Who doesn’t like a nice, scary story once in a while? That spine-chilling feeling stirred by listening to evocative legends and tales of mishaps whose remnants linger on to this day – horror certainly makes for a good story.
Combine horror, travel and India and sooner rather than later, the ‘Bhoot Bangla’ or Bhangarh Fort will figure into the conversation. A 500-year-old fort complex in Alwar, near the famed Sariska Tiger Reserve – Bhangarh’s fame is such that it is counted amongst the most haunted spots across Asia. The real kicker of it is that its infamy has official validation: no less than the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has forbidden tourists and locals from visiting the Fort after dusk.
So, what is the mystery behind this blood-curdling destination? Are any of the rumours true? Most importantly, is it worth a visit? Let’s find out.
Built by Raja Madho Singh in 1631, Bhangarh Fort and town had all the traces of a proud, prosperous Rajput principality in Alwar. While written accounts of the place are scarce, there’s plenty of legend associated with how Bhangarh came to be called the ‘Bhoot Bangla’ (House of Ghosts).
Some say that Madho Singh had built the fort after an agreement with a nearby ascetic that the shadow of the fort would never fall upon the ascetic’s home. The pact was broken when a later ruler decided to extend the height of the fort. Enraged, the ascetic cursed the fort and all its inhabitants – who were wiped out in a very short space of time. Locals who believe in this legend will tell you that to this day, every house built within or near the area suffers a roof collapse.
Another, more popular, legend concerns unrequited love. It is told that the Princess Ratnavati had an admirer in a black magician who sought to seduce her by mixing a potion in her perfume. The shrewd princess sniffed trickery and threw the perfume/potion on a boulder which – thus animated with black magic – rolled and crushed the unfortunate magician. Before breathing his last, the magician cursed the entire fort with pestilence and grief. Next year, the Bhangarh ruler suffered a catastrophic defeat from a neighboring king. Its army was annihilated, inhabitants massacred, and the fate of the princess remains unknown. Some say that she roams the great, gloomy wilderness of what was once her beloved realm still.
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What is truly disturbing about Bhangarh Fort is the perceptible air of despair and restlessness that lurks within the ruined ramparts. Nestled along the foothills of the Aravalis, the fort is now a habitat for wild animals whose nighttime calls add to the chilly sensations of dreariness for those who linger at its gates beyond sunset. Talk to the locals around the area and they will tell you of unearthly sounds and terrible visions that have been witnessed over the years. At night, even the hardiest adventurer would be loath to step beyond the cautionary advisory board set up by the Archaeological Survey of India expressly forbidding visits within. It’s just the unspeakable feeling that something lingers within that cannot be called “normal”.
Locals are full of stories of mysterious incidents and dreadful accidents that have taken place in connection with the fort. There’s a story of three youths who dared to venture within the walls of the fort at night. One of them fell down a well and, though rescued by his friends immediately – all three of them were crushed in a freak accident while driving towards the hospital.
Or take the story of the group of friends who are said to have met a ghost of a boy in a room with no doors and a grilled window. Or the countless stories of visitors who flouted the cautions of the guides and locals to enter the premises at night, never to return. Some tales are documented in evidence – although coincidence cannot be ruled out, sometimes there really is no smoke without fire.
Said to be modelled along the lines of Shahjahanabad in Old Delhi, the Fort is enclosed by four huge wooden gates in every direction. Curiously for a fort said to be haunted, Bhangarh’s enclosures have more than half a dozen small temples, including those of Hanuman, Gopinath, Mangla Devi and others. More a town than a fort, Bhangarh’s ruined remnants have areas like the Jauhari Bazaar and the Dancers’ Haveli. There’s certainly a lot to explore here, and during the daytime, you may not even feel the slightest sense of gloom – with the number of tourists and locals that throng its many walls. It is, of course, quite a different story at night.
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All in all, Bhangarh Fort is certainly worth a visit, if only a one-time visit. Whether with family or friends, give the place a try. Just one caution: do not attempt to cross its boundaries after hours. There are some things that are better off left untried. Oh, and heart patients, it’s best to give this place a miss.
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