nilgiris_haunted house
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Of Haunted Houses And Unrequited Love

The Nilgiris abounds in stories that are designed to send shivers down even the most rigid and rational of spines…Put on the kettle, pour yourself a cup and read about one of those legends.

Something about growing up in a hill station always makes you a little bit more vulnerable to the mysterious and eerie. Whether it is pepper plants creeping their way up a tree, or a carpet of green waiting to burst into your cup of tea, or the poinsettia and jacarandas that throw up bursts of colour against the billowing clouds that descend majestically from the skies… Maybe it’s the outline of firs crowning a hill in stark relief against a fiery sunset? Or perhaps even the pitch black sky littered with a billion starry diamonds, or the stillness of the night where the only sound is the whoosh of an owl as it glides from one mountain to the next… The hills anywhere, be it Scotland, or Assam or Jordan… The hills are always mysterious. They evoke stories of darkness, and magic and suspense and thrills in a way a city never can.

nilgiris violet

To me, the Nilgiris, that most glorious of hill stations, the place I still call home, that last bastion of the British Raj – now those are my favourite hills of all. Its myths and legends are many, its stories made of spirits and ghouls and animal souls, all related to wide-eyed children, each generation embellishing and adding to the tales, and thus imbuing every winding street, every twisting stream and every old bungalow with an other-worldly atmosphere that seems to take on a life of its own after the sun sinks to sleep behind the darkening, brooding mountains.

Most people from the Nilgiris know this story. The road from Coonoor to Wellington meanders its way steeply down from one hair pin bend to the next. It used to be called Orange Grove Road when I was growing up, but today the sign proudly announces it as Orange Grow Road… I look forward to the next misspelt avatar. As you drive down, you go past beautiful bungalows and the view of the expansive Coonoor valley littered with a thousand little houses and capped by the sprawling complex of the St Joseph’s Boys High School. But, at one point you take a turn and just half a kilometre short of reaching Wellington the road changes. Tall forests rise up on the right and a steep cliff drops down on the left and even today, with the tourist hordes, sometimes you will find yourself the only one on the road. From here you see the fat, square houses of the Staff College officers looking across at Coonoor in a rather smug, geometric military fashion almost as if they are rebuking the chaos of civilian life they see opposite. At the very top most corner of this road as you steer your way into military perfection sits an old, very old, very dilapidated house with rusted iron gates, blackened roof tiles and peeling yellow paint.

nilgiris-wellington

Legend has it that anyone who buys the house dies… No one lives there because the entire place, they say, is riddled with strange paranormal activity; in fact, it is said a TV crew from the UK fled from it in terror at some distant point in past when they were investigating the strange occurrences. Stories abound about doors that open and shut by themselves, rocking chairs that rock on their own, and strange lights that come and go in the still of the night… And indeed, driving past it at night one can’t help but shudder. The entire building sits there, huddled in the dark, a malignant body that seems to hold terrifying secrets it will never share with anyone but those unfortunate enough to accidentally wander in.

nilgiris_haunted-house

The story that sits behind this house is, however, a universal one. Well, at least it’s the version that I like the best.

More than a century ago when Independence was still a twinkle in the eye of our Mahatma’s father, when the local tribes of the Badagas and Todas and Kotas were more prolific than they are now… there came to the military outpost of Wellington a young British officer who was quite enamoured by this particular jewel in the Crown. He loved India and the Nilgiris so much that he fell in love with a young tribal girl, and together they made plans to spend their life together – no mean feat back in the day, I’m sure. They met secretly, the tea bushes and towering mountains serving as majestic setting for their forbidden love.

As the story goes, the young officer was called away back to England to attend to family matters, and they parted sorrowfully, with her promising to wait and him promising to return. But as the Bard said, “the course of true love never did run smooth” and the young officer, they say, died on his way to the UK or on the way back. Or maybe he just did a runner, who knows…? But the young tribal girl discovered after he left that she was pregnant, and so to avoid shame and dishonour threw herself off the cliff that this abandoned house stands on. They say her spirit roams the house and that entire stretch of lonely road waiting for her lover to return to her. She appears to single men, driving alone after midnight, seeks a lift, gets into the passenger seat, and then disappears silently and suddenly as you cross the little bridge that takes you into Wellington.

I was told this story by an elegant Anglo-Indian lady whose husband had chivalrously offered a lift to this wandering spirit after a particularly raucous game of bridge at the Club one late winter night, when he was still a bachelor. She said he almost drove off the bridge and into the stream when she vanished right before his eyes.

I’m not a single man, but these are the few times I wish I was, for I know I would so like to meet her… This lost soul, this heartbroken ghost, this seeking spirit… And listen to this tragic tale from long-ago from her own non-corporeal lips… and maybe even offer her a cup of tea made from those same bushes that were witness to both her youth and mine.

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  • Sangeetha Shinde
    Sangeetha Shinde is Managing Editor of The Business Innovator, a European business magazine. She has previously edited and written for lifestyle and culture magazines, including the Times of India, Reader's Digest and Femina. She is also the author of "A Moral Murder and Other Tales from the Blue Hills", a collection of snapshots of life and legends in the Nilgiris, where she grew up.
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24 Comments

    • Sangeetha Shinde says

      Thank you. Anupama… Keep reading… The world needs more readers. And tea drinkers. X

  1. interesting unproven gossip .. one factual correction .. Badagas are not officially tribal people yet….. they want to get listed as Scheduled Tribes but their representation is ye to be accepted by Government .. P S SUNDAR … COONOOR..

