Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Mysterious Morgan House in Kalimpong

Have you ever wondered why some of the most haunted places are so beautiful. Ruins have their own charms but there are some nice big beautifully designed mansion around the world tagged as most haunted. A bit ironic, beautiful yet haunted. Morgan House in Kalimpong is one such place.

Beautifully designed, almost 100 years old but well maintained. I explored the beautiful city of Kalimpong before my Bhutan road trip. Kalimpong is 171 km from Jaigaon, the border town in India.

Kalimpong is popular tourist destination in West Bengal, beautiful city located at elevation of 1,250 metres (4,101 ft), best known for many educational institutes mostly established during British colonial era. Most of the big houses and mansions there were also built during that era including Morgan House.

This mansion was built in 1930 by Mr. George Morgan. Built on sixteen acres of estate its classic example of colonial architecture, raw brick wall covered with green moss. You can get the clear view of Kanchenjunga mountain range

3 KM from Kalimpong clock circle. Morgan house is now WB tourism board property. Its near to Kalimpong golf course.

Like many old, big mansion, Morgan house has seen many ups and down. After death of Mr. Geroge Morgan and his wife, this mansion was left deserted, abandoned. No one from Morgan’s family came and lived here. After many lonely years, it was handed over to Govt of India post-independence and then Bengal tourism board started a hotel there. Morgan house came back to life but it also came with ghost of Lady Morgan.

I am not sure how true these stories are but many tourists stayed there reported paranormal activities. Local believe that lady Morgan’s ghost still lives there. Well who wants to leave their house and if the house is as beautiful as Morgan House then I doubt no one.  Anyways stories can be made up, experiences can be result of misidentification and fear. I didn’t stay there so I can’t comment more but certainly exploring the beautiful Morgan house and surrounding, I can say one thing, if you would like to experience staying at the true British era mansion then Morgan house must be in your list.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Mussoorie Mystery - Hotel Savoy

Ruskin Bond's spooky tales have been always class apart, mostly places around Mussoorie and Doon Valley. After reading two of his stories "In a crystal ball - A Mussoorie Mystery" and "Ghosts of Savoy", I wanted to explore the hotel Savoy in Mussoorie.

What's the reason that once India’s most popular hotel turned in to India’s most haunted hotel. More than 100 years old heritage hotel without any ghost story, how it could be possible? Many believe the ghost of Miss Granett-Orme still haunts the hotel and she can be seen even in the day time. Many people believe the royal Ballroom of the hotel comes alive at night, they have heard melodies music coming out of piano and seen chandelier swaying back and fourth.

The hotel is spread over 11 acres and currently has 50 rooms (undergoing renovation and then plan is have 100+ room).Very difficult to get booking during peak tourist season. I planned to stay in Mussoorie for 3 days, Friday to Sunday and I wanted to stay in Savoy for experiencing its spookiness. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any rooms there for 3 days when I looked at all booking websites. Maybe because of the weekend. Finally, I managed to get the booking done at Sterling that was 2 km from Library chowk and mall road. Friday evening while roaming around Mall road, I decided to explore hotel Savoy. It was walkable distance from Mussoorie Library chowk.

The moment you see the building you will be amazed by its design, architecture, and quality of the woodwork of the hotel. Cant take eye of the chandelier at the dining room and the elegance of the writer’s bar.

Night time with all the lights on, Hotel looked beautiful,  I was excited and hoping to encounter miss Granett-Orme. While having tea at the dining room, I thought of asking one of the waiters about hotel's reputation as one the most haunted place. I was bit hesitant initially but I took my chances. Waiter smiled and said it’s not true and it's all rumors. Maybe that’s part of their job to shrug off rumors.

