a lift to an ersatz damsel in distress at night.

The Khyak is very common in Nepalese folklore; in every family there is an elder who vouches to have seen one. Some Khyaks are said to be playful and harmless, while others, in an older incarnation of YCL, would give a good thrashing to people while competing for space in rising human settlements. Khyaks appear in the bhandar and dhukuti, rooms where grain is stored or other valuables like gold and silver ornaments are kept. The resident white Khyak was even supposed to bring in good luck to the household. Another variation to this lore is the Bhakunde Khyak, the football-sized orb covered in hair that suddenly rolls at you at night and tries to trip you. A fall is considered an ill omen, followed by sickness and worse. My father was convinced he was attacked by one in Singha Durbar, the Nepalese Versailles, abode of the Rana rulers of Nepal when he was living there as a youth but he fought it away by giving one resounding kick. The original Durbar before a fire ravaged it in 1973 had 7 courtyards and 3,000 rooms, ample space for all the underworld beings to play hide and seek with us humans.

Nepalese folklore does not have a direct counterpart to Count Dracula and the vampire lore, but there are similar underworld beings residing in the Nepalese forests that are blood thirsty. We have a tradition of giving animal sacrifices to the Ban Devi, the forest deity who clamors after blood. I remember during my father's professional tiger shoots, a goat or a small buffalo was always offered to the Ban Devi to placate the spirit for a successful hunt.

My own experience during a mountain goat shoot in the mid nineties illustrates the power of the spirits that seemingly roam rampant in the dense mountain tops. The ominously named Bhugdeo, sacrifice-accepting deity, is a mountain peak on the Mahabharat range south-east of the Kathmandu valley. A 3 days trek had taken our hunting party atop the mountain in an earlier expedition. This time around a cousin Pradeep Rana, who ran an airline company then, had organized a quick helicopter ride to the ridge to save time and energy. I had eagerly taken up the offer. After a day of activity we settled down to the usual campfire and recounting of earlier hunting stories before turning in early in anticipation of the next day's excitement.

It turned out to be a night to remember. Before we fell asleep there was a hue and cry raised by our porters over one of their missing number. Getting back into hunting clothes and boots we organized search teams and set out to look hither and thither. We had powerful torch lights to see in the darkness and we shouted at the top of our lungs to be heard. All these activities not yielding any result, we reluctantly went back to sleep. I remember sharing my tent with my old childhood friend S. K. Singh. As I tried to sleep I had a feeling of something heavy weighing down on my body over the tent. It happened several times and now totally discomfited, I woke up my friend. We started chatting. Later we must have fitfully gone to sleep until loud voices woke us up in the first light. We got out of the tent to find out the reason for the commotion and, to our amazement, we found the missing person, now totally drenched, squatting by a hastily built fire and shaking violently. The story he told us was spooky.

In the evening while we were turning in, he had gone to fulfill his natural needs nearby when an unseen hand caught him firmly by the wrist and led him through the thicket in the dead of a dark night without him even getting a scratch. He was led down to a watering hole and dumped in. He does not remember anything after that and in the first light of the morning he was discovered by fellow porters atop a tree nearby. We were spooked and decided to dismantle the camp ahead of schedule and leave. The only satisfaction I got in the hunt was bagging a barking deer the previous day, while others in the party returned empty-handed.

Conventional wisdom tells us that growing human populations have displaced all the ghosts and spirits as we have encroached upon their natural habitat. But they are there and on queue they will all rise up like in the Michael Jackson's best selling video Thriller. On a dark and lonely Kathmandu night while driving alone one can feel the hairs in the nape standing and the heart-rate quickening if our mind wanders off to imagine a kichkandi flagging you down for a lift or a headless horseman bearing down on you at full gallop...


  1. Thanks for recalling all those ghosts of the past!
    I too have a ghost story to tell...lets save it for later.

  2. mama, this does bring back memories of ghost stories recounted by Bubu; all those about strange ghosts at the banks of bagmati....,some even residing at Kiran bhawan!

  3. I have completely devoured your blog is the past few hours. You are such a wonderful recounter of stories and they are so "Nepaaaali"and I love that. Bravo !!

  4. Hats off !! Very captivating, by far my favorite. Thank you so much for putting it so charmingly, I know my Nepali Bhoots now :o) !

  5. Thank you very much for providing us with these information it was very helpful!


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