Chir Batti – the ghost lights

The great salty landscape of the Rann of Kutch stretched like a huge white canvas under the stars. Talhah pedalled his bicycle with measured movement of his legs; there was no need to hurry. The tinny beep from his watch indicated that the time was 2 in the morning. According to his calculations, Talhah was a good 3 hours away from his destination – the village of Hodka in India.

Talhah was a seventeen-year-old Pakistani who had slipped through the Indo-Pakistan border under the cover of the night. It was his first day on the job – he had been promised two thousand rupees by Umair bhai, the local opium dealer, if he managed to cross the border and deliver a cache of drugs to a buyer in Hodka.

‘Talhah, pay attention.’ Umair had said, ‘Once you are in the Rann, you have to be extremely careful. You could easily lose your way there, especially around Banni grasslands. Get the maal to the buyer before sunrise and stay there. Follow the same procedure tomorrow night to return. Ok?’

‘Ok, bhai.’

‘Talhah, don’t follow any lights. Please be careful.’ Umair had added cryptically.

Talhah hadn’t understood what Umair had warned him about. He was excited about the opportunity to earn some cash. It was a silent night, even the insects had stopped chirping. Talhah’s bicycle was brand new and it didn’t make a single creak. The silence and the unending stretch of white salt unnerved him. He started whistling softly as he continued pedalling.

Half an hour later, Talhah stopped and referred the crude map Umair had drawn on a piece of paper. The realisation that he was lost dawned on him. He looked around and couldn’t figure out the direction he was supposed to follow. Talhah’s heart started beating wildly with fear. He muttered a quick prayer begging for some guidance.

Suddenly, he spotted a flicker of light in the distance. His hopes rose like a freshly inflated balloon. He started pedalling towards the light. It was orangish and bounced up and down as it moved away from him.

‘Someone’s smoking a cigarette,’ He thought to himself and started pedalling faster. The light moved away from him even faster. Suddenly, it vanished.

‘Hello…’ Talhah shouted into the darkness. ‘Where are you?’

As a reply, the light reappeared and Talhah started pedalling furiously towards it. Few minutes later, he realised that the light had reappeared in a completely different direction from its original position. Umair’s warning suddenly popped back into his mind and he started sweating profusely. But he didn’t stop pedalling. The light kept moving away from him.

‘Stop! Wait for me!’ Talhah screamed as the cycle hit a rock and he was thrown into the swampy terrain. He stood up and started running towards the light, which had turned into a bright ball of blue and was moving away from him with the speed of an arrow.

Talhah’s corpse was discovered the next day by the Border Patrol in the marshes. The doctor said that the boy had died due to a heart attack caused by panic and exhaustion. The locals said that the Chir Batti had claimed another unsuspecting victim.

Note: 1. Chir Batti or ghost lights (in Kutcchi-Sindhi language) are mysterious lights that have been spotted in the salt lands of the Rann of Kutch and in the Banni grasslands in Gujarat, India. The locals claim that these lights have been spotted for centuries and often play hide and seek with unsuspecting travellers. 

2. These lights are said to be caused by the oxidation of phosphine, diphosphine, and methane that are generated by the swamps. 

3. This phenomenon is prevalent all over the world and is known by many names such as ‘Will – o – the – Wisp,’ ‘Hinkypunk,’ ‘Jack-o’lantern,’ and ‘Friar’s lantern’ in Europe, ‘Min Min Light’ in Australia, ‘Naga Fireball’ in Nagaland, ‘Aleyaa’ in West Bengal/ Bangladesh and ‘Kollivai Pei’ in Tamil Nadu etc. 

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55 Comments

  1. I read this post and then Googled this phenomenon. Can it be seen with bare eyes? And can’t this be photographed? Because I can’t find any videos on them.

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    1. That’s fascinating, Zalka. Pretty sure wherever these marshlands are, these strange lights and the legend behind them would also be there.

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  2. This is an amazing story. Your story-telling skills have always impressed me. While reading the story, I was thinking about ‘aleya’ in my mind. Then I noticed you have mentioned about it in the footnote. As a kid, I used to be paranoid of aleya. There used to be a pond opposite our village house and many times, I saw lights on it. I used to get terrified. Later on, when I read chemistry I came to know about the science behind those lights. Waiting for the next story.

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    1. Wow! You’ve seen this phenomenon. The first time I came across this was in a book called the story of tea (not the popular book about Tea drinking but an Indian book printed in the early 90s) and have been fascinated ever since.

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      1. Varad it is a common sight in rural Bengal..well it was when we were kids..now there are not so many ponds and water bodies..so we don’t see them as much

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