The drive to the Western Fire Temple is a long road. Especially if one is driving from the plains. Leaving at sunrise, it is possible to keep driving into lengthening shadows for the better part of the day, before the trees start closing in. The road goes on straight, west among rice fields and mango trees, flaming gulmohars and solid neems. Eventually, the road loses its ambition and bends a little. Then a little more, a slip here, a curve there and finally, abandoning all sense of direction, it entangles itself in complex knots. It is at this point that you really begin to notice the trees, the sinister ones, if you have been looking. Huge banana trees stand at regular intervals. Larger than normal, with a skirt of old tattered leaves covering their trunk. Tall coconut trees rise in between. Fat tees with large, flat, poisonous white leaves rise above the mists and large jackfruits threaten to fall onto unsuspecting cars, squishing little children. Sometime later there will be a marked sense of ascending, and the mists rise with you, passing through you and playing with you. Tendrils of wild mist will snake across your windshield. Thick trunks of mist will appear at will, on the road. Through the mists, headless horses will rise as mountains. The lady of green mists may bring rains upon you. Soft rain that dries up before it can reach the ground, or piercing rain that sends cars screeching into hungry ravines lurking around corners.
Wild coffee shrubs roll down hillsides, pepper plants nimbly climb up coconut trees suffocating them, their dark fruit falling like raindrops all over the forest. If you get out of your car to pee on the roadside, you will be scared. It is not silent, or eerie. On the contrary it buzzes with indistinct life. You may hear growls and soft thuds. You may hear the high pitched screeches of birds. If you hear his growl, get back in and start driving again. You still have a long way to go. Sometime in the afternoon, for even though the sun disappears and twilight hangs about uninvited, it is still noon, you will see an old temple. It used to tower over the forest once, when the kings walked. Now it lies in resignation, one with the forest. It would appear like women in colourful sarees are peeking out of the tall windows of the temple wall, singing desperate songs of longing. Keep driving, for those women are bewitching but vile and lure the careless traveller into their mystic mazes.
If you do not fall prey to these yet, then you have journeyed further than I. Somewhere across an invisible boundary, the forest turns benign. The mists leave. Bright moonshine reflects off lively rivers. The smell of impending dawn lingers in the air. Pay your dues to the Rakshas at the gate, and you shall pass in.