Not on the map, part III, Bhangarh – a ghost town
On our Delhi-Jaipur road trip, we had spent the night in Sariska and were on our way to Bhangarh that morning, a 17th century ghost town.
Our road was narrow and unpaved. A landscape of spring time fields full of fresh green shoots, village women in their bright chunris, wrinkly old men herding goats, buffaloes and children bathing at the same water hole, blue sky above, and georgette like veil of clouds. Dotting this landscape were ruins of old forts and chattaris, cenotaphs and occasionally, ads for mobile phones.
I may have mentioned before, Bhangarh was nowhere to be found on our map of Rajasthan. We asked villagers we met on the road. Often we got conflicting directions. We didn’t know when we would reach Bhangarh – it could be in an hour or it could be the next day. We shared the road with goat herds, camel carts and tractors. I doubt we made more than 20 kms every hour.
At times a close encounter with the camel kind would nudge us off the road. I have seen camel races on TV so I know they can run. But if you see a camel up close, it is hard to imagine these long legged bored and lugubrious looking animal running. On a narrow road, when their drooling mouths and big teeth approach close to your face, it can get a bit creepy.
We actually reached Bhangarh by midday. Established in mid 1600s and abandoned in early 1700s, Bhangarh is now a ghost town. Guidebooks will have you believe that it is considered a haunted place by the local folks. Although not old, it is supposedly a charming ruin – a fort, some temples and what once was a village with 10,000 people. A fairytale legend surrounding Bhangarh’s abandonment has the usual masala – tantrik lusts after the beautiful queen, queen resists, tantrik curses city. I have only read cut and paste versions of this same story on the web, so who knows what the real reason is. Likely some battle or other that Bhangarh lost.
On entering the premises, the very first thing you notice are the ruins of the village. This area is quite remarkable, cobbled streets, planned layout – it looks in parts like Machu-Picchu. After exploring these, we wandered around the temples. Two were more prominent – they stood a little secluded from the village, each one on a small hillock. A goat herder resting on the steps of one of the temples told us that while no one stayed in the premises after sun down, the temples were in fact still in use. The temples are indeed partially restored, although in a haphazard fashion. From anywhere in the village, one could see the fort and the lookout high up on the hill. I am sure that the fort would have provided a good vantage point for Bhangarh, but it was too lazy a day to walk all the way up.
We did some people watching instead. A water reservoir was close to the base of the fort. Surrounding the reservoir was a well maintained lawn. I suspect ASI is responsible for maintenance. There were several groups of villagers here. Some enjoying picnic lunches. Some bathing. Kids were running around or diving. We overheard one woman cursing loudly on her mobile. Several dozen monkeys had gathered close – where there are people, there are monkeys!
While there were no other city tourists like us, it was clearly a weekend tourist spot for the villagers. It was indeed charming – just what the guidebook had promised. Although, to be perfectly honest, I had hoped for greater isolation. Was I thinking that the superstitions associated with the ruins would keep the crowds away? In any case, it was time for us to find our way to our next destination – Abhaneri, site of an 8th century stepwell.
Travel Note: Please click on Delhi-Jaipur Travel Album for all pictures from the trip. Bhangarh is somewhere between city of Alwar and Jaipur. We had a large map of Rajasthan and Bhangarh was not marked. But, it is fairly easy enough to find directions from other travelers on the road. Keep plenty of food and water. We didn’t find any lunch place en route. We had packed lunch thanks to Sariska circuit house cook otherwise we would have had to live on tea.
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