To understand The Savoy and its reputation of being one of the most haunted, one has to go back in time and understand the history of the hill station

Hotel Savoy was opened in 1902. At that time, it was the largest hotel in Mussorrie, and soon became popular amongst the Britishers during the Raj period. It was an era when there was no electricity in Mussoorie, age of candelabras, gas lit street and when the hotel was built, there was no road up from Dehradoon (35 km from Mussoorie), so using bullock cart, a large amount to wood, furniture, grand pianos, billiard tables all were carried uphill. The hotel architecture is a gothic style and mostly built using wood. Its more than 100 years but still has not lost its charms. it's guest list included Nehru, Dalai Lama, kings of Nepal and various Maharaja (before independence)

In 1912 Rudyard Kipling (remember the Jungle book) wrote a letter to Sir Arthur Connen Doyle (Yes!! Best known for his Sherlock Holmes fictions).Here is the opening word of the letter

There has been a murder in India, a murder by suggestion at Mussoorie which is one of the most curious things in its line on the record. Everything that is improbable and on the face of it impossible is in that case. 

Which murder case he was talking about? Why it's so mysterious?

For that, we will have to go back to the summer of 1911, when 49 years old Miss Frances Granett-Orme and her friend Miss Eva Mountstephen came to stay in Mussoorie..Miss Granett-Orme had seen a very tough life and attracted to spirituality. She used to roam around India restlessly in the hope of communicating with her lost love and parents. In Lucknow she met Miss Mountstephen a spiritualist. It was told that Miss Mounstephen was an expert in crystal gazing and occult. Because of the common interest between the two of them, they both lived together for many years. 

In September 1911, Eva returned to Lucknow for some work. While Eva was still away, Miss Granett-Orme found dead in bed on the morning of 19th September. The interesting thing was, the door was locked from inside and an empty glass on her bedside table. An autopsy was performed and the verdict was death by poisoning. It was Purric acid aka hydrogen cyanide, quick-acting acid, once consume the cells in the body die because of they no longer able to use oxygen and produce energy. It was well known to everyone in the hotel that Miss Garnett-Orme was suffered from indigestion and used to take medicine before retiring to bed. Could the poison have been introduced into medicine bottles or glass of water? During the police investigation, a nursemaid in the hotel reported a shadowy figure slipping through a sky-light and over the roof. But Police dismissed that claim initially. 

After several weeks, the police arrested Eva Mountstephen. She had a convincing alibi that she was in Lucknow. The police went into different directions and suggested that she had used some sort of occult, that influence Miss Garnett-Orme to take the medicine with poison at a particular time. The trial started in March 1912 at Allahabad and it was sensational, because of police claim of murder by remote- control. After going through all the pieces of evidence, hearing about occults, crystal gazing, finally the court found Miss Eva innocent.

Murder or Suicide? After Miss Eva acquitted due to lack of evidence, no other investigation was performed and this case is never resolved. Miss Eva later applied for probate of her friend's will but Miss Garnett-Orme's family sent her brother to contest the claim in Allahabad court. Miss Garnett-Orme's brother won the case and disappointed Miss Eva had to return to London. You can read more about the case here 

There was another puzzling thing happened after 2 months, when Mr Charles Jackson, a mutual friend of two women also died. He was found to die in similar passion with the same kind of poison.

We don't know when the haunting started in Hotel Savoy and when people started a claim of seeing Miss Garnett-Orme's ghost, The Hotel itself has seen many worst days, it was left abounded for some time, many ownership changes, renovation and finally in 2009 it was acquired by ITC Welcomgroup. 

2 hours I spent there was more like exploring the hotel, admiring its architecture and hoping to encounter something paranormal. Haunted or not, I can't say anything now. I would love to go there again, spend a couple of nights and then I can give my verdict.

p.s. - This murder mystery inspired Agatha Christie to write her first novel "The Mysterious Affair at Styles". Similar plot, where the poisoner was far away by the time her victim reached the fatal dose, the poison having precipitated to the bottom of the mixture.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Lakkidi - Ghost tied to tree with chain

Lakkidi, also known as gateway of Waynad. Lakkidi registers 2nd highest rainfall in the world, after Cherrapuji. Its small town with full of natural beauties, hills, forest, tea plantation, hairpin bends.

