When I was a child, I often used to hear elder people talking about Lemlemas, the ghostly spirits that would roam the brooks and creeks at night. I was told that those who go out at night for fishing are most likely to encounter them because they would be usually roaming the river-banks in search of food. It’s believed that they feed on fishes. Those stories would scare us to death and we would never dare to go out during the night since there was a brook nearby. We were told that if they find a human being, they would kill and eat only the cartilages: finger-tips, palms, ears, nose-tops and soles. Although I always questioned the existence of such spirits, some of the stories I heard were quite convincing that they literarily froze me with fear.
Even my late father used to claim that he encountered the spirit when he was about 14. His story goes like this. It was late evening and the sun was down. He was returning from the forest with a herd of cows and bulls. He kept yelling at the beasts periodically as he walked behind them with his empty lunch-box on his head. There was a small stream before his house and while descending to the bank of the stream to cross it over, he suddenly spotted a woman with long hair seated on a flat rock in the middle of the stream with her hair dropped down and floating on the water. She was facing upstream and her head was hung low as though she was searching something in the water. Alarmed and shocked by the unusual citing of the stranger, my father burst into loud screams and cries that echoed across the entire gorge. The mysterious woman disappeared the moment my father let out that deafening shrill. When his mother came running down hearing him scream, my father was almost unconscious due to trauma and shock. When he narrated to his parents what he saw, they told him that it was Lemlema which was commonly believed to roam that stream at night. Shocked by the incident, my father was seriously ill for days and a great ritual by a local shaman had to be conducted to treat him.
Likewise, there are similar stories in my wife’s village too. Even my mother-in-law claims to have seen fresh footprints of Lemlemas on a rock when she had gone for fishing at night a few decades ago. People generally believe that if they see the watery baby-footprints on the rock in the river at night, no fish will be found that night because Lemlemas are believed to be the queen of rivers and they would have hidden all the fishes. It is also believed that Lemlemas cannot tolerate the smell of meat and if anyone is found carrying fresh meat at night, they would cling onto him and hold him back. There have been stories of people being held back while climbing uphill and dragged down at night when they carried meat on their back. They had to let go their luggage in order to escape the spirit and return the next day to get back the meat. My brother-in-law also says when he was a child, he used to often hear a strange creature circumambulating his house at night whistling and walking with heavy footsteps. He says he had wanted to go out to see what it was, but it seems his father and mother never allowed him to do so saying it was Lemlema. During those days, it seems my wife’s house was right beside the stream and so many paranormal activities used to be noticed at nights.
Was Lemlema a real thing? This question pushed a group of young boys in my wife’s village to explore the river-banks and nearby caves one day to see if Lemlemas really existed. My brother-in-law says that the boys searched a wide stretch of the river, examining the caves and hollow rocks but not even the slightest sign of the existence of such a creature could be traced. In fact, the new generation has never seen such a thing till today. If it was common during the time of our parents and grandparents, I am just wondering what could have driven them away today. I think such stories of Lemlemas in the Lhotsham community are as mysterious as that of Himalayan yetis in other parts of Bhutan. I know the modern science will blankly reject such claims but I believe there are still some unsolved mysteries in this universe that need to be explained.