If you're a horror junkie and must have your fix of thrills and chills (even when you're holidaying), make sure to put India on your itinerary. While renowned for its astounding diversity of cultures, traditions, and natural wonders, the country has a sinister dimension: a variety of supposedly haunted places ranging from forts to mountain retreats that are sure to give you the heebie-jeebies (depending on how impressionable you are).
Here's a look at some of India's most notorious "ghostly" hangouts. Their creepiness aside, they have much historical appeal, so you might want to check them out regardless of the fear factor. Many of them are easily accessible from popular tourist destinations, so consider taking a detour to the dark side when you visit India.
Notices put up by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) forbid visitors from entering the premises between sunset and sunrise seem to validate Bhangarh's ghost stories. But it must be pointed out that all historical sites under the protection of the ASI have similar restrictions.
Reputedly "the most haunted place in India," Bhangarh Fort lies west of Bhangarh town in the Alwar district of Rajasthan.
Built in the 17th century, the ruined fort complex comprises marketplaces, mansions, dancers' chambers, temples, and a crumbling three-storied palace with arches, walkways, columns, and ramparts.
According to folklore, the Bhangarh fort town was deserted by its inhabitants (and subsequently fell into ruin) after it was cursed by a certain Baba Balanath, an ascetic who was angered when the fort cast its shadow upon his dwelling. Locals speak of the spirits of an ancient princess and a mystic haunting the complex. There have been reports of travelers getting lost, ghostly sightings, strange sounds, and freak accidents. While none of these stories have been verified, they help sustain the mysterious aura of the place.
The nearest airport is Jaipur International Airport. To get to Bhangarh Fort, you must drive eastward from Jaipur to Dausa and then continue toward Bhangarh town, from whence you must travel west to reach Bhangarh Fort. The trip should take two hours.
Located in the heart of Delhi, this architectural wonder is a remake of the original that was believed to have been built by the mythological Maharaja Agrasen.
Built during the Tuglaq period of the Delhi Sultanate, the Agrasen Ki Baoli is a rectangular step well, unlike the more common circular step wells. Constructed from rocks and stones, it is 60 meters long and 15 meters wide. It has three levels with arched alcoves and a flight of more than a hundred steps leading from road level down to a circular grille-covered well.
Although no longer a functioning well, the baoli continues to attract scores of visitors. Some come to admire its architectural beauty, while others are drawn to the place by the stories that surround it.
Legend has it that the well was cursed, and its water turned black. Despite this sorry turn of events, people continued to visit the baoli, some choosing to commit suicide in its inky-black depths. Locals insist that no body had ever been recovered and that the baoli is the domicile of demons.
The Agrasen Ki Baoli is a short walk from Connaught Place in the heart of Delhi. The well is open throughout the year, and entrance is free, though visits are not allowed between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Built-in the hill station of Mussoorie by an Irish barrister from Lucknow, the Savoy Hotel opened for business in 1902.
Replete with fine Edwardian furnishings, Steinway pianos, billiard tables, and a grand dining hall, the hotel attracted Indian royalty, the upper crust of the British Raj, and even Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales, who would later become Queen Mary. It was ranked with the best hotels in India, including The Cecil in Shimla, The Carlton in Lucknow, and Mussoorie's own Charleville Hotel.
The Savoy's reputation as a haunted place rests on the story of a death that occurred on its premises in 1911. One of the hotel's occupants, a 49-year-old spiritualist, named Frances Garnett-Orme, was found dead in her room. During a post-mortem examination, traces of prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) were found in the body. A police investigation led to a female acquaintance of Frances's being charged with her murder, but the woman was later acquitted for want of adequate evidence.
The old Savoy Hotel was bought by the ITC Welcomgroup Hotels in 2009 and is now an ultra-modern hostel offering a range of accommodations, facilities, and services. However, it continues to have an eerie connection with its past. Some guests claim to have seen Garnett-Orme's ghost prowl the corridors, while others have reported hearing whispers and seeing doors opening and closing on their own.
The city nearest to Mussoorie is Dehradun. It has its own railyard and airport, so you can get to it from any part of India. However, you must travel by road from Dehradun to Mussoorie, which lies 33 km to the north, within sight of the Himalayas. The uphill journey, through dense forests and picturesque hillscapes, should take an hour and twenty minutes.
In its heyday, the Lambi Dehar Mines employed upwards of 50,000 workers. But in the 1990s, owing to rising casualties resulting from truck accidents and unsafe mining practices, mining operations were stopped, and the site was abandoned.
In ruins today, the mines are dark and forbidding and overrun by vegetation. They have little appeal for anyone but visitors to Mussoorie who have heard the stories surrounding the mines and wish to test their mettle at the site after sundown.