Before visiting this place, as usual I was browsing net for more information, tourist attractions, places to visit in Lakkedi. The one place which excited me most, was the legendary Chain Tree of Lakkidi.

Its large ficus tree, is bound by a chain and has an interesting story behind it.

Before independence, British rulers were attracted by the natural beauty of Waynad and the wealth of spices available there, but getting there was very difficult. No roads, several attempts were made to cut roads through the rugged mountain passes, but didn’t work. The native tribesmen who lived in the forests knew the mountainous terrain well, and one of their youths Karinthandan showed the British engineer the shortest route to reach Waynad. He guided a British engineer to reach Wayanad from Adivaram, the base area from where the climb to Waynad starts.

But after learning the route and to take credit for the discovery, the British engineer killed the youth. After that the spirit of the dead youth used to haunt the place, disturbing travelers and terrifying them to death, especially unwary foreigners who happened to pass along.

It is believed that a priest conducted some rituals and chained the ghost to the ficus tree. The tree has grown considerably since then.

When we visited there and talked to a man who takes care of the place, told us that the chain keeps growing with the tree. You can see a heavy iron chain dropping down from the high branches of the tree and anchored to the ground.

In the next image, you can see the photo of that tribe youth.

It was raining, when we reached that place, so I didnt take photos from my camera, instead I used my blackberry. Images are not very clear, but whenever you get chance to visit Lakkidi, dont miss the chain tree…

Shettihalli Church - Priceless Treasures of Gothic Architecture

Ruins are always fascinating for me, its like story teller. If you look these ruins, you will amaze how these beautiful structure ruined, what was the reason behind, how beautiful it was before ruined or how beautiful it would have been if not ruined. All these kind of ruins always have a mysterious charm.The walls of ruins might have seen many generation, knows many stories and wonder how much this world change.

Rosary Church in Shettihalli is one such ruin. This Gothic looking church is now turned into eerie ruins. Church was built about 200 years ago on the banks of Hemavathi River near Shettihalli village, Hassan. In 1960 Govt decided to built a dam to channelize the river for irrigation and in process Govt had to relocate many villages including Shettihalli. While the villages relocated this church stands still and gets submerged as the waters in the reservoir rise during the rainy season every year during mansoon.

Its been more than 200 years when church was built and more than 50 years when dam was built.Though lots of damage has been done, the roof has fallen years ago but somehow this church is still surviving.

Shettihalli Church is located in 6-7 km from Hassan. Near the Shettihalli village. The roads are narrow, road condition is not good as there are lot of potholes. Once you pass the village, you can have a look at the church. A narrow road to the left reaches the church.The place is mostly deserted.

By the time I reached this place it was 4am, still dark.This Gothic style church ruin currently make you feel spooky and no wonder if you feel like transported to the set of any horror movie. At the first glimpse you will wonder how this holy place became like haunted ruin. Haunted or not, holy or not, this church is certainly priceless treasures of Gothic architecture.For the average tourist this place may not be worth while but I am sure this place is photographer's paradise. I just hope that it remain forever

Lambi Dehar Mine - Haunted by mine workers or witches??

Do a quick search on google “Most Haunted Places in India” or to be specific “Most Haunted Places in Mussoorie” you will find Lambi Dehar Mines listed there and then numbers of newspaper articles (some of them are big and reputed media), blogs, videos all claiming this place to be haunted. I went through most of the articles and I was not surprised by the content of articles.

50000 (yes 50000) workers died here. I don’t know how they got this number,

Witches roam here and scream every night. 

Several car and bike accidents near this area

Once a helicopter crashed here

Most of the writers of article, blogs never went there but copied content from one website to another and thus you will see many internet articles flooded with claiming this place to be “Most Haunted Place” and exectly similar content. Its all from mouth to mouth

There are few who went there and spent a night. You can find some great YouTube videos claiming they have seen shadows, heard screaming, footstep. Scary!!! Right?? But no credible evidence to back it up their claims.

I can go on and on with my arguments but let’s keep that aside for now.

