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Tours of ‘ghost ­ridden’ forts, tombs and graveyards a big draw in Delhi

Haunted tours of the city offer a feel of ‘ghost ­ridden’ forts and tombs, darkened graveyards, ‘possessed’ roads, creepy trees and ‘haunted’ houses

delhi Updated: May 21, 2018 10:59 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi

A view of the Feroz Shah Kotla fort in New Delhi. The city’s “ghost ridden” forts and tombs, darkened graveyards, “possessed” roads, creepy trees and “haunted” houses and the equally rich stories around them have been drawing tourists of a different sort –those interested in the paranormal and looking for a spook. (Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)

It was 10pm on a Saturday. Ramit Mitra and two dozen other people were on a walk in the woods around Mehrauli -- an eerie landscape dotted with crumbling tombs. The barren trees cast long shadows, dogs barked in the distance, owls hooted. “The otherwise windy place was unusually quiet that day. I was standing on a ledge; suddenly a weird sensation ran through my legs. As I bent to see what was bothering me, I fell and twisted my ankle,” says Mitra. “I had this creepy feeling I had never before there. One of my colleagues said he could feel something around.”

Not everyone, though, was afraid – some of the walkers were happy at the “spooky” turn of events. After all, they were part of a tour called Ghostly Night and Shadows, and nothing could be more exciting for them than the possibility of encountering a few ghosts.

Mitra, the founder of Delhi by Foot, is not the only one taking people on ghost tours – there are many travel companies and individuals offering haunted tours of the city, which have been gaining popularity in the past few years.

Delhi’s haunted tourism destinations
  • Khooni Jheel at northern Ridge: Many believe this lake is haunted by the ghosts of fleeing British soldiers killed during the 1857 uprising.
  • Bhuli Bhatiyari Ka Mahal: This hunting lodge (below) is said to be haunted by the spirit of a woman called Bhatiyarin, who lost her way here
  • Jamali Kamali Masjid: Sufi saints Jamali and Kamali were buried here. It is said that people have heard screaming voices, an invisible hand slapping people
  • Feroz Shah Kotla fort: It is said to have djinns residing amid its ruins and dark halls. On Thursdays, locals are seen lighting candles and incense sticks to appease the resident djinns
  • Chor Minar: According to legend, it was a ‘tower of beheading’, where under Alauddin Khilji’s rule, the severed heads of thieves were displayed on spear through its 225 holes, to act as a deterrent
  • Nicholson Cemetery: People who live in this area claim to have seen his headless body of Brigadier-General John Nicholson, killed during the Mutiny, wander in the cemetery during the nights
  • Khooni Darwaza: Three princes of Mughal dynasty were shot by Captain William Hudson her during the 1857 uprising. The place is said to be haunted by their spirits

These tour companies say that Delhi — which boasts of “ghost ridden” forts and tombs, darkened graveyards, “possessed” roads, creepy trees and “haunted” houses with downright scareyou-senseless stories associated with them — has as much potential as top ghost tourism destinations such as Edinburgh, known to be one of the most haunted cities in the world. The haunted tours are interestingly named — An evening with Djinns of Delhi, Ghostly Nights and Shadows Walk, Delhi Haunted Ghost Walk.

“Delhi is an ancient city and like all ancient cities, it has a rich history and a dark side. It has any number of mysterious monuments. People living around them have so many ghostly stories to tell. In fact, some like Khooni Darwaza has five haunted stories associated with it,” says Monika Barnwal, manager operations, Yellodae Travels, a travel company that started offering ghost tours a year ago.

The people who join the tours, she says, are from a diverse background, and they wish to know the truth behind the haunted stories. Some of the destinations on her company’s ghost tour itinerary include Chor Minar in Hauz Khas, Khilji’s tomb, Rajon Ki Baoli and Jamali Kamali mosque. “The astonishing feature of Chor Minar is the 225 holes in the wall. Under Alauddin Khilji’s rule, the heads of the slaughtered thieves were placed in each hole for public view,” says Barnwal.

India City Walks, another company, offers what it calls a “specially curated djinn experience” at Feroz Shah Kotla that involves exploring its shadowy recesses “that harbour djinns, ghosts, spirits and more”. It also offers a tour of Jamali Kamali at the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, the mausoleums of the 16thcentury Sufi saints Jamali and Kamali which rank among the most haunted places in Delhi.

