It’s still majestic. This medieval kingdom, that is. Or rather, the remains of it. Hundreds of years ago, its occupants fled. Or died. Nobody’s sure. Not a single human soul lives in the 158 hectares of land. Snakes slither along rocky corners. Climb up to the crumbling palace into the dark hallways, you’ll be greeted by the smell of dead bodies and gunpowder. Bat droppings apparently smell of war. You’ll see a secret passage guarded by orange and silver markings. And rats. Tantriks come here to perform black magic. Most temples inside have no idols. Welcome to the real city of djinns.
At the edge of the Sariska Tiger Reserve, between Jaipur and Alwar in Rajasthan, is Bhangarh, popularly known as the “ghost city of India.”
Rocky Singh, co-host of NDTV Good Times’ show, India’s Most Haunted, says, “This was the only location where [co-host] Mayur [Sharma] refused to do an isolation session.” In the show, both spend time alone on every location they visit. When they spent the night here, they heard footsteps and the screeching of a woman, their motion sensors went off and stones were thrown at them. “If I were to say that any of the places I’ve been to in the last 20 years is haunted, I’d say Bhangarh,” says Rocky, who’s travelled to haunted places around the world.
Once upon a time
Till a few years ago, the locals loved to tell stories about the haunted kingdom. But when these stories appeared on television, they were offended. “Yahaan par djinn aate hain, bhoot-pret nahin!” says a village shopkeeper indignantly.
The city, according to legend, was cursed by a tantrik in the sixteenth century. Singhia, a lecherous tantrik, was attracted to the beautiful queen of Bhangarh, Ratnavati. One day, he saw her maid buying some hair oil for the queen and put a love spell on it. The queen was a tantrik herself. One look at the swirling oil and she threw the flagon away. As soon as it touched the ground, the stone magnified into a boulder and moved towards Singhia. All the tantrik could do before the boulder crushed him was to curse the land, “Bhaag jaao” he warned the people. “Bhangarh woh jagah hai jahaan se log bhaag jaate hain,” says Sumit, who sells beverages outside the premises.
The ruined city is flanked by the Aravallis on three sides with streams running along landscaped gardens. There are markets and havelis. You can’t help but think that there’s got to be another explanation! And there is.
The kingdom was established in 1599 by Raja Bhagwant Das for his son Madho Singh, the younger brother of Akbar’s general, Man Singh of Amber. Madho Singh named the city after his grandfather Man Singh (who was also known as Bhan Singh and that’s where ‘Bhangarh’ comes from). In 1720, Jaipur’s Jai Singh II attacked the city. Some historians say Jai Singh II’s repeated attacks forced the people to escape. Others blame the famine of 1783. Either way, Bhangarh remains unoccupied since. Almost.
Tales of the yore
According to the Rajasthan Tourism website, “the evil effects of the (tantrik’s) curse are believed to be working even now.” The Internet is flooded with horror tales. People claim to have heard the tinkling of payals, seen the ruined market come to life. Tarun Akash, a student, wrote on indianfusion.aglasem.com about how he along with two friends met with an accident after a night spent in Bhangarh. The odd thing, he says, was that they were the only people to have been hurt in a bus of more than 50 people, even though they were sitting 5-6 rows apart. Bhangarh is on several lists of ‘the most haunted places in the world’ on the Web. Bhoot, chudail, djinns – she’s witnessed them all over the last three decades, says a wizened Rama Devi, who has been running a water stall outside the monument premises ever since she got married. “They are all there. But we are not scared. We have our temples,” she says.
Another indicator of ghosts was a signboard put by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) outside the ruins that warned people against entering the fort after sunset. The notice has now been removed because everybody who visited saw this as proof of ASI’s belief in the paranormal. “These rumours are rubbish,” says Vasant Kumar Swarnakar, superintending archaeologist, Jaipur circle, ASI. “Every monument in the country has the same sign. It has nothing to do with ghosts or spirits,” he insists. “All that is rubbish,” he repeats. It’s the wild animals that make the area dangerous. Its proximity to Sariska makes it a haunt for foxes, panthers and even tigers at night.
Besides, adds Swarnakar, “Our guards patrol the area at night but no incident has ever occurred!” But several people have come screaming out “ghost”. There have been deaths. “It’s because people try to enter the ruins from the hills at night, the boulders are loose, people fall!” he says.
Last year, a man jumped into the step-well and hurt his head. While he was being rushed to the hospital, the car crashed and the two others died. An unfortunate accident blamed entirely on ghosts. So much so, that the locals have a joke based entirely on logical reasoning. “Bhangarh mein har saal kuchh log marte hain. Unke bhoot toh yahin par rukenge na!” they laugh.
Ram Gopal Joshi, the pujari of the Hanuman temple at the entrance of the Bhangarh ruins, has a theory, “Jiske grah kharaab hote hain, usko bhoot dikhta hai,” he says.
From HT Brunch, October 21
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