History time!!! No one knows when this mine started, is there any official record? But we do know this mine was closed due to order of supreme court in 1995. I was able to find out some very old official record and supreme court order to get more info. Interestingly the name of mine was mentioned as “Lambidhar” not the “Lambi Dehar”.

Lambidhar limestone Mine of M/s Uttar Pradesh State Mineral Development Corporation Ltd. (UPSMDC) was a State Undertaking and it had 97 hectares covering the Lambidhar Hills. In Mussoorie hill range of Himalayas, Limestone was extracted by blasting out the hills with dynamite. This also resulted in cave-ins and slumping because the mines dug deep into the hillsides, which is an illegal practice per se. Due to lack of vegetation, many landslides occurred which killed villagers and destroyed their homes, cattle and agricultural lands. In 1961, mining was prohibited in the state, however it got reopened by successfully lobbying with state govt. This led to corrupt, illegal practices and there was no enforcement of safety rules.

So as per the old records, Lambidhar or Lambi Dehar mine was closed in 1995 and it was also highlighted there were no safety measures for workers. However I couldn’t find any articles related to mine workers death.

Last week, when I was in Mussoorie, I decided to explore the mines. It was always on my agenda, however, I was unsure how to reach there.

While I was enjoying early morning tea and view from my hotel room balcony. I looked in to google map and pleasantly surprised to find out Lambi Dehar was hardly 2.3 KM from my Hotel. In hill stations like Mussoorie, don’t get fooled by distance, because of hill region, it may take more than an hour to reach with several zig zag or hair pin bend roads.

Another surprise on the card.

I started looking around from my balcony (it was mountain view room) to find out where Lambi Dehar could be. And there it was (it was raining at that time, couldn't take clear picture)

I zoomed in my camera lens and I was able to identify that ruined building as Lambi Dehar (Thanks to all the pics and videos I had seen). The ruined mine is situated amidst natural beauties in doon valley. From the distance I could sense how calm and serene it is.

I hired a taxi and reached there. Govind (driver) was aware of the location and here is his version of story.

Once due to landslide more than 500 mine workers injured and trapped in mines. There was a small hospital for mine worker, couldn’t help them as unexplainable fire broke out there, thus resulting many mine workers death without any medical assistance. Now it’s the ghost of mine workers haunting the place. Then he said this is something he heard from his parents (Driver was in mid 20’s). I asked him about another rumors of witches roaming this area and screaming in the night. He was not sure about the story.

Then Govind told me that he has been to this place many times during nights. Many young tourists had asked him to take them to this place after midnight to experience the spookiness. There were tourist groups came here to celebrate the birthday party at night. Once 3 youngsters went there and within an hour they started screaming and crying. They pleaded Govind to take them back to the hotel immediately. Govind tried asking them, but they were completely in shock.

I asked Govind what he thinks about this place, is it really haunted? Govind said he doesn't think this place is haunted, for him its another ruined building in hill and now popular tourist destination.

I couldn’t agree more!!

The place is now completely ruined. The road leading to this place is in bad condition and I could see how difficult it would be driving in the night.

And there is small tea shop!!! You could imagine the popularity of the place. Though when I went in there initially, I couldn’t see anyone except the tea seller and his helper at tea shop.

I started roaming around the area. All the buildings are in bad conditions. The great Indian graffiti was all over the places. Because of the rain in some rooms there was water, mud. In some room I could see bottle of liquors, beers. So, this seems to be happening place. One of the building is three storeyed, there are stairs. When I reached at the third floor, I heard some noise and I was like..here is something interesting!!!

It turned out to be a love birds sitting at the window, they would have thought this place to be more peaceful. But they got alerted by hearing my footstep. They looked to me rather uncomfortably and I was bit embarrassed, said sorry and left the room. 

I would let the pictures talking now.

I explored every nook and corner, checked every room, trying to find out any trace of paranormal activities. But I couldn’t find any!

May be was not the right time it, maybe it was not haunted, maybe I was distracted by beauties of the hill around.

