A Night with the Ghosts of Morgan House- Introduction to the haunted places in Bengal
In this article, I am going to share some interesting facts for the mystery lovers, about few haunted places in Bengal.‘Morgan House is quite recognized amongst Indian tourists as one of the most haunted rest houses from the British era. This is surely one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
Built on black granite stone with costly wooden interiors, it is now a Government-owned bungalow located atop the Durpindara hill near Kalimpong. The main town is around three kilometers from here. It is mostly surrounded by cantonment areas on three sides and a landscaped garden facing the Himalayas in the north.
It is often said that in the first floor room no 103 of Morgan House, lodgers come across eerie happenstances with a womanly spirit. Supposedly that of Lady Morgan’s who was found dead under mysterious conditions in the same room a century ago. And the very legend thrilled us to book the same room for a night out.
It took us around 3.5 hours (around 80 kilometers) to reach from Bagdogra including a quick momo break at Teesta Bazar. We preferred to hire a direct drop than to break at Kalimpong town and again hunt for a private taxi. It did cost us more but worth the additional bucks.
INSIDE MORGAN HOUSE:-
There are a total of seven rooms rented out to tourists. I was very excited to get into our room – No 103. It was the room where Lady Morgan’s corpse was discovered under utterly cryptic circumstances during the 1940s.
A beautifully planned apartment was on the first floor by the grand wooden staircase, a narrow hanging balcony clad with ivy and wisterias. Inside there’s an ancient fireplace towards the southern wall, stone chimneys on top. Facing the backside garden in west, large iron windows on the remaining walls. All those defined Lady Morgan’s haunted bedroom, alias today’s room no 103 of Morgan House. The maintenance did not appear great, but the heritage aspect compensated for all the amenity centric shortcomings.
We could figure out three exit points. One opens to the main road through which we had driven in, the other one was just diagonally opposite towards the cantonment side and the third one led us to a series of newly built cottages after a ten-minute shadowy walk through the pine forest.
WALKING INSIDE MORGAN HOUSE:-
The walk was indeed enjoyable adding a mystic touch but we were utterly disappointed at its unexpected culmination. Needless to say, we were expecting to end up losing our way amidst the greens but the modern concrete constructions spoiled the prevailing obscurity.
Later from the security guard, we got to know that years ago it used to be a private retreat of the queen of Bhutan. But after India’s independence, the property was handed over to the state government for renovation. Since then the WB tourism department has been supervising it. Those rooms can also be booked online through the same website as Morgan House.
Opposite the main entrance, there is an army golf course. As per the plaque it is identified as the most scenic golf course of the country inaugurated in the year of 1973 at a height of 4400 feet above sea level.
ELEGANT MORGAN HOUSE:-
The idea of constructing this quaint golf bed was conceived by Major General Dalbir Singh and Lieutenant Colonel CF Hamilton. The course spreads across 3652 yards with 64 pars and nine holes (twelve greens).
Though entry is banned for civilians. Tourists can take a break at the adjoining Watershed View Point. It also offers an attached south Indian pure vegetarian canteen. With a cup of filter coffee, we relished the surreal beauty with occasional glimpses of Kalimpong town, Relli valley, Labha monastery, Kaper, and Deolo hills in different directions. Haunted places in Bengal surely starts with this place.
The view of the stone chimneys from the garden side at the backdrop of setting sun was brilliant. We could hear an unknown bird’s call coming from a distance. The gorgeous lawn chairs beckoned us for another round of hot beverages. Relishing a cup of steaming Darjeeling tea, we waited for the sunset and welcome the lady ghost.
It was so beautifully maintained – the stone charcoal fireplace, bookshelves, reading table with recliner (all modern furniture though), antique lampshades, chandelier, glass-paned metal windows, an assorted mix of old and new books. It was overall a classy place indeed.
