A Haunted Fort, Or Just Plain Monkey Business ?

Haunted Fort Bhangarh
Stone-lined passage to the main fort area - and monkeys !

An Impromptu Trip To Haunted Fort Bhangarh

Every once in a while, the four musketeers – my friend Sanjay and his better half Laveena, my own better half Rani, and myself – get bitten by the travel bug. We are impulsive travellers and plan our trips at the drop of a hat. One would think that when you are 50+, you would plan sensibly and then travel. But no sir, we are a crazy lot, and we don’t seem to get any better with age – if anything, we are getting worse, and loving every moment of it !

Hitting The Road

And so it was in December 2015, on Christmas day, that early dawn found us heading down the Jaipur highway after a hastily put together plan to visit Bhangarh Fort and Jaipur. After all, who wants to be stuck at home on a holiday, no matter how brief the holiday is. On several previous occasions, we had discussed visiting Bhangarh Fort – we were curious as hell about the place. We had done a lot of reading about this ancient ruined fort in Rajasthan and had read conflicting accounts about the place. By all accounts that I have read so far, this monument is supposed to be rated as the “Most Haunted Fort” in India. It is located near Duasa in Alwar district of Rajasthan, and is a good 4 to 5 hours’ drive from Delhi.

Route from Delhi to Haunted Fort Bhangarh
Route From Delhi To Haunted Fort Bhangarh

For most parts, the road is pretty good – at least while you are on the Delhi-Jaipur highway. After crossing Behror, Kotputli, Shahpura and Manoharpur, there is a fork on the left, just before a flyover, that turns on to NH148, that leads to Bhangarh. Since we were on a pretty high speed, we overshot and had to drive several kilometers to find a gap for taking a U-turn. Once we got back on track, we found the road pretty good, though narrow. What made the drive interesting was the contrasting landscape that we were driving through. One moment you would be passing green agricultural fields, and the other moment you would have nothing but sand, with the Aravali hills lining the sky in the distant horizon. It was an amazing sight, to say the least. The last few kilometers, though, the road is pretty bad, and in some places, it is barely more than a narrow dirt track, especially the final approach to the fort.

Driving Through The Aravalis

We reached there in the early afternoon and it was a bright and sunny day. While the weather was a blessing, it also had a downside – Being Christmas day, the place was fairly crowded with tourists. In fact, it resembled a picnic spot ! There were cars and cars everywhere in the open ground being used as a parking, and there was even a school-bus that had brought kids from a nearby school on an outing.

We entered the complex through a narrow gate, outside which there was a plaque and a notice board proclaiming it to be a protected monument. The board also stated that entry to the monument was permitted between sunrise and sunset. We had read that entry to the place was strictly prohibited at night and the board confirmed it. Whether this was because of the fact that it was supposed to be haunted, or simply as a precaution against accidents – as the place is not lighted, is something that we were still speculating about.

Hanuman Mandir At The Entrance

Right next to the entrance gate was a small Hanuman Temple built under an imposing banyan tree – fully functional, with locals and visitors performing puja. And there were monkeys – which wasn’t surprising, as most Hanuman temples do have a resident population of simians. What we were not prepared for, though, was the sight that greeted us when we turned the corner and entered the inner complex. We were looking at what appeared to be the ruins of a marketplace of sorts, with remains of squarish structures lining both side and a stone passage in between leading up to the ruins of the fort visible some 500 meters away. AND there were more monkeys – hordes and hordes of them. Not only monkeys, but langurs too. So many of them that we almost froze with horror. Trust me, it is pretty scary when you have them walking and prancing around all over the place – at close range. It took us a while to realize that they did not mean any harm to us – they were just going about their monkey business, and there were people feeding them bananas as well, which they went and took docilely enough, without making any attempt to snatch them. This was a little reassuring and slowly we moved down the stone passage, marveling at the structures that must have existed here once upon a time – it must have been a teeming marketplace full of life.