After exploring the area it was time for some tea!!! While sipping tea I asked the tea seller about the place and he seems to be more excited that it was weekend and many tourists will come to explore the place. And then he told me that he stays there late night as well and sometime sleeps over there. Is this place haunted? It does not matter to him as long as people come and buy snacks, tea from him. That’s his only source of income.

I could be see how one of the so called "most haunted place in India" is turning out to be popular tourist attraction. Feeling similar to Bhangrah fort. My thoughts on places like these remain same. If you are in places like these, its mid night, no one except two or three of your friends, a ruined, deserted place in the remote hill area. You never know if there are some animals around you, sound of wind, lack of light and history of the place will certainly spook you out.

Coming back to all the writing in newspaper and blogs.

1) 50000 mine workers died here - well, I can't find any such old newspaper article to confirm this. looked in to newspaper archives, Also looking around the area, its nearly impossible for 50k workers to work there. Even death of 500 odd worker and fire at hospital could have been easily newspaper headline but there is none. May be many people kept dieing over period of time while working.

2) Witches roam here and scream every night - I would rather go with local driver and tea seller (they denied such claims) than all those newspaper media and blogger (claiming this without any credible proof). My hotel room balcony had unrestricted and clear view to mine and I don't remember hearing any scream in nights.

3) Many cars met with accidents and one helicopter crashed here - Again I don't find any newspaper article to confirm any helicopter crash at this location but car accidents, could have happened. For that matter, it could happen to any area in Mussoorie considering the roads, hair pin bends, inexperienced driver, mist and clouds anytime. If you see my pictures carefully you could see how bad road condition are leading to this place. So claiming all those odd car accident to paranormal is laughable.

Is this place really haunted? May be, please do the proper investigation and come up with credible evidence. If it can't be done, please stop spreading rumors and think logically.

Agrasen ki Baoli - Baoli of the Unseen?

Water plays a special part in Hindu mythology, as a boundary between heaven and earth known as tirtha. The concept of stepwells (Baoli in Hindi, Vav in Gujraati) is not only for drinking water, bathing but a place for prayer and meditation. But is there any possibility that water can be used for black magic and entice people to commit suicide?

Agrasen Ki Baoli. It remains hidden among the tall buildings,towers of the posh area of Connaught Place, Delhi. Agrasen ki Baoli is considered as one of the Delhi's most haunted place. Is it really haunted or just made up stories.

There are stories that well was once filled with black water, the black water invited people to jump into it and commit suicide. If a person was discouraged or depressed it was said that black water of this baoli had power to hypnotized them and a power would overtake them and they would jump into the well’s waters. How much of it true is actually difficult to say.

Looking in to wiki and ASI records, there are no known historical records to prove who built Agrasen ki Baoli, but it is believed that it was originally built by the legendary king Agrasen. The signboard at the entry gate syas its "Ugrasen ki Baoli". This is protected manument under ASI and ticket less entry.

The well is deep and rectangular in shape, 60 meters long, by 15 meters wide, with with 103 steps. The visible parts of this historical step well consist of three levels. Thick walls on both the sides with two series of arched niches at the first and second levels. Each series of niches are divided into two levels. The lower niche is deep and can easily fit two people. There are passages and rooms inside the baoli, which are now locked and inaccessible.

Coming back to the legend. It may be born out of real incidents or just made up stories.May be curiosity, may be gossip and may be bed time stories that lives on for centuries.The baoli nowadays remains almost waterless.For years people believe that well has several evil spirits. Many visitors were uncomfortable and claim to have felt a strange presence here. The hundreds  of bats and pigeons residing here only add to its eeriness. 

Not sure if all these claims and legends are really true or just made up stories. Only proper investigation of this place can unearth the truth. 

When I went there, I could see many visitors, mostly college group and some love birds looking to spend some quality time together.It was normal atmosphere there but once I started getting down to third level which was empty and no one around, I felt eeriness. The reason actually was, the sounds of all people around and pigeons completely vanished and all I could hear was my own footstep. It becomes louder in a complete silence. Perfect for any uncanny, eerie atmosphere.  