HISTORY OF MORGAN HOUSE:-
It was right here the affluent British couple used to throw expensive parties to their friends. However, I could not find Lady Morgan’s favorite piano anywhere, must admit I was really longing to see it around. Anyway, we could well imagine the Morgan couple’s romantic taste from their very artistic creations which withstood the testament of ages.
One of the walls bore the celebrity guest testimonials framed in wooden mounts. The list includes big shots from Bollywood and Tollywood like Utpal Dutta, Nargis Sunil Dutt, Om Prakash, Kishore Kumar Amit Kumar, and Leena Chandravarkar. We could not stop nosing into the one signed by Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi. They had stayed here for a night on 29th November 1976.
Just above this library was Mr. Morgan’s living room and beside that was his lady’s bedroom. Spending over an hour, we headed towards the room upstairs. The time will be close to 6 pm. I was a step ahead of my husband.
While climbing up the wooden stairs, both of us could clearly hear the tapping sound of a pencil heeled shoe coming from just a floor above us. Finding nothing unnatural, we kept ascending. Doubts stumped when I did not find anyone in the wooden corridor above. I immediately looked down in surprise and it didn’t surpass my husband’s eye.
MORGAN HOUSE HORROR STORY:-
Where did the sound vanish? I was just halfway down the stairs and it did not take me more than two minutes to reach the first floor. Also, from the apparent circumstances, it did not seem that any of the other room doors were open just a while ago.
In the majority of the rooms, lights were off – either the guests were out or they were unoccupied. So, where did the lady go? Was she Lady Morgan? Oh, did we miss her by a whisker? This is surely one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
And then there was a massive power cut. Complete darkness outside. The white glare of my laptop screen was the only spoiler. As we looked outside the windows, the well-lit garden was already engulfed by the clouds. There was not a drop of light in the vicinity. Far away, through the dense pines on the opposite hill, few dim lights could be seen. What a mystic ambiance!
Room lights on steam slowly coming out of the heater blades, TV’s red LED gleaming again and the garden too was brightened by the lamps. A feminine shadowy escape through the pines did not miss my sight. A weird smell inside the room forced us to open the windows in the prevailing chilliness. Shortly after, an ear-piercing dinner call brought us back to normality.
FOOD IN MORGAN HOUSE:-
The in-house restaurant was on the ground floor. We chose the same table where we had taken our lunch in the morning. For supper, I had ordered his favorites – chicken broth, chow-chow, and chili chicken. The same waiter served the food but unlike lunch we kept absolutely mum, absentmindedly playing with the forks.
The steaming yummy food was slowly getting cold. We did not realize that the old cook was observing our unusual silence from the kitchen. There was another family who was also having dinner. After they left, the old man politely asked me, “Did she scare you, my lady?” Together, we were stunned at his query. Is the haunted tag of Morgan House really true? The timeworn lips narrated us the story behind creepy haunts of the mansion.
Before her marriage, Lady Morgan was a shrewd trader owning acres of indigo plantation in the Dooars region. In a 1927’s winter she got hitched to a wealthy jute merchant named Mr. George Morgan. To commemorate their wedding, the couple had built this luxurious bungalow in the British colonial style.
The scenic view of the mountains from her room overlooking the green splash was mesmerizing – a perfect abode for newly wedded couples. The lady was very fond of ivy. Thus her man specially arranged to import the seeds from London and decorated the entire mansion with freshly bloomed ivy and wisterias.
Till 1938, it remained their midsummer retreat where the couple celebrated private parties. Major half of the year they used to spend downhill amidst their indigo and jute plantations. But during scorching summers, the Morgan couple relished the dreamy surroundings at this lavish hideaway.
STORY OF MORGAN HOUSE:-
One such night Mr. Morgan was so over drunk that his partying associates exploited the opportunity. They assailed Lady Morgan against her wish in the presence of the drunken lord. The next morning when Mr. Morgan realized the severity of the damage, he responded very unpredictably to the situation.
