Braving The Bhangarh: Part I

Carrying a mountaineer’s rucksack and a deflated Camelbak, I was dumbstruck by the awe-inspiring beauty of surrounding greens with partially dead mountains in the backdrop. The spring was still two weeks away, but, I was sweating a lot as I alighted the bus under the open sun on a Sunday afternoon. I realized I was alone in the middle of nowhere, with no traffic and no phone signals. I could find just birds, trees and a few dogs, as far I could see, to company me. Not a single human. The road had a sharp left turn on my back, and I was facing an endless stretch that seemed to curve somewhere in the hills after a few kilometres.

They were sounds of my shoes, chirping birds, swaying branches and occasional passage of loaded tractors, that were slicing through the silence of dead to show some signs of life. Under the tree, on my right, lied a stony plank supported vertically by two similar slabs, where I could rest myself under its shade defying the scorching heat of the sun; quite uncommon for the beginning of the month of March. As I walked ahead, I saw a small gate that exposed a beautiful green building with typical Rajasthani architecture, painted in white on the borders and brown on the doors mixing itself with the surroundings. As I crossed the uncomfortable pipe-floored entrance, I slipped. I could see cars of all sizes parked on my right –Army Canter, Gypsy, SUVs– some I could name and most, I couldn’t. I walked further to explore more. I could see a beautiful hoarding of the place hiding a bus behind it, “Sariska Tiger Reserve: Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but tire tracks”.

“Sorry, it’s 3.15 pm and there are no more gypsies available. The last one left about half an hour ago. You may choose to spend the night in a nearby lodge to get the safari for tomorrow early morning, but it’s too late for a safari now. No private vehicles are allowed on any day if it’s not a Saturday or a Tuesday. I can help you with booking the room.” I heard a heavy voice from far left.

“$#%@*! &@$&#&? %?&!!!” (censored)

“Not even one? I came here from Delhi, just for this safari” I jumped into the heating conversation, that I was not a part of.

“No, sir. Canter is still available and it charges INR 6410, and you’d have just 2 hours. All vehicles must be out before sunset” the guy dressed in forest green replied from behind the window protected by metallic bars with an opening at the bottom to exchange the papers –printed ones and Gandhian ones.

The guys, censored above, were now reading a map painted on a huge stone facing my back.

“Bhangarh. 47 km. Hey, what’s the way to go there? We can’t spoil the evening here when nothing is available” said a guy from the group of five while checking the available options, as the safari to Tiger Reserve was not a possibility anymore. All of them worked in Gurgaon and were travelling back home from a weekend trip to Jaipur-Alwar.

“Bhangarh!? Don’t dare go there now. It’s getting dark and I don’t know the exact way either. Rawat Ji can explain once he’s back from patrolling, but it’s difficult to reach. You can go to Thana Guazi instead, it’s 9 km from here – a beautiful fort on the hill. It has really nice views” replied the guy on the other side of the window in a restless voice.

“Map shows it’s a fairly simple road, albeit with a lot of turns. Why is it difficult to reach?”

“The map’s old and not correct. It has some mistakes with route” the voice replied from the cabin which was followed by silence, denying any further talk about the place. During this while, I was holding a grin with some horror. The map had a little tamper, suggesting it was not very old. And, how could map change over time? I knew the man was lying. I also knew, these boys won’t listen to him, and will ride on the deserted roads chasing the fort.

People don’t talk about that place, such is the fear of unknown. And those who dare, have some of the nail-biting narrations to recite. It’s cursed. It’s haunted. It’s encroached by animals of the wildlife reserve. And it’s the most storied ruin of the world. Bhangarh!

Situated 32 km from the nearest district of Dausa, Bhangarh exhibits astonishing remains of an amazing overnight decline of an entire kingdom, that most have just heard of in stories. Surrounded by ‘protected’ hills on the three sides, the structure is amazingly planned, strong and displays the talent of sculptors and architects from 16th and 17th century. Marked by temples on all four ends of the city, it seems well protected and blessed, hiding an untold story deep inside the palace some 500 meters away from the entrance. Supporting a surprisingly high population of our tailed ancestors, the surrounding has a fairly diverse wildlife that keeps this silent graveyard still look alive.

In the darkest hours of first Friday night of March, I left Delhi and reached Jaipur very early in the morning, 3.30am, to catch another bus to Dausa. There are very few, or no direct buses to Dausa from Delhi; none that I knew of. Still early in the morning, there were no buses to Dausa at that time. So, I decided to do the best thing that any other human would have done in such a situation. I began running to Dausa. Dausa was exactly 50km from that junction. I was carrying a lightweight rucksack and hydration pack, that in total weighed roughly 7-8 kilograms. I the bag, were clothes for three days, toiletries, some food, water, headlamp, running gear and a camera.

I took off at 4am after a quick light meal on highway motel into darkness finding my way through dozen dogs and piles of garbage. By sunrise, I reached a village named Bhaosar, BOW-sar as I renamed, was loaded with dogs trying their bit to snatch a bite of flesh off my thighs. Immediately a few locals came to rescue and ensured a safe exit as I refilled my water supply. It was getting warm quickly, layers had come off and by 9am, the highway was a furnace. The greenery around the road was getting slimmer with every passing mile, and wide open brown lands had hijacked the view, which was quite a sight. One could see layer of smog being lifted above the fields as day warmed, and pace was significantly reduced in next hour, with bag feeling a lot heavier. 6 hours in to the run, I reached a junction where all roads – right or straight were an entry way to Dausa. Knowing I was touching distance away, I was reduced to walking now, and was soaking the beautiful scenery. Distances are deceptive in deserted lands.

An hour later, I reached a junction – Bhangarh, 27 km. Left. Dausa, 3km. Right. The choice was obvious. I decided to head to Dausa, take a room for spending night, drop off my bag and then head to Bhangarh. As soon as I checked in a small lodge, I dumped my bag in the room, juggled the necessary supplies and rushed to reception.

There were a few more guys checking in at the instant. Without thinking much, being in hurry, I said in a normal pitch “How to reach Bhangarh from here?”

He didn’t move an inch, and others had a long look at me, while kept doing their business. After what seemed like an hour, the guys moved to their room and he finally dropped the silence,  “Around here, don’t ask about Bhangarh just like that. Not many would answer. Dead silence is all you’d mostly get.”

For the first time in this journey, my heart was racing and I was questioning myself, should I? In the deep thoughts, I headed towards the dining area to have lunch and take the decision that would decide what will follow in the fading sunlight.

Click here for Part II

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