The skies are clouding over and I feel like it’s going to rain. Even though it’s still mid-May, the unseasonal rainfall we’ve been getting in Maharashtra makes me think about the imminent monsoon, and of what I look forward to when it arrives. On normal working days, my eyes usually start closing by 9.30 p.m. and I can barely keep awake long enough to see the moon rise in the sky. But I make an exception when I’m on a break, especially in the monsoons. In Lonavla, I love taking a walk at night, when the rain has settled a little. Temporary pools of water come alive with the orchestra of hundreds of croaking frogs. If you make a sound of your own or try to shine a torch to look at the throaty creatures, they fall silent. Many of these frogs are purely nocturnal, which is no surprise since birds so like to feast on them. It’s quite a thrill to listen to them call out to mates from other seasonal pools.
There are other nocturnal things I like staying up for way past bedtime. Like the sight of lightning flashes and the night-blooming Star of Bethlehem flower; the sounds of owls, barking deer, and monkeys; and the scent of raat ki rani and parijat in the air. In Karjat, Maharashtra, it’s a unique experience to watch villagers carrying Petromax lanterns and sticks, trying to grab at the large fish that enter the fields when the river overflows its banks. In Matheran, another popular hill station near Mumbai, I love to lie in bed and listen to the din of the rain pounding on the tin roofs of old colonial-era bungalows. The mind works a little differently at night time. It’s more likely to conjure mystery and fantasy in familiar, well-known spaces.
On holiday, most of us head indoors when daylight fades. Even if we’re in a big city with a bustling nightlife, it’s usually at a pub or nightclub that we party. At best, we make our way for some show or indoor entertainment. Even that great, fun, night out for the whole family at a drive-in theatre (there was one in Mumbai when I was a kid) is dead.
But there’s another kind of after-dark theatre I love: The sound-and-light shows at several historic monuments in India. I’ve watched and listened in awe to the thundering of horse hooves reverberating across walls at Udaipur’s City Palace, and the unfolding of intrigue in the stories related at Gwalior Fort. At both places, it’s Amitabh Bachchan’s deep baritone that sends a magical tingle down the spine. This kind of storytelling just wouldn’t work indoors or before dusk. In the glaring light of day, it’s harder to give your imagination free reign. But under the cloak of night, the amphitheatre creates a stirring atmosphere—bringing alive the region’s history, and allowing visitors like me to journey back in time with the evocative lyrics.
Appeared in the June 2015 issue as “Night Shift”.
Niloufer Venkatraman ’s idea of unwinding is to put on boots and meander through the wilderness or the by-lanes of a city. She is obsessive about family holidays and has already instilled in her young daughter wanderlust and a love for the outdoors. She is the former Editor-In-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India.