This was last summer. I am all set to visit my best friend in Jaipur. I book a comfortable AC cab in Delhi and head out on NH 48. My cabbie happens to be an old man, who has probably seen it all in life, making for a great storyteller on the drive. He asks me about my travel plans and we get into a conversation about the spirit world, the dead, the undead, and the works. He then moves onto a story about this old, derelict fort in a place called Bhangarh, in the Alwar district of Rajasthan. I initially laugh it off saying that such stories are always a hoax, mostly to dissuade people from encroaching on a property. But I hear him anyway.
The story of Bhangarh
The story goes back to somewhere in the 1600s. There was a royal family living in the palace of what today is the Bhangarh Fort. The family also had a princess called Ratnavati. A local warlock fell in love with the beautiful princess and tried his best to profess his love. When nothing worked, he tried to woo her by offering her a love potion. It ensued refusal, argument, and a fight, which eventually got the warlock killed. In his last breath, the warlock hexed the royal family, including the poor princess. He cursed that every inhabitant of the fortress will die an ugly death and that no one will ever be able to occupy the place. In a few years, the Mughal army attacked and ransacked the place, plundering and killing every living being therein.
Ever since that fort stands abandoned and haunted. Despite rampant commercial developments in the area, the fort has remained untouched. Locals have complained of strange sounds, lights, and smells, the crying and screaming of women or children at night, and so on. The fear has gotten so deeply rooted within the community that local legal department and Archaeological Survey of India prohibit visitors from entering the fort after sunset, or before sunrise. There have been reported incidents also about youngsters who have dared to explore the fort at night have never returned. And so on.
The leap of curiosity
As he finishes his story, I am quite intrigued to visit the place. As a medical researcher, I have no room for words like superstition, supernatural, or spirit, in my dictionary. But I do have the curiosity to look into these things. So I ask him if he can take a quick detour. Perks of booking a dependable and top-rated taxi from Delhi to Jaipur.
He looks worried about the fact that I am a solo female traveler and I want to visit ‘one of the most haunted places in India’ alone. But he agrees nevertheless.
After about 219 Km from Delhi, near Manoharpur, we leave NH 48 and take the city road towards Bhangarh.
From the outside, it looks like any other historical fort, with a handful of tourists wandering around. There is a good amount of security outside. I ask my cabbie to wait and promise to be back in less than an hour. On entering, it looks very much like any other fort, with turrets, watchtowers, and bay windows. For a minute, I am all in awe of the massive structure of the place that I forget why I am here. Some parts of the fort are restored and in good shape, while another section is completely decrepit. I hear a group of youngsters heading that way and I follow. This area is a little darker and away from natural light. Hence, there is constantly a swampy, moldy, stench, which explains the ‘eerie smell’. And I am sure one could also find cadavers of rodents or other animals. I also recall that the Sariska Tiger Reserve is around the corner and wild animals often wander out of the forests hunting for food, which could easily rationalize the strange sounds at night.
An inexplicable incident
With these thoughts in my head, I keep walking through the debris and I hit a wall at the end of the corridor. Suddenly, I realize, that I couldn’t hear the group of college kids I was following. I turn around and decide to head back. So far, nothing seemed or sounded strange to me that what a decrepit fort should be. That is when I notice that I am back to the same wall at the end of the corridor. I take it as my own mistake of not paying attention. It happens again in a few minutes. It is as if I am going in circles, without finding a way out. I check my phone to call my cabbie but there is no coverage inside. I try to brush the thought of anything uncanny and explore all possible corners for an exit. But in vain. I perch myself on a broken ledge and start thinking. I don’t know how much time has passed when I hear a female voice asking me if I am lost. She looks like a regular teenager but too well dressed for a tour of a relic. She offers to show me the way out. When I reach the fort entrance, I turn back to thank my savior but she is gone. I head back to my car and realize that I had been gone for three hours and almost nearing sunset. The cabbie seems quite flustered that he couldn’t reach me on my cell. I assured him everything was fine and that I got into a conversation with some people.
As we hit the road, I try to replay the entire afternoon in my head. Who was the girl I met? Whatever my mind was conjuring up, couldn’t possibly be true. Or was it a manifestation of my mind? Guess I will never know. Sometimes, the lines between reality and the possibility of things are often blurred, because some questions will never have an answer.