The ghost of a witch is said to haunt the mines. Stories are told of tourists hearing strange noises, travelers meeting with road accidents, and visitors inexplicably disappearing. A helicopter crash in the vicinity of the mines has added to their dubious reputation.
The Dehar Mines lie 10km west of Mussoorie. If you plan to visit, hire a taxi or a private vehicle at Dehradun and retain it for the duration of your stay in Mussoorie.
Established in the early 13th century, Kuldhara village was active and prosperous until the 19th century, when its population began to dwindle. Eventually abandoned, it gradually fell into ruin, leaving nothing but crumbling dwellings, cremation grounds, cenotaphs, wells, and a temple.
A report published in Current Science in 2017 suggests that the village was destroyed by an earthquake, which led to its abandonment. It is equally possible (if historical facts are to be considered) that the people of Kuldhara left their village when dwindling water resources, coupled with a heavy tax burden imposed by their rulers, made self-sustenance difficult.
Legend has it that Salim Singh, a cruel, debauched minister of 19th century Jaisalmer State, was responsible for the ruination of Kuldhara village. As the story goes, Salim sent his soldiers to the village to bring back a girl he was attracted to. Shocked and outraged, the villagers told the guards to return the next day but left the village at night after cursing it to remain forever abandoned.
Perhaps owing to numerous unsuccessful attempts to repopulate it, Kuldhara village developed a reputation for being haunted. According to a 2013 report in Daily Bhaskar, members of the Indian Paranormal Society observed various sudden drops in temperature, moving shadows, and other phenomena when they examined the site to determine if it was haunted.
The "Golden City" of Jaisalmer has its own airport and a fair number of hotels and hostels. After taking in the attractions of the city, you could visit Kuldhara, a short drive away. Visiting hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Shaniwar Wada served as a Peshwar fortification in the city of Pune during the Maratha Empire. It came under British control after the Third Anglo-Maratha War and was destroyed in an unexplained fire in 1828.
Once a large complex comprising massive fortification walls, gates, bastions, halls, fountains, reservoirs, and the main seven-storied palace, Shaniwar Wada is but a shadow of its former self. Despite this, it continues to attract history buffs and tourists, including thrill-seekers who've heard the story of Narayanrao, its resident ghost.
The ruling Peshwa in 1773, Narayanrao was murdered by guards on the orders of his aunt and uncle. Ignoring Hindu custom, which demands that last rites (including cremation) be performed, the killers dismembered the body of the 13-year-old ruler and dumped it in a river.
Locals believe that this unholy act led to the haunting of the palace by the ghost of young Narayanrao.
Those living in the vicinity of the complex mention hearing Narayanrao's spirit calling to his uncle on full moon nights, crying "Kaka mala vachava!" (Marathi for "Uncle, save me!") But is the ghost of Narayanrao for real? Spend a night at the site and discover the truth for yourself.
Pune is a sprawling metropolis with its own airport and rail station. If you're visiting from Mumbai, it's best to travel by road or rail. Shaniwar Wada lies to the west of Pune railway station, just a quick drive away.
Mukesh Mills was a thriving commercial center in the early years of the 20th century. Sitting right beside a port in South Bombay, it accepted raw cotton offloaded from ships and exported finished cotton fabric under the management of the East India Company. The mill was renovated in the late 70s but ground to a halt during the textile worker's strike of 1982. It was gutted in an unexplained fire around that time and has stayed shut ever since.
Today, all that remains of Mukesh Mills are dilapidated, soot-stained structures overrun by weeds. Though the place is desolate and forbidding, it has long been a popular locale for fashion, television, and film shoots.
A story has been doing the rounds that Bollywood actor Bipasha Basu found it difficult to deliver her lines at a certain spot in the mills. However, she had no problem with dialogue anywhere else. It is said that actress Kamya Punjabi refuses to shoot at the location because she heard of a crew member becoming possessed at the site. Many visitors report hearing voices when there was nobody around. Though Mukesh Mills may or may not be haunted, one thing is certain: film crews shooting at the location ensure they pack up and leave before sundown.
Mukesh Mills lies to the east of the southern stretch of Colaba Causeway on the Mumbai peninsula. If you're planning a visit, you might have to wait a bit because the Mumbai municipality has asked the mills' owners to keep the place shut pending a structural audit.
Though India boasts numerous haunted spots, the places have been selected as much for their historical value as their ghostly appeal. Whether you're a history buff, a culture vulture, or simply curious, a visit to these sites would be worth it. If you do encounter a ghost while touring, consider it a bonus!