Surprising everyone, he started abusing the lady insanely blaming him to have an unlawful desire towards his male acquaintances. In no time, very uncharacteristically, he disowned Lady Morgan as his mistress and started treating her as his keep. With every passing day thereon, life started decaying their marital bond. A sudden change in Mr. Morgan’s attitude towards his wife decayed the remaining feelings. This is surely one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
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Lady Morgan was left helpless with the overnight change in her man, inhumanely torturing every night. Lady Morgan’s painful screams could often be heard by local villagers. But none had the guts to stand against the affluent baron. Only the old warden who used to take care of the mansion during their absence came for her rescue. He was genuinely affectionate to Lady Morgan. The unforeseen fissure in the couple’s conjugal life broadened the way to Hell.
Suddenly in the year of 1941, on a winter morning, Lady Morgan was found brutally choked in her bedroom and Mr. Morgan went missing, leaving no legal heir. From the prevailing condition of the dead body, it seemed that before losing her breath. There had been an immense struggle between the assassin and the victim. Scratches all over her body were also clearly visible.
It was the same old caretaker who discovered Lady Morgan’s corpse and reportedly said that he neither met the couple the previous night nor did they arrive at the daybreak. Ambiguities evolved then from where suddenly her dead body came and it remained a mystery forever.
HORROR STORY OF MORGAN HOUSE:-
Moreover, neither had anyone seen Mr. Morgan after his strange disappearance nor was his body discovered ever. Thus gradually with time the mansion earned its ‘haunted’ label and is now famous as one of the haunted places in Bengal.
People began spreading gossips that unable to bear her pains, the old warden must have killed the lady to free her from the devil’s clutch. Posthumously it was Lady Morgan’s displeased spirit in the house who must have engulfed her vicious husband’s body. This is surely one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
As per our cook, whosoever stays in the room (No 103 as per modern indexing), she knocks them seeking help and lets the world know about her sad story. Boarders often misunderstand that as a scary activity and spread the ghost stories about Morgan House.
Old cook’s abnormally luminous eyes while narrating Lady Morgan’s uncanny demise left us with an equally uncanny feeling. Was he trying to convince us that Lady Morgan’s spirit is innocent? That she needs our help and does not want to scare us? That the old caretaker wasn’t a slayer rather he relieved the poor lady from extreme agony?
Strangely, given a thought, we did not remember seeing the old cook throughout the day anywhere on the campus, not even at a restaurant. An icy chill ran down our spine imagining a ghost in him. Enough dose of adventure had already sunk in. We preferred to finish our dinner fast and retire for the night.
Bara Kothi – The Oldest Haunted Edifice of Kolkata and one of the most haunted places in Bengal
Thanks to sources on the internet, we have discovered an intriguing place which has no authentic version of its original owner at a stone’s throw distance from Kolkata airport – the ‘Clive House’ of South Dum Dum, also referred as ‘Dumdum House’ at times, which is considered as one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
91, Rastraguru Avenue is the postal address of the site and is popularly identified as the ‘Clive House’ bus stop near ILS Hospital. It is located just 6 kilometers from Netaji Subhas International Airport along Jessore road. This ancient construction has popped like a hidden wonder for wanderlusts like us. We had been to the locality several times earlier. But could never expect to encounter a mound from Before Christ epoch right at the heart of the Nagerbazar market.
We parked our car near the football ground. We dared a gutsy stride through the thin brick lane along the ground’s barbed perimeter wall. You won’t believe, after taking say fifty-odd steps from the motorway, we discovered a whole building. There were two stories full of deep-rooted shrubs hanging from the roof and adjoining walls. A blue board revealed that the structure is an identified archaeological site of ASI. This is surely one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
REACHING BARA KOTHI:-
Taking a few steps further, we reached almost the backside of the mansion. It was depicting a renovated entrance from the northern side. Geographical directions are not important here. But history says Robert Clive was very particular about erecting prominent southern entry gates in all his residences. If this house belonged to him, we thought then there must be a lavish entrance on the opposite side. That instigated us to take a round of the rectangular edifice.
