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Bhangarh: The haunted village in Rajasthan

Three students went into the woods to find the Blair Witch of Burkittsville, Maryland, but never came back. The only thing found later was their broken camera, with footage of their encounter with the paranormal. As I watched the supernatural horror film The Blair Witch Project from the edge of my seat, I caught myself thinking, it all seems so real. And by the time the film was over, it kindled my spirit of adventure. I yearned to embark on a similar quest—to venture into the woods, chasing an urban legend.

I grabbed my laptop and googled haunted places in India. To zero in on something credible, I added a couple of keywords, real and legal to the query. Countless articles popped on my screen. To my surprise, most of them invariably mentioned one destination—Bhangarh fort in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

The more I read about Bhangarh fort, the more it piqued my curiosity. Located in Alwar district of Rajasthan at the border of the Sariska Tiger Reserve, the fort had everything a haunted destination should have—a dark legend, a deserted location in the woods, a grisly warning by the officials, and a slew of terrifying folktales and experiences. In fact, to this day, no one dares enter the fort after sunset, for it is then that the ghosts and spirits are believed to wander the area. Thoroughly intrigued, I booked my ticket to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan.

The sun was high in the sky when I reached Bhangarh after a long journey from Jaipur. I alighted near a village that looked like a set right out of a horror movie. The ruins of hundreds of years old havelis were scattered across the main street of the village, and apart from a few children playing around the corner of the street, the place was empty. But luckily, I managed to find a guide who agreed to take me up the hill to the ‘famous Bhangarh fort’.

While driving to the fort through the rough terrain of the village, my guide narrated the history of the place. The fort was built in the 17th century by Raja Bhagwant Singh for his younger son Madho Singh. Incidentally, Madho Singh’s elder brother, Man Singh was the general of emperor Akbar’s army. Thanks to this connection with the Mughals, Bhangarh prospered back in the day. At its peak, the town even had a population of 10,000. Today though, only a handful of people live in and around the area. When asked why people deserted the place, the guide went on to narrate a few legends that further intrigued me to explore this mysterious village.

As I walked into the precinct of the fort, the first thing that caught my attention was an advisory board put up by The Archaeological Survey of India, warning people against entering the fort after sunset.

According to a local legend, Ratnavati, the princess of Bhangarh, was so beautiful that suitors approached her from across kingdoms. Of her many admirers was a priest who was well-versed in black magic. Since he knew he stood no chance with the princess, he decided to cast a spell on her to win her love. But, before he could do so, he was caught and executed. It is said that right before he died a gruesome death, he cursed the people of Bhangarh to suffer an ill fate. True to his curse, soon after the incident, Bhangarh fell to its neighbouring kingdom Ajabgarh after a battle broke out between them. And ever since, no one dared to live near the fort as it was believed to be tainted with the priest’s curse.

My guide began narrating the next legend about Guru Balu Nath, an ascetic who lived at the hilltop where the fort stands today. It is said that when the fort was under construction, he had put forth a condition that the fort’s shadow shouldn’t fall on his house. But his request was overlooked. Angered, the ascetic allegedly cursed the villagers which led to their ultimate downfall. According to the guide, the ghosts of the people who died due to the curse haunt the fort.

My guide told one story after another. And I was hooked. Although stories about black magic and curses were outlandish to me, the guide seemed quite convinced of their connection with the fort’s ill-fate. As we approached the fort, I was left speechless by its grandiose, majestic view. Before me stood a specimen of architectural beauty that was steeped in spooky stories. Lost in thoughts, I reached Hanuman Gate, the entrance to the fort.

As I walked into the precinct of the fort, the first thing that caught my attention was an advisory board put up by The Archaeological Survey of India, warning people against entering the fort after sunset. Intrigued, I climbed a nearby stairway to reach the first floor. A long corridor had small rooms attached to it—a prayer room believed to keep evil forces at bay, and Khazana, a chamber where gold and cash were stocked in the past. To reach the second floor, I further climbed a fleet of zigzag stairs that cut across several chambers. I later learnt that these quarters were where the royal families once lived. Finally, I reached the exit gate of the fort where there was a temple of Hanuman, the Hindu deity hailed by the Hindus as a remover of danger.

As my journey came to an end, the legends of Bhangarh played in my head as my rational mind refused to entertain them. Yet I wondered if ghosts really did linger in the alleys of the fort. After all, I had come to Bhangarh in search of a paranormal experience. Instead, I left with stories from the vibrant history of Bhangarh. With the sun shining brightly over my head, I felt nothing ominous about the fort. Bhangarh fort seemed to be a symbol of cultural heritage rather than a haunted destination.

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