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Operation Apparition

Armed with electromagnetic meters and flashlights, a haunted tour to an archaeological park and cemetery in Delhi didn’t turn out quite as expected by Shreya Sethuraman.

brunch Updated: Oct 20, 2012 17:08 IST
Shreya Sethuraman
Shreya Sethuraman
Hindustan Times

Armed with electromagnetic meters and flashlights, a haunted tour to an archaeological park and cemetery in Delhi didn’t turn out quite as expected by Shreya Sethuraman Illustration by Prashant Chaudhary

I’ve never been a person who is fond of adventure. By that I mean, adventure of the scary kind. Though I’m not afraid of the dark, horror is something that has never caught my fancy. So when the world was watching The Blair Witch Project and Psycho, I was content reading The Famous Five and The Three Investigators. Oh, and RL Stine’s Goosebumps too.

Perhaps that’s why when I read about a ‘haunted tour’ being organised in Delhi, I was curious and strangely excited. Organised by fledgling travel company Let’s Get Packing (LGP) and the Indian Paranormal Society (IPS), this was Delhi’s first such tour. Spread over two nights, a group of about 25 people visited the Mehrauli Archaeological Park near Qutab Minar and the Nicholson Cemetery at Kashmere Gate.

While we weren’t really promised screaming banshees, we were told to keep together, and come with torches and a stick! Arjun Sachdeva, the CEO of LGP, said the reason he zeroed in on these areas was because he had read and heard tales about these places being centres of paranormal activity.

Two Sufis are buried next to each other here. Sheikh Fazarullah, who adopted the pseudonym of Jamali, was a 16th century poet. It is thought that Kamali, who lies buried next to him, was either his spiritual guide, a disciple or a fellow poet. Photo: CC/Varun Shiv Kapur

Night One
On Saturday night, our group headed for the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, armed with torches and ‘paranormal’ equipment. This included what is known as the K2 meter or the electromagnetic reader. The meter readings range between 0 and 5 – the higher the reading, the stronger the intensity of paranormal activity at that particular spot. I felt part of the Ghostbusters, or better still, the ‘meddling’ kids from Scooby Doo!

7pm: Md. Quli Khan’s Tomb
Our paranormal hunt began around 7pm on a really cloudy night. Since we had split into groups, we took different routes across the park. My group began with the tomb of Muhammad Quli Khan, who was the brother of Adham Khan, a general of Akbar. This tomb is one of the three hotspots in the park for paranormal sighting. Sadly though, we didn’t spot or hear
anything that night.

7:45pm Jamali Kamali Mosque
Up next was the Jamali Kamali mosque (it dates back to the 16th century), another spooky hotspot. Luck didn’t favour us here either. We didn’t hear strange noises and the K2 meter didn’t budge even an inch! Who are these people who saw apparitions of women here?

8:30pm Balban’s Tomb
Next, we headed towards the resting place of the Sultan of Delhi. Legend has it that Ghiyas-ud-din-Balban ruled with an iron hand. It was at the residential complexes near the entrance of the tomb that we finally struck gold! Not only did we spot a black apparition, we could also smell sandalwood. The ruins had dark spots on the walls which turned out to be oily, sticky remains of sandalwood ittar. Sachdeva of LGP says that the sandalwood smell or ittar fragrances could have been left behind by occult practitioners who use it to appease spirits.

Built in the 13th century, the tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Balban is one of the ‘hotspots’ in the park. On an earlier tour, one of the walkers swears he heard a mysterious growling sound emanating from the general vicinity. Photo: CC/Varun Shiv Kapur

Gaurav Tiwari, the founder of IPS, said that on an earlier visit, the group he was part of heard growling sounds of a woman in and around Balban’s tomb. Scared out of their wits, Tiwari and his ghostbusters ran to their car, but the sound simply followed them. Although the noises stopped once they reached home, one of the group members kept hearing the growling for close to a week! “She also said that she could see an apparition of a woman by her bedside,” recalls Tiwari.

A slap from the departed!
As far as disrespecting the departed is concerned, one of the members of our group had to pay the price for his irreverence. He chose to sit on Balban’s tomb despite being told not to. When he went home, he felt someone slap him! That’s why he didn’t turn up the following day at the Nicholson Cemetery!

9:30pm Metcalfe’s Folly
I was happy to have got a whiff of sandalwood, and couldn’t wait to see some apparitions or hear someone shouting for help, or just something remotely scary! Tired of walking, we took a breather at Metcalfe’s Folly, a stone canopy built on a huge mound of grass. Here, another boy said he felt, just for a second, his head detach itself from his body!

The only landlocked lighthouse, this is a stone canopy built on a huge mound of grass. It was built by Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe in the mid-19th century. One can see the towering Qutab Minar and a stunning panoramic view of the city from here. Photo: Mayank Austen Soofi

10pm Rajon ki Baoli
At our final stop, a stepwell near Adham Khan’s Tomb, our tribe of city bores managed to sight some wild boars! Sadly, they were no apparitions and neither did Obelix come by to devour them!

Night Two
On Sunday night, we headed to the Nicholson Cemetery, a landmark in the first battle of Independence in 1857. Legend has it that Brigadier John Nicholson, after whom the cemetery is named, who was killed by a sniper, still walks the cemetery grounds. There are two versions – in the first, the Brigadier is seen riding a white horse, and the second claims that a headless Brigadier has been spotted riding his horse. While we couldn’t spot either on our visit, Sachdeva swore that he heard someone say “Thank you,” as we left the graves of the Brigadier and his family!

While walking around the unmarked graves, our electromagnetic meter started acting funny and shot up to 4! Meanwhile, we were busy taking pictures. Though I’m not one for believing in apparitions, I swear that in one of the images, I saw a face with sharp features!

But I wish the night was pitch dark, with owls hooting, bats flying, and the hysterical laughter of a woman! That might have made the tour ‘actually’ haunting.

Spotting Spooky Spirits
On November 17-18, Let’s Get Packing and the Indian Paranormal Society will organise a trip to Bhangarh in Rajasthan, said to be one of the most ‘haunted’ places in the country (see our cover story).

There will also be a tour in Mumbai on December 22, and Mukesh Mills in Colaba is one of the locations. It’s said that people who have visited the site have had things thrown at them, and some have also been possessed! If you’re adventurous and want to be a ghostbuster, go for it!

From HT Brunch, October 21

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