When someone suggested we visit Bhangarh fort – one of the most haunted spots in southern Asia – for my mother's 47 th birthday, our curious minds began to wander.
Every destination has a story to tell. People plagued with wanderlust will agree that each time they feel compelled to explore a new place, their motivation isn't just the change of scenery, it's also the need to know what anecdote the new place has to offer.
For us it translated into a five-hour, 254-kilometre-long, journey to the ruined fort of Bhangarh, believed to be haunted by the spirits of many: a beautiful princess, a jilted magician and the people who once inhabited the prosperous town. The ancient Indian fort was built in the 17th century, and stands in the Aravali hills around Alwar, Rajasthan.
One of the most popular myths is that of the Princess of Bhangarh, Ratnavati, once said to be the jewel of Rajasthan, and Singhia, a notorious magician well-versed in the occult, who lived in Bhangarh, and was madly in love with the princess. One day, he saw her maid in the market, and cast a spell on the oil she was purchasing. Upon touching it, the princess would surrender herself to him. The princess, however, caught Singhia in the act of enchanting the oil, and instead, poured it to the ground. As the oil struck the ground, it transformed into a boulder, which crushed Singhia. Before dying, the magician cursed the palace with the death of all who dwelt in it. The following year there was a battle between the regions of Bhangarh and Ajabgarh, during which the princess died.
Today, it is said that spirits haunt the fort, so much so that the very staid Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) prohibits entry to the fort from sunset to sunrise!
The journey into Bhangarh, as you enter the ruins, is one of many stories and sights. The once mighty structure is now nothing more than a tremor from the past. The lush gardens give you a sense of the extravagance of the kings that ruled. Beyond the gardens, you get a view of the baoli, where sounds echo, reaching other parts of the ruins. The reason for the transportation of these sounds remains unexplained, an eerie aspect of the ruins. The baoli itself gives you goosebumps, because the air carries the smell of damp soil, and you can hear the music of water, so relaxing and yet so haunting.
As we passed the baoli, enchanted by its mystery, a sudden, loud scream made us jump out of our skins. Then, the air was filled with the giggles and laughter of children. Yes, children, enjoying themselves, scaring the wits out of us.
As the evening approached, the sky grew dark, the majestic hills disappeared into the sky, and the ruins – a moment ago, beautiful and haunted – became devious. Such are the wonders of light. Well, like all other tourists, we left the fort before sunset, even though there was much we wanted to know, much that still remained unanswered.
(Photographs are taken by the author)