An easy and pleasure driving of around six hours from Pushkar had brought us before Bhangarh fort,which had its fame as the most haunted place in Asia. Travellers had been warned by various websites about not to remain in that fort after sunset. It was already 04 pm. So, anticipating the urgency due to closure of the gate when the sun sets in a short while, we entered the fort through Hanuman Gate immediately after parking the car in the designated parking lot.
There was a Hanuman Temple situated just to the right of the main gate. Due to its proximity to the temple, the gate was named as “Hanuman Gate”. The first thought that came to mind as to why that temple was there. Was it really a haunted place? I just chided my son, Ruchir to start praying so that we return to safety before the sun sets. Ruchir was never interested to visit that place thinking it as weird. But I was. I had read so many articles about that place and I wanted to see it. Later, we came to know that there were four other gates on the outer perimeter of the fort complex. They were Delhi Gate, Ajmeri gate, Lahori gate and Phulbari gate. The nomenclature pattern of those gates reminded us of the gates constructed by the Mughals in their cities.
The Mughal connection is attributed to the relationship of Sawai Madho Singh, the ruler of Bhangarh in 16th Century with Raja Mansingh I, who was a general in Akbar’s army. These two chieftains were brother. Their father Bhagwant Singh was the ruler of Amber. This Mughal association is believed to be continued till the death of Aurangjeb. When the Mughal empire weakened, Bhangarh was attacked by Jaishingh II in 1720 AD. Later, a famine broke out in 1783 AD, which forced the inhabitants to abandon the city. However, history apart, the fort premises had the reputation of the haunted place till recent years. And, such reputation became the main reason for the tourist to flow in that sleepy village.
At the first sight, it seemed that the ruins of the fort and residential buildings were scattered all over the place, which makes it difficult to see the important places without any guide. Realising the same, the Archaeological Survey of India had put a reasonably good guide map there. I tried to decipher that map, but could not succeed in the first attempt. I started feeling that such maps could be used only after one visited all over the place and returned to the map only to understand what was what. Anyway, with the help of subsequent attempts at the map, we proceeded towards what was once the jewellery market.
The ruins of the Jewellery Market were situated along the both side of the narrow lane on which we were walking. The Jewellery market was like a shopping complex of that era. Double storied shops were lined up adjacent to each other. The upper storey and the ceiling had fallen down in all the shops except one. It was the place where the queens and princesses of the royalty would have thronged in the era bygone. Standing in those ruins, I was trying to imagine the scene traders would have left one by one and the last of the traders would be closing his shop and was about to leave the fort. It is also possible that marauding army of the victorious king would be looting and killing the traders one by one. That would be awfully painful. Those painful souls must have roamed around their beloved shops for centuries. Is not painful for someone who establishes his kingdom at a place and then lives to see his people leaving one by one?
The path between the Jewellery Market also curved a little and ended near another building, named “Dancer’s Haveli”. The three-storied building, where dancers used to live and perform, was completely in ruins. But the presence of an imposing building totally dedicated to dancers indicated the importance of those dancers in the cultural life of that era. Standing before that haveli, I started thinking about the fate of those dancers, when they decided to leave. Was it that they were snatched away by the victorious army or did they leave out of their own sweet will?
We could reach upto the dancer’s haveli, when two young kids started stalking us. They wanted to show us around against a fee of Rs.100/-. They were two friends who were playing the role of guides. The kids were looking playful but sincere, so I hired their services. As per the version of those kids, ruins situated besides the dancer’s haveli was the two storied residence of the then Priest. That amused me a lot. What a combination that was, the priest was the immediate neighbour of the dancers! But, my imagination was on the scene when even priest of the city decided to leave the city. How could the royalty survived from the shock when the priest would have requested their permission to leave the city? They must have permitted his requested with tears in their eyes. Or, was it that he was not spared by the army?
Soon, we came in front of an imposing temple of Gopi-Krishna constructed on a high platform in the side of a big compound. A flight of stone staircase brought me to the Mandapam of that temple. Inside the mandapam, the Krishna’s 16-virtues were depicted. The small statues of Lord Krishna playing musical instruments, viz. Dholak, Veena etc. are some of the 16-virtues (Solah Kalayein) performed by the Lord Krishna. Someone would have taken keen interest in the construction of that temple. When did the royalty would have performed their last prayers? How painful it must have been to visit the family deity for the last time to seek its benevolence before deciding to leave the city forever? How many men would have tightened their upper lips with a slight tint of tears in their eyes before stepping down the stairs of that magnificent temple for the last time?
The next building, at the back of the Gopi-Krishna Temple, was a Chhatri enclosed in its own compound. Our kid-guides could not tell the actual origin of this structure. “It was for a very important person”, they said and proceeded ahead. Their main interest was to take us to the ruins of the palace. Behind the Chhatri and at the slope of a hill, the palace of Bhangarh was situated. The strategic location of this small palace impressed me. The sun was setting beyond these hills. It meant that for a marauding army coming from the west side, the palace was completely invisible till they would have crossed over the Hill. The east side also get lot of rains too, which was a necessity for surviving in those barren lands.