Beyond The Hanuman Mandir – The Ruins Of The Marketplace

Gradually, we became more relaxed about the monkeys – they were certainly behaving better than some of the humans visiting the spot. A bunch of hooligans, who appeared to be college boys out in a group to have fun, in fact created a ruckus and started chasing the monkeys, who scampered in all directions to escape these ruffians. I could not but help thinking that these hooligans could learn a thing or two about good public behavior from the ancestors that they were shooing away. The sad part is that these boys appeared to be a well-educated lot. So much for education. 🙂

As we moved down the stone pathway, we could see bigger gates down the lane – probably the entrance to the main fort complex. But before that, there was a cluster of HUGE banyan trees that appeared to have come straight out of a sci-fi film, lending the place an eerie atmosphere. It was at this point that we started feeling a little uneasy. Haunted ? Well, the ruins and the banyan trees certainly lent it the right atmosphere. Not the kind of place I would like to visit in the dark, even if it was permitted, to be sure ! But what I am sure about is that the place is fascinating. We spent some time here, clicking pictures of the banyan tree and surrounding ruins. Some of the banyan roots had actually grown over the stone structures and it appeared as though the stone structures were struggling to get out of the grip of giant wooden tentacles. Fascinating indeed.

The Eerie Banyans

As we moved through the larger gates and stepped into the inner complex we were in for another surprise. There was a sprawling complex inside – a very green open lawn with several temples built around it on raised platforms, against the backdrop of the Aravalis on two sides and the fort ruins on the fourth. The site was a sharp contrast to the ruins of the fort that lay just beyond this green complex. In fact, it was hard to believe that such a green place was surrounded by ruins. It would appear that the temples were perhaps built much later, for they did not appear to be very old. Some ruins of smaller structures were scattered around on the boundaries of the lawn. In this area as well, the monkeys and langurs were present in large numbers, but went about their own monkey business without troubling the visitors, and only approaching the humans if invited to be fed the bananas or other eatables.

The Inner Complex & Temples

Moving on beyond this complex, we reached the main fort area, of which there seem to be four stories, though as per the information board outside, originally the fort is supposed to have had seven stories. A barred doorway – currently open for visitors – announces the entry into the fort ruins. As we step inside we see the main structure a few feet away, and this time it is humans who are seen climbing or sitting around at all levels of the ruins instead of the monkeys. For some reason, there are less monkeys in this area – perhaps they know something that we don’t, and are staying away ? With this thought in mind, we move on to explore the various remains of the passages and rooms within the fort. Some of the stone walls, passages and doorways are remarkably well preserved, and seem to have survived whatever caused the fort to be devastated in the first place.

As one climbs higher up the structure, there are some open terrace-like places where one gets spectacular views of the surroundings as far as the eye can see. The sprawling Aravalis with sparse vegetation, the nearby villages, and the surrounding complex – all create a magical effect. There is still a slight sense of unease, though. The fact that this place is supposed to be haunted is still very much on our minds. And yet, we have not seen a shred of evidence that ghosts are perhaps sharing the space with us. Perhaps the sight of so many humans loitering around all over the place have driven them away to seek some solitude 🙂

The Ruins Of The Haunted Fort

Having covered most of the ruins, we decide that it is time to climb down and make our way towards Jaipur. As we walk towards the fort exit we pass the banyans once again, and once again the eerie feeling takes over. I am reminded of the giant trees that I saw in the movie Avatar. These banyans will stay on my mind for a very long time. Putting the thought behind me, I move on with the others towards the exit. All in all, not a bad trip. Haunted ? Perhaps, and perhaps not. We have no intentions of staying back to find out ! The place is a photographer’s delight, though, and is definitely worth a visit.

As we walk to the car, we discuss the plan of action. We are in no hurry to reach Jaipur and we decide that we need to also check out the Chand Baoli – a stepwell in Abhaneri, about some 50 kilometers away, which is supposed to be an architectural marvel. So Jaipur can wait for a few more hours. Chand Baoli beckons. But that’s another tale waiting to be told.

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