Some pictures from lower level of stepwell.


I found very popular photo clicked in 1971 by Raghu Ram, titled "Diving into Ugrasen Ki Baoli" The photo captured a young boy in the act of jumping from a wall of the baoli into the black water.

Shaniwar wada - Mute witness to rise and fall of Peshwa

"Kaka Mala Vachva" (Help!! Uncle Save Me!!) , on that fateful night of 30th August 1773 youngest Peshwa ruler and 17 years old Narayanrao helplessly cried and screamed for help but no one came. He was brutally killed by Gardis the highly trained assassins inside the Shaniwar wada.

Its been more than 200 years but rumor says that Narayanrao's ghost still calls for help and sound of "Kaka Mala Vachva" can be still heard on full moon nights.

Shaniwar wada is one of the important historical landmark in Pune, was built as the residence of Peshwas. The foundation was laid by Bajirao in 1730 and the construction completed in 1732 with cost of Rs. 16120. Once the most magnificent mansion with fortification walls with gates, court halls, fountains, reservoirs and seven storied capital building now ruined.

We all know the love story of Bajirao Masatani. This is the place seen it all but its not just love story, it became center of political conspiracy, betrayal, family bitterness and brutal murder.

Let me take you back to 1732. Shaniwar Wada saw an early and unfortunate death of Peshwa Bajirao I. Then Bajirao's elder son Nanasaheb claimed his power. After Nanasaheb’s death, his elder son Vishwasrao took over, this angered Bajirao's younger son and Nanasaheb's brother Raghunathrao (Raghoba) and his wife Anandibai.  

During the battle of Panipat, Vishwasrao was killed. His brother Mahavrao felt he was responsible for Vishwarao's killing as he was chief strategist during war and he too died because of deteriorated health. Now it was time for crowning of new Peshwa. Following the death of both Vishwasrao and Madhavrao, their younger brother Narayanrao was appointed as the next Peshwa. Narayanrao was just 16 year old at that time. This angered Raghuanthrao and Anandibai even more.

Narayanrao was aware of the bitterness of his uncle Raghoba and aunt Anandibai. Just 16 year old, bit immature, rude ordered Raghoba under house arrest. Furious Anandibai plotted revenge on Narayanrao. She convinced Raghoba to send letter to Gardi, the tribes, highly trained and fiercest assassins for help.

It is believed Raghoba never wanted to kill Narayanrao and just wanted to capture him, while he can be released from house arrest. He sent letter saying "Narayanrao la dhara" (Capture Narayanrao) but Anandibai changed the letter dhara (capture) to make it read as maara (Kill). The letter received by Gardi tribe leader now read "Narayanrao la maara” (Kill Narayanrao).  On 30th August 1773 night they invaded the Shaniwar wada, killed who intervened and released Raghoba.

Narayanrao was sleeping and had no clues what was happening. Then assassins reached his room, hearing sound and seeing them, Narayanrao ran. Assassins followed him. Narayanrao kept running around the complex, crying for help and shouting "Kaka Mala Vachva" (Help!! Uncle Save Me!!). But it was no use and later he was captured and brutally killed near the Jambhul gate (Now known as Narayan gate)

Many believed that Narayanrao’s body was cut into so many pieces. taken out in a pot and thrown into the river. His remains were never found and last rites couldn’t be performed.

Later Raghoba claimed his power on throne.

In 1828 a massive fire started inside the complex. The conflagration raged for seven days. Fort was completely ruined and now we see ruins of the buildings, deep foundation, huge wall and gates. The cause of fire is still unknown.

Shaniwar wada never prospered since its construction and many believe that Shaniwar wada was probably cursed. All it has seen is the bloodshed, death, conspiracy, family bitterness and now alleged as one of the most haunted place in India. One of the most historical monuments is the mute witness to rise and fall of Peshwa.