Human brains are programmed to be drawn towards the unknown and mysterious. We find it thrilling to look for a logical explanation for something supernatural. Debates over if ghosts and spirits exist or are figments of our imagination are popular since time immemorial. We get an adrenaline rush of being scared. Then we are filled with positive feelings of accomplishment and relief after conquering that fear. Such an experience can be felt with an organised tour of a village just 94 kilometres away from Kolkata, the capital city of West Bengal in India. It is the beautiful village of Mangalgunj which has been a witness to the brutal history of Colonial times.
Mangalgunj is known for its haunted Neel Kuthi. ‘Neel’ means blue/indigo and ‘kuthi’ means bungalow. The East India Company had made or acquired bungalows for their officers to stay for supervising and carrying out the functioning of indigo plantations. The Neel Kuthi at Mangalgunj belonged to Maharaja Mangalchandra, after whom this village has been named. The enormous bungalow is in ruins now.
We drove from Kolkata for 3 hours 20 minutes and reached Backpackers’ Villa. It is the only place where you can lodge at Mangalgunj. Trust me it is a unique experience. One can also travel by train from Sealdah to Chakda or Bongaon and take an auto from there. The camp can also arrange for pickups and drops from these railway stations.
The Backpackers’ Camp is run by IZIFISO. It is set amidst woods, on the banks of the River Ichhamoti. The campus is decorated with spooky elements or cut outs of paranormal characters like the ‘Bhooter Raja (King of the Ghosts)’ from Satyajit Ray’s movie ‘Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne’. We were given a welcome drink on reaching which was extremely refreshing after such a long journey. There are 6 adventure tents (Maximum occupants 3) and 3 bamboo cottages (Maximum occupants 3) with attached bathrooms. The respective charges for tent and cottages are Rs.1400 and Rs.1300 per person per day, including food. Food includes the welcome drink, Bengali home cooked styled lunch, evening tea and dinner. Evening snacks is chargeable.
Let me quickly tell you 5 things to do at Mangalgunj:
The Camp is near Parmadan Forest (Bibhutibhusan Wildlife Sanctuary). Take a walk through the woods. It is blissful. Green trees and the chirping of birds heal the urban soul. We felt rejuvenated after the walk. We also felt hungry. After reaching back to the camp we were served hot delicious homely food.
Lay Down Idly
After lunch lay down idly on some hammock inside the campus with a book or keep staring at the blue sky. A siesta is not bad either as the night may be a sleepless one for most.
A slow boat ride on the River Ichhamoti is extremely romantic. Do not miss it. The river flows through the Parmadan Forest (Bibhutibhusan Wildlife Sanctuary). There is a mysterious calmness in the ambience but birds keep chirping. We were soaking into that quietude. It is better not to be too loud. Be alert and keep your eyes on the river banks. You can often spot some deer, monkeys and birds. November to March is the best season for birding and the weather is also not that warm. Watching the sunset from the boat is an experience.
Campfire and Barbeque
A camp without a campfire is definitely incomplete. So enjoy the evening bonfire thoroughly. The evening snacks is chargeable. The speciality is ‘Shaal Chicken’. It is chicken prepared in the local tribal way. The chicken is put inside bamboo and roasted in flame. We loved it. It was simply terrific.
The Ghost Walk
The ghost walk is certainly the most attractive part of the trip. The ghost walk begins after dinner. We were guided by Raju Da, a person from the camp. Our group was of ten people. We had two lanterns and torch lights from our mobile phones. This area of Mangalgunj doesn’t have electricity supply. The darkness itself felt eerie. Since this trip is meant to experience the supernatural it is better to keep silence and be alert. It is a hike in the dark. So one must wear a pair of comfortable covered shoes fit for walking for long. We started with some basic guidelines of being together and of maintaining silence. As we began walking with loads of questions and uncertainties in our minds, the guide narrated the history of Mangalgunj’s Neel Kuthi
Neel Kuthi is a witness to some horrifying deaths. It is said that many women were exploited, tortured and murdered by the tyrant feudal lords and the English officers of the East India Company here. The indigo plantations had robbed the poor farmers of their daily rice. The oppression from physical torture and heavy taxation from the Company finally led the simple villagers to revolt. A revolutionary farmer chopped off the British Officer’s head. That is why the bungalow is also called ‘Kata Saheb-er Bungalow’ which means ‘the bungalow of the headless Lord’. The history itself is not meant for the faint hearted. As we walked into the pitch dark, we were beginning to doubt our own shadows formed by the lights from the lantern. The sound of our own footsteps on dry leaves made us uncomfortable.
Finally, we reached the bungalow which once boasted of its glory and pomp. Now in ruins, it does look like a frightening skeleton of terrifying history. Each brick of the building seems to be screeching out the brutal stories. We took a tour of the building. Some already freaked out and waited outside with a lantern. We went inside. One has to be very careful because the ground is absolutely uneven. We went underground to the dungeons where the villagers were barbarically tortured. The staircases have fallen inside the house. So be careful while climbing them. There is even a secret underground pathway that stretches long from the bungalow to the river. We were having goosebumps. There was an uncanny feeling. Maybe it was all brewed by the darkness, history, ruins and our imagination. Or maybe there is something supernatural. I had experienced something like this for the first time.
The Experience !!!
After returning back to the camp most of us could not sleep. Some were a little scared while most of us wanted to discuss our feelings. Horror stories and movies always excite us. Ultimately the night passed into dawn. With numerous birds chirping and the sun above the horizon, we felt more comfortable and confident. In the morning after freshening up we had tea and breakfast and started for Kolkata.
This is how we spent a whole day at Mangalgunj. We took back a unique experience. Genuinely it was a different sort of a trip. First, Mangalgunj is serene, far from the hustle and bustle of city life. Second, overcoming the fear and experiencing the unknown and uncanny is indescribable.
Photo Credits : Sanjana Ganguly and Hasina Khatun
A versatile writer and travel freak, discovering the world in her own casual way. Loves to immerse into the core of Mother Nature and extract her inherent beauty.