I was in 3rd or 4th standard when the school organised a trip to Naggar castle and Roerich Art Museum. I had no clue about them as I had never been to these places before. This excursion to a historical place opened up the gateways of curiosity in my mind, an urge to know more about past events, how aristocrats used to live then, how were the customs and the traditions, how people perceived about the world then and everything related to the past started attracting me towards it.
A day before going to the picnic, I asked my father for a dress (after all these were the only times when we have a reason to buy new clothes).Those days we were not financially sound, we didn’t have enough money to spend over unnecessary things like new clothes or shoes every now and then. We children understood our parents’ condition very well so we didn’t use to force them for anything. I just asked my father once and he agreed upon. Happily we went to the nearest town’s market. In a garment shop he bought a beautiful dress for me. The new dress ignited the excitement for the picnic in me.
There was a sikh family in our neighbourhood and their daughter Navneet was my good friend. She was my junior in the same school and was also coming to the picnic. In that morning I went to her quarters to pick her up. But she was late so I sat in her room to wait for her. She packed snacks, toys and many different things to her bag in front of me. That gave me a complex feeling because all I had in my bag was only a tiffin box and nothing else; I never cared to add other items to it.
We finally reached our school to board the bus but before we were asked to gather in the school playground. The ground was full of colourful kids who were laughing, screaming, talking, playing and discussing about their toys. Video games were in trend at that time but I had never seen one before. I went to my classmates, they were all crowded around few boys who were showing them how to play video games. I just saw a glimpse of the player; it was beautiful and an exquisite thing for me. The sound that came out from it during a game attracted all my senses towards it. I too wanted just to hold it for once. But the kids when getting too much attention become arrogant and mean, same happened then, I was ignored totally. So, I had to settle down in a corner of the playground with myself. Atlast the teachers called everyone to line up for boarding the bus. We all sang songs all the way to the place. There were many hair pin bends while we approached our destination.
Upon reaching the destination place, we were ordered to move in a line. While walking we observed many foreigners smiling at us, so happy they were to see a bus full of kids. Firstly, we went to the Castle of the royal kingdom. It was not made of gold, silver or gems but with woods and stones designed like an ordinary traditional house. Well, that was a bit surprising for me because I never had seen any royal fort or castle before.
We went to a small temple located within the castle premises which was dedicated to Indra – the rain god. A guide asked everyone of us to settle down in a small lawn to tell us the story related to the temple and the big rock slab that was residing just outside of the temple. He told that the slab was once situated over a very far place; there was a need of it in the castle, so some angels transformed themselves into honey-bees and brought that big slab to its present location. We all were overwhelmed by learning this story. As he was telling the story I started imagining the scene – honey bees carrying the slab with their mouths? or feet? And then my conscious mind questioned – How the bees held that big rock in their tiny mouths or feet and why would the angel turn into bees only, I mean they got many great options! A bunch of queries started popping up in my mind. Why? When? How? What? Never ending interrogations.
Questions were many, answers were nil and time was limited. I wanted to clear my doubts but the guide quickly asked us to move further as if he knew that we were about to burst on him with our questions for which he had no logical reply. So, like most of the adults he tried to shoo off the curious pups, even we unknowingly got indulged in some other activities.
We next saw a jail constructed within the castle in its basement. It was dark, suffocating and ghosty. Living in that jail would have been the real punishment for the culprits. The place was lighted up by several lamps, walls decorated with hides and trophies of wild animals like bears, leopards, wolves. Although all the students and teachers were together but still the dampness in that atmosphere was strong enough to give a cold chill to each one of us. We hurriedly walked out of that part of the building and felt relieved as we saw the open space outside.
Next we visited the Roerich Art Gallery and Museum in Naggar itself, which was just few meters away from the castle. There was a huge collection of paintings by Roerich whose creativity and the love for nature could be seen in his artwork. He painted the landscapes, village lives, lifestyles of local people, temples and traditions of the localites. At that age I didn’t have much knowledge about art, history, tradition and ethnicity but now I acknowledge them all with open mind and heart. I started admiring him from that very moment and started imagining myself as a painter having that vast art gallery. My day dreaming was interrupted by a child’s whisper. I didn’t remember who he was but he silently pointed towards a painting of a lady that was hung on a wall. He whispered that she was Roerich’s wife but she died due to depression and after that her ghost wanders in that place. I was already scared because of that jail, and then the boy’s words started haunting me more that I immediately went out of the gallery.
As we came out of the gallery our teachers ordered us to queue up to visit the next spot which was the artist’s living area now converted into a museum. Most of the walls of his house were replaced by glass panes to provide a watch-through glimpse of everything that was inside. As I passed through his dining area, I was mesmerised by the little things that existed there. Each and everything there was an antique, one of its kind and never seen before. The candle stands, the glass plates and bowls, the chandeliers and the cupboard, all made me feel as if I was in that period, living there in their style.
The best thing of all in his house in Naggar was his library cum reading room. The study desk had a huge book wide open as if someone is still reading it. To the table’s corner was an antique globe, a fountain pen was beside the book and behind the table was a big book shelf holding hundreds of books. That scene touched my heart and soul and again I started imagining myself having same kind of study room.
As I was lost into the world of Roerich, someone again whispered that there is a ghost inside who had opened the book to read; spooky it was and I started imagining a ghost inside peeping out at me. And suddenly I observed things moving inside, the curtains moved and a shadow ran across the doors inside. Though that was only my mind playing tricks with me but I was literally horrified. I immediately walked out of that place towards the teachers, who unaware of my fears without comforting, ordered us to gather in a big ground near the Museum.
We gathered in the ground in Naggar to have lunch. I was about to open my tiffin when one of the teachers called me to her as she seated with all other teachers and principal. I got frightened and asked myself, “What I have done now?” I recalled everything that I did that day. “May be I was shouting in the bus or I might have failed in the test that the teacher took yesterday or may be some student had complained about me!” Every kind of thought was popping up in my mind as I walked slowly towards the teacher. Every step that I took towards her, made me imagine her hand ready to slap me and the strong sound of that slap was echoing in my ear drums. I started praying to god.
As I came closer to her, my heart started pumping faster and faster. And then for my surprise the most furious teacher of our school asked me to serve the food to all the teachers. I was initially shocked but then all my body relaxed and I smiled to everyone and served them with whole heartedly. And when I returned to my friends I was happier than ever. That day’s trip to Naggar was definitely full of amazements, knowledge and spookiness.