    • Sangeetha Shinde says

      Hi Sundar. You’re right, but the term tribe here is used in a looser sense to refer to a group of people. It’s also just part of the folklore of the district… Not to be confused with gossip or fact… I hope. :)

  2. Kalyani Davidar says

    Having spent quite some years in the Nilgiris and studied a bit of its history, edifices in particular, this story gripped me, both the content, albeit eerie ,( and it wasn’t really a willing suspension of disbelief that gave me the ‘it could have happened”) feeling and… needless to mention, the easy-flow of style from one who wields a very facile pen. Would ,love to read more of anything connected to the Blue Mountains…

    • Sangeetha Shinde says

      Kalyani… Thank you. It’s readers like yourself that make writing such a joy. Luckily we have organisations like teabox.com that help curate writings from India’s plantations – and brings those fascinating areas into our living rooms and armchairs.

  3. Sangeetha, this article is so intrinsically you! The vivid descriptions, the colourful trees, the fiery sunsets and the whoosh of the owl are all so beguiling, and the eeriness of the love story sends a shiver down the spine. I find the same quality in this piece as I found in ‘The Moral Murder’ – a gripping narrative enhanced by the most picturesque language! Kudos, my dear!

    • Sangeetha Shinde says

      Thanks Deepti… I know you to be a writer of some distinction so this is high praise indeed. Teabox.com has other fine writers as well… I encourage you to have azread through… And once again gratitude for the feedback. X

  4. S. Jung Grad says

    Spectacular Sangs! Can’t wait to see & read more stories over my cup of tea! However I’d rather hear them in person ?. Well done!

    • Sangeetha Shinde says

      Glad you liked it, Sally. You know and love the Nilgiris… I hope you will be part of it’s continuing story. Teabox.com has writings from other hill stations of India… Which I believe you may really like.

  5. Sylvia says

    What a charming way to describe the Nilgiris. I would love to visit the hills but will stay far away from the top of the road!!

    • Sangeetha Shinde says

      Sylvia… Many thanks. I do hope you visit. The Nilgiris is such a special place… Most hill stations are but I hope I’m forgiven for my bias towards my old stomping grounds.

  6. Abey Kuruvilla says

    Love this and love how your vocabulary captures so many details and articulates it to keep us mesmerized!

    • Sangeetha Shinde says

      Abey. So pleased you liked it. Thank you for your feedback… Tea is on me when you are next in the Blue Mountains.

      • Jeevan says

        Hi Sangeetha ,

        Beautifully written and I spent my entire childhood in coonoor. And I sure did hear many haunted stories out there. But thanks was sharing this .. I still love the place to tits and bits. You bought back memories to me. Thank you.

        • Sangeetha Shinde says

          Hi Jeevan, I’m glad you got to revisit the place of our shared youth. Teabox curates wonderful pieces on plantation life in the Nilgiris… I’m sure you’ve enjoyed all their articles. Thank you for liking mine, at any rate. :)

  7. Beena says

    Well written Sangeetha. My family moved to Coonoor in 1956. Yes I remember that house very well as my class mate from St Josephs lived there for a number of years. But in those days the house was a beautiful single story English house with an open veranda all around the house..Those days we wonderful.

  8. JAIDEV PANDIT says

    Hi Sangeetha,

    Very well written indeed. I have spent all my childhood in Coonoor and I am familiar with this legend. I am trying to remember who told me this story for the first time ;-). In fact I used to be pretty terrified while driving alone on this stretch for very long time.

    Thanks for bringing back all the memories.

    Jaidev

  9. Sangeetha Shinde says

    Hi beena. Thanks for reading. I only ever heard about the old bungalow… Never saw it. It’s such a shame all that gracious heritage is bring lost to modern construction… Luckily we have stories to remember them by.

  10. Shashi says

    Hi Sangeetha,
    Well written and a nice read. I know the house belongs to Mr.Eswaran he is in Dubai presently, advocate Sridhar takes care if the bungalow but dint know it was haunted until now. Love coonoor and proud to be a coonoorean. Keep writing.
    Warm regards
    Shashi

    • Sangeetha Shinde says

      Hi Shashi… I would love to meet Mr Eashwaran… We all grew up with legends of the road and its ghost… And I hope its owner won’t mind bring part of one its Coonoo’s most popular legends from my day. Thank you for reading… And I salute your Coonoor spirit. :)

    • Sangeetha Shinde says

      Thank you, Sahana. Teabox does a great job of bringing together plantation stories from around India… And it’s such a joy when readers revert with feedback.

  11. Gokul Gowder says

    Born, bread and corrupt in the Nilgiris, here I am three thousand miles away in Delhi vividly seeing the blue hills in my mind. I’ve been to through the road and I’m quite sure what to expect the next time I drive down. I’ve been on the research to collect the badaga folklores and songs. Would love to connect with you.

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