Our auto rickshaw was racing through the evening traffic infested roads of Jan Path. I was checking my watch every now and then, counting down the minutes till my trains leaves from Delhi’s Sarai Rohilla railway station. I was getting angry messages from my cousin who was waiting for me at the station, cursing me for being late. We were going to Alwar (Rajasthan) from where we would be heading to the ghost town of Bhangarh.
The night before, when I told one of my friends about my plans, he shared a story that made me question the whole idea of going there. His brother’s friends had somehow reached Bhangarh a bit late in the evening. Since it was a few minutes past sunset, they had to bribe the guard to get in. The guard warned them but they promised him that they would be back in a few minutes. Mysteriously, all of them died within a month after the trip.
So, as I asked my auto rickshaw driver to hurry up that evening, I wondered if its in my interest to miss the train. Bhangarh after all is considered to be one of the most haunted places in the world. Was I Jack Dawson and the train was my Titanic that will ultimately lead me to my doom?
(I’ll tell you the answer to that one month from now)
I did not miss the train and soon we were on our way to Alwar.
Two and a half hours later, we reached Alwar, which was cold and dark by then. Everything looked scary. The people, the way they talked, the ill lit roads, the shops, the stray dogs. We checked around in a few hotels, but they were all full, except one hotel named Aditya Hotel, which had a bunch of young men hanging around in the reception, probably planning a heist. They offered us a room which smelled like rotten eggs, had a dirty bed spread and six box television sets stored in one corner. Needless to say, we did not stay there.
Standing under what seemed to be the only lamp post in Alwar, we discussed our options.
1. We could spend the night at the railway station and get robbed or thrown out or die of the cold.
2. We could go back to Delhi and visit the Comicon the next day.
3. We could board a bus to Jaipur and try our luck there.
4. We could keep looking for hotels in Alwar
We chose the 4th option.
We hired a cycle rickshaw and asked the funny eyed driver to take us to some decent hotel. We rode in the darkness along roads which were infested with feisty dogs and strange men, all the while straining our eyes to locate a hotel. It seemed strange that all the hotels were full in a city that seemed so hostile.
Thankfully, Hotel Nataraj had a room and served hot food. I was so happy that I tipped Rs.10 to the rickshaw wala, which I now regret as I realise that he had nothing to do with us finding a room. We retired to bed, after two plates of chicken biryanis and a whole lot of discussions about ghosts.
We hired a taxi early in the morning, and headed off towards Bhangarh which was about a three hour drive away. We also decided to visit the Sariska Tiger Reserve on our way back (about which we will talk about in Part 2).
There are quite a few legends going around about how Bhangarh became a ghost town. My personal favourite is this one:
There was this sadhu named Balu who told the King that if his fort casts a shadow on his forbidden retreat, the city will be ruined. Several years later, a prince ignored that warning and elevated the height of the fortress, so much so that it managed to cast a shadow on the sadhu’s retreat. Sadhu’s curse ruined the city.
Of course there are people out there who have a much more believable theory about what might have caused the destruction. They believe that since the town was situated near the hills, it may have been destroyed and the residents were forced to move because of a landslide.
Choose what you believe.
We stood in the front gates of the fort, first ones to enter the confines of Bhangarh on that bright sunny day. We were greeted by two village kids, who offered to sell us water. Inside, we roamed around the empty streets, our ears working overtime to hear something. Anything. But there was no sound. No humans, no birds. Nothing. We joked about how scary it must be in the evenings and nights.
There was a langur though, sitting on one of the rocks that left as soon as it saw us.
There were stones and broken houses on each side of the road. A little bit further we could see the fort surrounded by a beautiful lawn. Its ruins conveyed how grand it must have been. We dodged the monkeys to get to the terrace of the fort. We could see the entire town from up there. All deserted and lifeless. Up on one of the hills was the forbidden retreat where that powerful sadhu used to live.
We sat there for a while, and soon we started seeing tourists trickling in with their cameras, and picnic baskets. Small kids started noisily playing in the lawns while their parents took pictures. Suddenly Bhangarh seemed normal again.
After visiting its small temple, we decided to leave Bhangarh, unhaunted but definitely struck by its beauty.
That night, I called home to tell my folks about how my cousin and I spent our day in Bhangarh. I almost passed out when they told me this:
“I met your cousin today. He said he had to cancel the trip because you missed your train!”