Some places have a forbidding reputation that spreads far and wide purely on the strength of some vague allure attached to the name. Bhangarh is fairly well-known now, thanks to internet forums and seedy TV shows. But few have actually gone and seen it. So much is the difference between Bhangarh‘s spoken image and real fame as a destination that it is cumbersome to find directions to the place. Most of the few tourists who come searching, overshoot the correct turn on Dausa bypass.
There is also another way from Alwar.
We were no exception. On our way from Jaipur to Bharatpur, we travelled way ahead of Dausa before realising we had missed the road to Bhangarh. We had no option but to slot the trip on day three, that is on our way back.
Cursed (pun unintended) as our visit apparently was, we got late leaving Bharatpur on day three and rushing desperately against time, reached Bhangarh at 5:45 pm. Sun was barely above horizon and the shadows had lengthened menacingly. No doubt it enhanced the sense of adventure but in prosaic, more practical terms, it meant that we had less than an hour to see the sights.
At the outset, I must declare that I am highly unsure of my belief in the paranormal. Personally, I have had no supernatural experiences (only a spiritual one) and my mind militates against accepting it unquestioningly. But the first view of Bhangarh convinced me that were ghosts and demons to inhabit this world, they could find no better place to terrorize the humans from.
The Archeological Survey of India prefers to be legally correct and doesn’t say anything of the sort in its plaques.
But the fort has a spooky reputation. There are enough anonymous netizens, ready to swear that they were possessed or chased or hit or some such thing. Equally vociferous are the opponents who dismiss the whole thing as an elaborate hoax, perpetrated by vested interests to pull in tourists. They even have an alternate, rationalist explanation for the fort’s gory legend.
The guard, placed by Archeological Survey of India at the entrance, was mildly annoyed to see us land there at such late hour. With a caution to get back quickly, he waved us in.
The fort has all it takes to fit the popular imagination of a ghostly abode. Firstly, it is encircled by steep cliffs on three sides. The Sariska tiger sanctuary begins right at the back of those hills and extends for miles beyond. So the access from that direction is practically cut off. The hillsides are quite rugged and would need major effort to climb.
Thirdly, human presence is minimal. We did find local lads playing cricket (or was it football?) on the lawns, but they all vacate the precincts in evening.
Fourthly, the place is overrun by monkeys and peacocks that seem to be somewhat disdainful, at least unafraid, of people (Score to the rationalists. Animals are said to sense the supernatural easily).
Fifthly, the fort is surprisingly intact. It has at least three temples (either abandoned or unconsecrated), a giant temple tank and a citadel, whose face is formed by a jail with numerous cell doors, towering like a giant cavernous mouth over the whole expanse.
The fortifications are surrounded by thick shrubbery. Though Bhangarh is a restricted-entry monument, it is really not protected in any sense. One has to go around and jump across some tiny wall to enter.
Right at the entrance, it has an curiously symmetrical marketplace, with rows of shops and houses lined on either side, which appear to have been destroyed. None has a roof. A visitor has to walk right along what must have been a busy thoroughfare.
Sixthly, there are macabre fables that speak of carnal obsessions, evil spells, diabolical curses, black magic, wars and massacres of vengeance. Though the fort is of medieval era vintage, its history is only partly known. Exactly the kind of stuff that can set imaginations wild.
There is a relatively new Hanuman temple at the main gate. It has a priest who vehemently denies presence of any spirits. “There is no ghost more dangerous than man”, goes his faux philosophy.
But he unfailingly locks the temple and goes home to sleep every night!
Will I be game to for a night-out at Bhangarh? Well, the jury is out on that one!
As I reached the main gate, I found that we were not the only ones, nor were we the last. A family had just arrived at the spot and was mulling hesitantly whether to advance or retreat. A small girl among them was shrieking hysterically, saying she doesn’t want to go on.
The myth of Bhangarh had won the battle of perception!