Suddenly, we saw a small temple-like construction on the top of the adjoining hill. It was reported to be the residence of the Tantrik, who put a curse on the city. The story goes like this. The princess of Bhangarh, Rani Ratnavati, was ultra-beautiful. One day, when she had gone to the market, the Tantrik saw her. He immediately fell in love and wanted to marry her. But she was not interested to marry a tantric. Tantrik tried to seduce her with a spell cast in her oil. But the princess, who was well-versed in Tantra-Vidya foiled his plan by throwing the oil. The oil turned everything into stone and the tantric was also crushed. But before he died, the tantric cursed the place and its inhabitants and all were ruined. The kids also said that a tunnel was there in those times to connect the palace to the Tantrik’s hut. Who knows!
It was not easy to climb upto the entrance of the royal palace. The approach was very steep and stones were slippery. It must have been good for elephants, but for normal soldiers, it must be a tough task. Is it true that the people in those times were sturdier? The slope was so steep that it left us mildly out of breath. A thought was always prevailing in our minds that we were about to enter the most haunted place. The palace is said to be 7-storied, but only 4 stories still survives. No one knows the real cause of such destruction that left the entire city ruined. But, there is another story. It goes like this. There lived a guru, named as “Baalu Nath”. He had blessed the city when it was constructed. However, he had put one condition that the shadows of the city should never touch his house. So, when the palace outgrew and reached to seventh storey, its shadow started touching Guru’s house. Immediately, his powers destroyed the entire city with no possibility of re-construction. Whoom! Phew!
With our kid-guides in tow, we climbed upto the highest point on that palace, from where three successive fortifications could be seen even to this day. A watch-tower still exists in the outer-most fortification. At one of the surviving chamber in the palace, smells of bats were coming. That was the only place, where some kind of creepy feeling came into my mind. The kids-guides were confident though. They told us that all the souls have left the city and it has become just like another tourist spot. The palace was completely ruined. After each rainy season, some portion would got damaged. Rocks, slabs and marble columns were scattered at many places in the palace compound. How many antique items would have stolen from there?
But the chamber, where swastika mark had been put, was most important. As per our kid-guides, it was the same chamber, where Rani Ratnavati used to live. Still, the locals pay their reverence to this chamber of Rani Ratnavati. The swastika mark on the walls was the indication of that respect.
Standing there, again I started to visualise the last prince and last princess, who would have left the palace for the last time. It was the place where they had lived and played all their lives. It was the place where they had their fun and frolics. How did the royalty take the decision to leave for the unknown future? How did they leave their regular retinue of helps and sentries and left for some other place never to return here? Who would have been the last patriarch who took that responsibility to transport the entire family through the forest to a distant place? Or, was it that none were spared by the marauding army and put to painful death? Anyway, with multiple thoughts and also little gloom, we came out of the palace.
A step-well was nearby. Actually, it was a combination of a fountain, big step well and a small step well. Snakes were swimming in the water of smaller step well. The kids informed that bigger well had bigger snakes. Two overly-drunk boys, who fell into the well, immediately died of drowning as well as snake-bite. After that, an attempt was made to barricade the perimeters of the well. But the barbed wire was broken at many points. People could still accidently fall into this well. It was also astonishing that the well had survived for 450 years.
Next to the step-well was the “Someshwara Temple” dedicated to Lord Shiva. Shiva was the cherished deity for our two kid-guides. They informed us that the locals used to visit that temple for worshipping the deity with the flowers of Kewda. Those aromatic flowers are also used as spices. Incidentally, lots of Kewda plants (Screwpine) were there in the vicinity. A boy was also selling these flowers for using as aromatic flowers or as spices. Someshwara Temple was built on the Nagara style of temple architecture. Since, it was still being used by the locals; they had kept it very clean and on working condition. We felt very nice standing there.
The sun was setting at Bhangarh. Throughout our stay at Bhangarh, Ruchir kept looking at the position of the sun. In no way, he wanted to be caught in the wrong side of the time. So, after visiting all the major monuments of an abandoned fort and palace, he started insisting to leave. Soon, the sheet of darkness would prevail there and then no mankind would enter the fort. But once, a group of journalists had spent a night at this place to prove or to find about the truth. They all returned unharmed. So, the myth was broken at that time. But who knows, whether they were spared!
After coming out of the Bhangarh ruins, I took a very wrong decision to return to Delhi through the State Highway 29A via Tehla till Sariska. The area was well forested. At one point of the road, we saw three foxes crossing the road the moment before we passed. They moved so swiftly before my eyes that I had not time to stop the car for taking their pictures.
The first three hours of driving was spent in the most horrible road conditions on the State Highway 29A till Sariska and then on State Highway 25A till Rajgarh. There was no road at all. We were in a forest and there was total darkness. There was no way one could drive at more than 20 kilometers an hour. In fact for two hours, we were in jungle, on a bad road, in total darkness except the car lights and without any human population. Our heart shuddered when any vehicle passed by us.
It was about 10.30 pm at night when Alwar came to sight. From Alwar to Delhi is another 160 kilometers through Bhiwani. One and half our later, I was just 40 kilometers away from Gurgaon. I had never loved Gurgaon so much before that day. The signboard showing Gurgaon 40 kilometers was really a confidence-booster. From Gurgaon, we hit the National Highway 08 at about 01.30 am. There was so much traffic on the highway that my heart sank. It took us about two hours to cover the distance of 40 kilometers and we reached home by 03.30 am. Ohh! What a drive it was. From Pushkar to Delhi, we had covered a little over 500 kilometers. But the memory of driving into the vicinity of Sariska forest at night will always remain in my mind. Anyway, I will never recommend that route to anyone till it is repaired. I still feel that some benevolent soul of the Bhangarh ruins protected us throughout the journey that night.