One cool evening in Khaling in 1990, I woke up to the long shrill of a whistle. When I came to my sense, I found myself in the middle of nowhere. I could hear people talking and rushing somewhere. I was seated on what was supposed to be a doorstep but couldn’t figure out exactly where I was. The repeated whistling sound indicated that it was time for something but I had no idea what. I stood up from where I was sitting and tried to explore around. I had no idea where I came from and where I was. I was totally disoriented. I noticed that one of my slippers was missing and no matter how much I groped around, I couldn’t find the missing slipper. Finally the school captain called my name and asked me if I was not going for dinner. Only then I realized I was just in front of the school kitchen and that the whistling was a summon call for dinner. The captain was a low-vision student and I let him look for my missing slipper, but he too couldn’t find it. So I had my dinner without my slippers on and as I was having my meal, I didn’t stop thinking about what could have happened to me that evening. After dinner, I went to the hostel and tried to piece together all the events of the day I could remember in order to solve the mystery of how I got in front of the kitchen from nowhere. Suddenly I realized that I could remember everything that had happened until the evening study hour that day. I vaguely remembered resting my head on the study table feeling tired and bored. Then my memory had stopped thereafter. I got a feeling that I could have dozed off during the evening study hour and that I might have sleepwalked out of the academic building when the bell rang. I immediately rushed to the classroom and found my missing slipper stuck under my table. It soon became apparent that I had walked out of the classroom into the kitchen premises in my sleep. When I look back to that incident today, I still wonder how I could have walked so safely in such a trance. There were a number of obstacles such as rudimentary bridges, pits and bushes of nettle plants on the way which I could have easily bumped into, but the fact that I could stick to my path despite being blind and that too in a state of subconscious mind is really a kind of miracle. That was my first ever sleepwalking experience and I wish it to be the last as well.
Over the years, I have heard that sleepwalking is common among some people and many Bhutanese believe it’s a work of some evil spirits. As a child, I was told by seniors how some evil spirits take away sleeping persons and kill them by pushing them off a cliff or into the river. I think this assumption could have been probably made following the death of some sleepwalkers in similar fashion. I don’t know whether there is any spiritual aspect attached to this phenomenon, but I have realized that this can be a dangerous disease especially when you are alone or when you are in a harsh and rough environment.
My wife too has a terrible experience. When she was 6 or 7, she says she woke up in an open space in the middle of a night when the drizzling rain began to drench her. She soon realized that she was half way up to the house of her uncle (father’s elder brother) and tried to return home. But when she looked down towards her house, she saw a stranger with a load of firewood on his back walking up to where she was standing. She instinctively ran up towards her uncle’s house, glancing back at the stranger every now and then. No matter how fast she ran, she saw the stranger constantly following her. At one point of time, she decided to hide herself in the nearby bush, but something urged her to continue running. So she did. But when she reached her uncle’s house, she couldn’t knock at the door for fear of being scolded for disturbing during the odd hour. However the stranger soon took another path on the other side of the house and this gave her the chance to jump back into the fields and run towards her house. She says she vaguely remembers falling down a couple of times as she ran blindly towards her house. When she got home, she found the door half-opened and rushed inside deeply traumatized and horrified. When her parents woke up, she was found trembling and crying. She had slept in between them and none of them had noticed when she had sneaked out in her sleep. She began to hallucinate immediately and never let the lights to be put off claiming that so many strangers were peeping at her through the door. Her parents say she became seriously ill and when a shaman was summoned to perform some rituals, they were told that she was taken by an evil spirit and had she hid herself in the bush that night, she would have died. The shaman performed some rituals for her and eventually, she got better. For her too, that was the first and last experience of sleepwalking.