While walking down the four sides, history beckoned us to an unknown bliss. There were giant wooden windows that lost their grandeur over time. It had a lavish balcony on the second floor, semi-circular flight of steps, and an extended portico. There were pillared hallways with fallen roofs, arched staircases. There were crumbled ceilings, remnants of overhanging lanterns, broken colored glasses, and many antique assets in ruins. Perhaps only appreciated by the resident pigeons of the urban era.
Way back in the 17th century, there used to be a single-story gold decked harem of Alivardi Khan. He was the Nawab of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. During the Nawabi regime, it was popularly known as ‘Bara Kothi’ (Grand Brothel).
Right beside it was a gardened lake where white lotus bloomed round the year. The old Nawab was very fond of it and thus lovingly called it ‘Moti Jheel’, a namesake of his grand lakeside palace in Murshidabad. The premises were built on elevated land. And thus often referred by the Nawabs as ‘Dumdama’ which in Farsi (Persian) means ‘artificially raised mound’.
HISTORY OF BARA KOTHI:-
Ever since Robert Clive visited Calcutta, he always had greedy eyes on this lavish abode of the Nawabs. It is said, when the British marched towards Siraj’s camps in 1757, Clive had already ordered colonial kinsmen to reconstruct the building as per his newly married wife’s architectural fascinations and strictly instructed to complete the renovation before his homecoming. Eventually, after he won the Battle of Plassey against Siraj-ud-Daullah, it was occupied by the British and renamed to ‘Clive House’ in honor of Lady Clive.
Now it is definitely a million-dollar question, how demonically overnight, an all-new floor bigger than the original with expatriate decorations could be completed. Some people even say that the original building of the Nawabs was demolished, looted and an artificial hillock was created piling up the debris in the middle of the lake dividing into two landscaped gardens on either side of the new construction.
STRUCTURE OF BUILDINGS INSIDE BARA KOTHI OR CLIVE HOUSE:-
The one at the northern side was referred to as High Ground (as it was slightly elevated than the other) while the one in front (southern side) as Low Ground. The house is called one of the haunted places in Bengal because of all these mysterious questions regarding the house.
This is what is found in the pages of history, but the haunting past of the mansion predates way beyond that. Even before the Nawabs, the site belonged to the Portuguese and Dutch traders who used to secretly hide their wealth and firearms here in an underground chamber put up with an extreme defense. This is surely one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
That was the underlying reason for the differential architectural pattern of the two stories, unusually thick walls of the ground floor and low ceiling height of the upper level. The Europeans strictly prevented any aboriginal residential clusters to grow nearby but people staying at a distance from the castle often used to hear heavy sounds of underground canon testing (without realizing the source though).
They thought it to be a haunting sound originating beneath the ground, thus referring to the building as ‘Dam Dama’ which in colloquial language denotes heavy sound) and eventually got renamed to the present day’s Dum Dum. There is an ordnance factory even today near ‘Clive House’, not sure if that too has its origin deep-rooted to the history of the ruins.
BELIEF OF BARA KOTHI:-
Another school of thought says the land actually belongs to several millennium-old civilizations originating back to Sunga-Kusana time when the area used to be a royal courtyard. The Ganges being nearby fostered civic developments of a wealthy and bourgeon merchant community conducive to an early urban settlement. This is surely one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
With time as the river changed its course, the residents also slowly deserted the place migrating towards the south. Centuries later when Portuguese and Dutch merchants camped here, the ancient brick walls were overgrown by a thick layer of green grass – looking alike a mound from a distance.
Later when they discovered hidden treasure inside the earthly cover, the foreigners erected a robust dome like a warehouse with thick walls (four to eight feet) and a moat around it, secretly continuing with their treasure hunt beneath the ground. Restricted public entry prevented trespassing which made their search easier.