“People who visit this place narrate tales of an invisible gaze deftly following their movements and voices that call out to the visitors from the mazaar inside the central dome of the mausoleum. The best one, however, is of people getting slapped by an invisible force,” says Sachin Bansal, who calls himself the chief explorer of the company. “Under the lavish green of the city reside many secrets of the past and many souls that yearn for a closure of their story; our paranormal tours celebrate the capital’s multilayered history.”

Even the Delhi government’s tourism department is promoting haunted tours. In 2016, Delhi Tourism brought out a New Year’s diary that listed haunted sites of the city, including Khooni Nadi, Agrasen Ki Baoli and Feroz Shah Kotla fort. This is what the diary has to say about Agrasen Ki Baoli in central Delhi: “The well inside is dried out, yet it is said that people have been mesmerised towards it and it has driven them to their own deaths. The intensity of unnatural vibrations around you increases as you go further down towards the reservoir. It is also referred to as the baoli of the unseen. Presently, rooms considered dangerous are secured with gates.”

The idea, Sudhir Sobti, chief manager, public relations, Delhi Tourism, says, is to engage the readers in the history of Delhi. “These places have been said to be haunted for a long time; they have an interesting history and spooky stories attached to them, which may be mythical or factual. But now there is certainly more curiosity among people who wish to visit places,” says Sobti.

The travel companies and tour guides can tell you endless ghostly tales about various monuments in the city, but the challenge, says Swayam Tiwari, a former marketing person and history buff who conducts haunted tours, lies in lending credence to these stories and legends. “I give the proof of the stories I tell,” says Tiwari, founder of A Haunted Travel.

Proof of the presence of the ghosts? “No, the archaeological and historical proof of the stories that I narrate about these monuments.” His tours, comprising groups of 10 to 15, are booked online and also have foreign travellers wanting to explore what he calls “the other side of Delhi”.

“There has been a belief that the spirits of people who die a violent death roam around the places where they died. Delhi’s history is replete with such violent deaths. There is always some unease on the roads of Delhi,” says Tiwari.

So, does he believe in ghosts? “Some people believe in the existence of djinns and ghosts, others do not. The truth, I believe, lies somewhere in between. When you are quiet from the inside, at peace within, maybe then you can feel the paranormal, you can feel that stones at these abandoned ruins are trying to tell you something.”

A lot of ghost tours, which cost anything between R 500 and R 5000, are conducted in the day because most monuments under ASI are shut in the evening. But then there is no dearth of places and monuments that can be visited at night, such as Lal Kot, Jamali Kamali, and others.

Those who have gone on the ghost walk swear by the experience: “I have been on a couple of ghost walks. There is something very unusual about the atmosphere at Jamali Kamali, something uncanny,” says Puneet Gupta, a software professional.

Mitra says much research goes into choosing a site for his ghost tour. The process, he says, involves talking to the locals to understand the haunted stories associated with a place. “There are many little-known places in Delhi such as Khooni Jheel at the northern Ridge. Many believe this stretch deep within woods is haunted by the ghosts of fleeing British soldiers killed in 1857. Locals tell you many tales about this place and ask you not to go there in the evening,” he says.

In fact, ghost tours are not always about seeing ghosts — some believe they could help better understand the history of a country, people and their anxieties. “Uncomfortable truths, buried secrets, disputed accounts: ghosts stories arise out of the shadowlands, a response to the ambiguous and the poorly understood,” says Colin Dickey in his book Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, based on his exploration of haunted houses around the country. The book also quotes geographer Glenn Gentry, who says ghost tours are popular because “they allow access to dissonant knowledge, dirty laundry, backstage.”

Many historical sites across the world have embraced haunted tours as a fun way to engage visitors who might otherwise not be interested in visiting these places.

“Most monuments in Delhi look the same and exploring them could be quite boring. What makes them interesting is the fact that they all have different stories,” says Barnwal. Historian William Dalrymple, author of the City of Djinns, a Delhi travelogue, says: “Despite having such great heritage and history, Delhi is terribly behind in tourism, and a lot of monuments are neglected. So, anything that brings tourism is fine. Djinns have been an important part of the city’s folklore.”

First Published: May 20, 2018 10:38 IST