THINGS FOUND INSIDE CLIVE HOUSE:-
Antique punch-marked coins, seals with Nagari script inscriptions like ‘Samapasasya’ (meaning ‘belonging to Samapasa’, a language commonly used during 8th century AD in this belt of the country), exquisite terracotta plaques, bone jewelry, beads, semiprecious stones (like Lapis Lazuli, Jasper, Agate, etc) raw crystals, pottery, cast copper and iron figurines, sculptures (including stylishly fabricated blackware, grey ware and redware prevalent in 2nd century BC), a covert surface built of primeval lime and brick mortar stretching across an entire trench, a sunken fireplace surrounded by innumerable tortoise shells, fish scales and other artifacts excavated from the northern side of the property in recent years, indicate the feasibility of such local hearsay. This is surely one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
Whatever be the obscure origin of the house, one thing we understood that it has undergone several rounds of hand changes – the latest of which is also more than 250 years old and still voicing its royal existence.
LADY CLIVE STORY:-
This historic ‘Clive House’ was Lady Clive’s first city residence after she traveled to Calcutta all the way from London with her newly wedded husband Lt. Colonel Robert Clive. All other buildings named after Clive was in the honor of Mr. Clive and this perhaps is the only one named after his lady. Sources say Robert Clive used this residential complex as his seat of governorship for three years from 1756 to 1760 and right here the historic treaty between Mir Jafar and British was signed.
Lady Clive loved the scenic gardens from her second-floor balcony and often enjoyed kitty parties with her European acquaintances. The locality was always very important from a city life perspective. Therefore, the country’s one of the oldest airports was built here in 1924 and continues to be the largest air traffic hub of eastern India.
With time, the southern entry of the building has fallen down and restoration of the same could not be made possible. The northern entrance has been recently renovated. However, due to the risky condition of the ceiling, the authorities has prohibited public entry now. The authorities displayed the same on a notice, blocking the entrance with bamboos.
Though in skeletons, rightly claimed by the timeworn man, it’s ought to be the oldest edifice of Kolkata still surviving the ravages of time as a silent spectator of the glorious past of our country.
Dutch Cemetery of Chinsurah- must-visit haunted places in Bengal
Chinsurah, a small town in the Gangetic belt of Hooghly district, once used to be the center of Dutch establishment in Bengal. Right here was their Directorate, the capital seat of Dutch Governors. Located 65 kilometers east of Kolkata, Chinsurah can be easily reached by rail or road. Even today, many of the houses bear the touch of Dutch architectural patterns – thick pillars, lofty verandahs, ornamented iron grills with round facades. Kolkata speaks a lot about its British empowerment, but this part of the city will take you to a different colonial time altogether.
Let us take a quick glance through history until we reach our destination. Even before the British set sailed to India, the Dutch had established their trade-in Bengal as early as in the 16th century. By 1655, the Dutch Directorate of Bengal was declared as a separate organization.Pieter Sterthemius, the first Governor of Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) led this organization. At that time, they had built the first Dutch cemetery at Hooghly. This is surely one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
In the 1740s, the silk trade kissed a boom. As the chief factory shifted to Chinsurah, the cemetery too witnessed a transfer. The one found today at the junction of Phulpukur Road and Jatish Chandra Ghosh Sarani in Chinsurah is the new cemetery that General Louis Taillefert of Dutch East India Company built. Sadly, no identifying remains of the old one exist today.
INSIDE THE DUTCH CEMETERY:-
We reached the burial ground around four in the evening. There was a whacked board bearing the name of the cemetery and its archaeological details. An old brick wall surrounded the rectangular plot on all sides.
The Archaeological Survey of India constructed only one unceremonious entry gate. Honestly speaking, from its first looks, I was not so impressed with the overall maintenance of such a heritage site. But as I walked in to discover the cemetery’s historic importance, all other aspects took a back seat. Extravagant granite and marble tombs with ancient stone epitaphs beckoned us inside.
There are no entry formalities here unlike Park Street Cemeteries. We slipped through an outlandish iron roller gate to witness the lost kingdom. The graveyard is situated just beside an abandoned Dutch fortification named Fort Gustavus. It houses around two hundred graves, mausoleums, and tombs belonging to Dutch, British and Portuguese origins entombed between 1740 to 1850.
All the gravestones are well decorated with large crypts and detailed epitaphs. Out of all the people buried here, a total of forty-five belong to high profile Dutch personalities like Governors, Directorates, and Commissioners, etc.
Most of them can be distinguished by their pyramidal memorial built on top of the coffins while others are flat tomb boxes with plain cenotaphs. Towards the southern side of the cemetery, a couple of Dutch memorials looked extraordinarily decked with stone pillars and interior chambers. Ancient trees inside the cemetery have been sheltering them with care over centuries.
The most remarkable ones are those of George Vernet, H.A. Bowater (commonly known as Mrs. Vernet), Andrew Belcher, Daniel Overbeck (last Dutch Governor), Gregorius Herklots and Charles Weston’s daughters (named Mary Diemer and Elizabeth Johnson respectively). This is surely one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
I was particularly looking for Sir Cornelius de Jonge’s grave. People believed it to be the oldest of the tombs here, engraved in 1743. But unfortunately, I could not locate it. Probably the epitaph has worn out, making it completely unidentifiable among many others. In 1993, a devastating tornado had destroyed many of the old obelisks, ruining many of them to debris. However, the colonial spirits preserved inside had taken us to centuries behind. A distant locomotive honk brought us back to the present. This is surely one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
Munsong and British Bungalow- Scenic haunted places in Bengal
Munsong, a beautiful hamlet around 95 kilometers from New Jalpaiguri station. It is an upcoming hill station in the Kalimpong district of West Bengal. Munsong is perched at an altitude of 5800 feet above sea level. Untainted Pine Dhupi (forest as they mean in Bhutia language) surrounds it.
Soon after crossing Algarah bazaar, just one sharp hilly bend and we suddenly discovered ourselves within a thick canopy of cedar and pine woodland. The landscape changes so fast here. The driver said we were passing through the Munsong Forest, which is one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
There was a very thrilling destination within a couple of kilometers of our stay. It’s a vintage British bungalow. However, nobody knows its original name. The place around the bungalow was rich in flora and fauna, especially Himalayan medicinal plants like Cinchona. In those days, malaria had taken the shape of an epidemic. Therefore, its remedial supply was extremely crucial.
HISTORY OF MUNSONG:-
In 1901, the Munsong Cinchona Plantation was established for commercial cultivation of the plant. Few years before the break out of World War II, in 1930, a lavish British bungalow was built within the plantation campus for the Director’s stay. Sir Ronald Ross had also been here. When the British deserted the bungalow after India’s independence, WB Government took over it, renaming it to ‘Jalsa Bungalow’. People have known it by that name till date. Even after the handover, it continued to be the Cinchona Plantation Manager’s family quarter. But ever since a series of spooky incidents took place around the cottage, the natives professed it as one of the haunted places in Bengal by the local people.
TREKKING IN MUNSONG:-
We reconfirmed the myth from our driver before starting our trek. Villagers who had experienced eerie incidents inside the bungalow said that there stays a spirit inside the bungalow who often takes the shape of an old caretaker to the visitors. He offers information about the rich history of the quinine factory of Munsong, takes order for dinner, prepares the table but never comes back with the food.
Upon investigation, we found that no such custodians undertook the daily maintenance of the bungalow. Only a few gardeners from the quinine factory, a couple of housekeeping staff, and a handful of plantation workers frequent the campus as of today. However, nobody prefers to be there after sunset, neither anyone dares to stay at night.
TEESTA RIVER VIEWPOINT IN MUNSONG:-
What could have been a better motivation to visit the bungalow? It was 2.30 pm and was the perfect time to overlook a mesmerizing view of the sunset from the bungalow. After about an hour’s trek, we reached the Munsong Cinchona Plantation entrance. On our left was the gurgling sound of Teesta River, while on the other were the sounds of whistling cedars, and a corroded shoulder height half-open grill gate in front – beckoning us inside. Chills ran through our spine as we gently pushed the gate to step in, a perfect moment for the haunted places in Bengal.
HORROR EXPERIENCE IN MUNSONG:-
The hissing sound of the heavy cold air created a mystic environment. After walking for another half kilometer inside the plantation area, there was a steep bend and ‘The Jalsa Bungalow’ was right in front of us. It was such a beauty. Every bit of it was expressing the grandeur of its past. The remarkable woodworks which could pass the test of time still looked impressive.
As expected, we had locked the main door from outside. But we could not resist ourselves from exhibiting a weird activity, very unusual of us. We peeped in through the dusty glass panes to sneak a quick look at the bungalow’s interior. It was quite dark, but we could still glance through in that light. The area we were peeping into was the hallway. There was beautiful antique furniture of British time disperse here and there. They did not look like in regular upkeep though.
The outside temperature was dropping sharply, creating a mist of our breaths on the glasses. The moment we imagined an unworldly company in the surroundings, our fingers trembled and cold bodies jerked away from the window just like an electric shock throws you off.
CONCLUDING STAY IN MUNSONG:-
The experience was enough to satiate our spooky hunger. It was already twilight time. We did not go back towards the bungalow again. The adjacent gardens were full of colorful Himalayan flowering plants and tall cedars, which reminds us of the haunted places in Bengal.
At one side of the garden, there was an old wooden lounge overlooking the Teesta River, which perhaps served as a panoramic viewpoint in those days. Lack of maintenance made it look all tarnished today. Nevertheless, the grand view of twelve turns of Teesta River, longest as they say, with the setting sun behind the blue mountains was a treat to our eyes. Taking a stroll around the complex, we did not wait further.
The trail back to our homestay was through a dense pine forest and leopard sighting was quite common after sunset. Even so, there is no harm in saying, get the widest bird’s eye view of meandering Teesta River, a vintage British architecture, Cinchona plantation, dense Pine Dhupia along with Mt. Kanchenjunga in one frame, one must be at Munsong’s historic British made Jalsa Bungalow. This is surely one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
Bhalki Machan – The Ancient Bear Hunting Watchtowers in bardhaman forest and one of the best haunted places in Bengal for history
Bhalki Machan is a well maintain forest area in the borders of Bardhaman Forest in Bardhaman and Birbhum districts of West Bengal. Bardhaman forest is around 150 kilometers from Kolkata. Bhalki is a perfect place for a weekend leisure trip to one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
BARDHAMAN FOREST HISTORY:-
You can easily reach Bardhaman Forest by train till Paraj (if you are coming from Bardhaman side) or Mankar (if your base location is in Birbhum district) and then by a trekker to the forest. But we love long drives. So, keeping aside rail options, we preferred a road trip via Durgapur Expressway. It took us just three hours to reach Abhirampur. Bhalki Machan forest was just ten kilometers from there – a beautiful forest drive and one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
Years back, Bardhaman Forest used to be one of the beloved bear hunting spots of erstwhile Zamindars. The rich men had earthed out a huge man-made lake inside the pristine forest to attract wild animals, especially bears looking for drinking water.
WATCHTOWERS IN BARDHAMAN FOREST:-
Five giant watchtowers are present, surrounding it to keep a constant watch on them from the top four facing the geographical directions and a central tower in the heart of the Bardhaman forest. Thus receiving such an interesting name for the place Bhalki (‘Bhaluk’ meaning Bear in native language) and Machan (meaning a Watchtower). All along the way from Abhirampur, a beautiful stretch of Khowai (dry gorges created by water and wind erosions, typically characterized by the iron-rich reddish color of the riverine soil) accompanied us.
The view of Khowai along the rippling Kopai River floated us to our memories of the Shantiniketan tour which is one of the most elegant universities of the country. Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore founded it. It was this great man who had gracefully named the naturally created picturesque ravines of this belt as Khowai. This is surely one of the most haunted places in Bengal. Only a handful of their faithful men were aware of these furtive treasures and secret pathways leading to the lake. For maintaining privacy, preventing public access inside the forest was very critical for them.
To avoid any suspicion, the feudatories themselves had created those stories of haunted bears. Thus, deterring civic intrusions to a considerable extent. Today there are remnants of only the red-bricked watchtowers which could pass the test of time and stand as testimony to their yesteryear’s royal grandeur. However, numerous untold sagas still stay hidden behind the bricks of these broken observatories.
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After a mesmerizing drive through the Bardhaman forest, we reached our lodge. However, visitors at times need to obtain written permission from the forest Range Officer before planning their stay inside the dense woods.
You can’t find any private hotels to stay as such. Only a subsidized private guest house named ‘Aranya Sundari’ is there for night stay within the forest. Shabby rooms, Indian toilet, and substandard wooden cots characterize the budget lodging. The in-house canteen serves as the only source of food in a radius of fifteen kilometers. Ample parking space was available in front of the hotel. That was one of the best amenities of our stay.
HISTORY OF BARDHAMAN FOREST:-
It so happened about a century ago that an old ascetic had lost his way through the jungle. Since the night was about to fall, he decided to halt for the day amidst the dense cover of emerald tranquility and resume his journey the next morning. It was midwinter time. To prevent himself from the chilly air streams, the old man wrapped black cloth around him. Close to midnight, his throat choked in sheer thirst. Hearing bubbling echoes of water, he made his way to the lake.
Unfortunately, he had mistaken the ascetic’s gurgling sound for a bear. From above the gigantic watchtowers, the hunting eyes could not differentiate between a human and a sloth bear.
The dark color of his shawl perhaps added to the confusion. In no time, three bullets pierced his heart, killing him on the spot. Listening to a human cry, the hunters realized their fatal mistake. They came running down the towers but it was too late by then. Before dying, the holy man cursed the hunters of ill fate following soon.
STORY BEHIND BARDHAMAN FOREST:-
Since then, folklores became popular surrounding the cursed lake and the forest which even went up to spread that the old man’s spirit never left the greens. He later came back taking the form of a sloth bear, mysteriously killing anyone visiting the forest at night.
Another school of legends says, the Zamindars used to hide their plundered jewels inside the lake. A secret underpass built from each of these watchtowers to their city palace, stretching almost twenty-five kilometers aside.
Only a handful of their faithful men were aware of these furtive treasures and secret pathways leading to the lake. For maintaining privacy, preventing public access inside the forest was very critical for them. To avoid any suspicion, the feudatories themselves had created those stories of haunted bears. Thus, deterring civic intrusions to a considerable extent.
Today there are remnants of only the red-bricked watchtowers which could pass the test of time and stand as testimony to their yesteryear’s royal grandeur. However, numerous untold sagas still stay hidden behind the bricks of these broken observatories.
BHALKI MACHAN FORTIFICATION:-
At first sight, the fortifications appeared very inglorious due to lack of proper maintenance by the governing authorities. Countless shrubs had overgrown the towers for ages. Soon they would engulf the remnants too. But every drop of it still pointed to its rich past. Five giant brick red turrets stood tall in front, arranged in a rectangular fashion. You can hardly see their tall crests against the midday sun. The four corner towers were a little thinner and taller. The middle one was much thicker in girth and comparatively shorter in height. The differential arrangement of the ancient game reserve aroused immense curiosity in our minds with no convincing answer yet. As read in various descriptions of Bhalki Machan, there was a deep well-like structure just beneath the central tower.
It was probably a secret escape route of the Zamindars. The black waterhole appeared like a sinister, hiding loads of dark stories behind its paltry existence today. Even today, some local people believe in spooky folklore. However, the time count of such conservatives is decreasing noticeably. The Bardhaman forest still has numerous birds, hyenas, wild boars, and civets. Sadly, no bears reside anymore. This is surely one of the most haunted places in Bengal.
I hope this travel blog contains all the relevant information about the haunted places in Bengal.