The Ghosts of Paharganj: New Delhi, India

If Bangkok has Khaosan road, and Kathmandu has Thamel, Paharganj is probably the most suitable equivalent for New Delhi.

It was not my first time in Paharganj, Over the last 2 visits here, I have been awestruck by how the organised – and sometimes bafflingly disorganised – chaos of Paharganj attracts backpackers and travellers of all kinds. Paharganj literally means ‘hilly neighbourhood’, but there are no hills around this central Delhi neighbourhood. What it does have instead, are plenty of cheap hotels, lodges, street food, bars and the backpacking firangs who sport long hippie hairstyles and wear those elephant pants.

But this time, I had come here to see none of these exotic delights.

Delhi’s most Haunted place

In May 2018, I had a couple of days to spend in Delhi, before taking a flight to the Middle East. I knew I was going to stay in Paharganj, because the backpacker in me would be offended if I stayed anywhere else. The only challenge was, finding things to do/see in Paharganj that I haven’t done before in my 2 visits here. And that search led me to a very offbeat sight, that most tourists don’t get to.

Just 1 km walk to the east side of Paharganj, would take me to the central ridge forest. A small forest, right in the middle of the gigantic city of Delhi. And somewhere in that forest, is a 14th century monument built by Ferozeshah Tuglaq as a hunting lodge for the royal parties.

According to legend, when there were no hunting parties scheduled, it was also used as an inn. And one of the queens who was neglected by the king, used this inn as her home.

According to the same legend, her neglected soul still roams around the Bhuli Bhatiyari ka Mahal, whispering into the night for anyone to hear her out.

I had to see Delhi’s most haunted place for myself.

The Paharganj Experience

First things first. I had to find a stay in Paharganj that would put me not too far from Bhuli Bhatiyari ka Mahal, and not too close to the chaos that is Paharganj.

Eventually, I found a nice little hotel named ‘Treebo Natraj Yes Please‘, thanks to an online search for Treebo Hotels in Delhi. The hotel was perfect. It was located on the fringes of Paharganj, which put me at a safe distance from the craziness. I could dip my feet in and take a feel of Paharganj, and also step back into my hotel room with ease any time once Paharganj became unbearable for me. And more importantly, the hotel was also just walking distance from the Bhuli Bhatiyari ka mahal.

After checking in, I was really considering visiting the Bhuli Bhatiyari ka mahal at night (despite the well-intentioned advice of the hotel manager), but it was closed after 6 pm anyway. So in the evening, I stepped out to see Paharganj first.

paharganj street

The night lights of paharganj

Snaking my way through the dens of backpackers, rubbing shoulders with some hippies, I did notice that there was a distinct difference between me and the other tourists of Paharganj. I was not white. And that difference could be seen in the eyes of the shopkeepers too, to some extent. Every time a white foreigner walked past, they would reach out to him to come check out their wares or whatever they were selling. Every time I walked past, they barely flinched or acknowledged my existence. Don’t get me wrong: I am not complaining. I know that is how the tourism industry works in India. They clearly knew that I was the less-spending Indian backpacker who clearly did not believe in anything spiritual. I am actually happy it is that way, since I rarely get pestered by tauts and sellers in touristy places. They have the white man to catch, so they mostly leave me alone. Bliss.

I walked past the many bars of Paharganj (“My bar” is a personal favorite of mine), but didn’t enter. I had given up drinking months ago, and the last time I ate in Delhi, I was down with Delhi Belly for nearly a week. I knew where the hidden dens of Paharganj are (hint: they are on the rooftops), and I tried to visit one of the rooftop bars where I have partied in the past – just to smoke a quick joint before I catch my sleep. But this being off-season in May, there were just 2 junkies around, blabbering away in loud Russian. And a lonely European lass giving me inviting looks.

Bhuli Bhatiyari Ka Mahal may have the tag of a haunted place, but Paharganj has its own modern-day ghosts. I don’t know why I was searching for the ancient ones.

Paharganj at night

Paharganj at night is a visual delight.

Bhuli Bhatiyari ka Mahal

I reached back in my room by midnight and had a good night’s sleep. In the morning, before the traffic of Delhi had woken up, I got up and sneaked out of my hotel.

For some morning tea, and a friendly acquaintance with some ghosts.

After idling my time for breakfast and tea around Paharganj (a deliberate ploy to waste time for the Bhuli Bhatiyari to be open to the public at 9.30 am), I walked the 15 minutes towards Jhandewalan. Jhandewalan is one of the stations of Delhi metro, and the path towards Bhuli Bhatiyari ka mahal started just below it.

From the Jhandewalan Metro station, I passed a giant Hanuman statue and a small mosque (Reminds me that it’s still a very secular India!), and entered a small lane which was devoid of people. But what it lacked in people, it made up in trash. There was garbage strewn along the sides, like the place has not been cleaned up in ages. There were also a few beer cans and some empty packets of condoms around.

The ghosts must have a really fun life!

Jhandewalan metro

The road outside Jhandewalan metro is quite clean.

Road to bhuli bhatiyari ka mahal

But the path leading to Bhuli Bhatiyari ka mahal had heaps of trash on both sides.

There was no vehicular traffic on this small path either. There were a couple of cop cars parked outside the NDMC water tank, but I felt it was more to protect the water tank than for this haunted site. A short 2 to 3 minutes of walk through the path took me to what I had come to see.

A desolate looking red-bricked building, partially run-down, with a courtyard in front of it and a few scary looking trees surrounding it. There was a watchman outside, but he was busy with an insurance salesman. Did he start to think about an insurance after taking up this job? The thought crossed my mind. I have heard that people who took up this job usually quit within a month or two, as they cannot handle the eerie noises that are supposedly everywhere at night.

Bhuli bhatiyari ka mahal

The Bhuli Bhatiyari ka mahal

Bhuli bhatiyari ka mahal karol bagh

And thats the entrance.

I walked towards the ominous-looking entrance, only to find a huge lock plastered right across it. It was locked. Was I too early?

I turned around and looked at the watchman, who was still engrossed with his insurance salesman. “When does this open?”, I asked.

Irritated at being disturbed from his conversation, he shot back, “It doesn’t. The mahal is currently closed for renovation works”. And then he went back to focussing on his insurance policy.

I had no idea what kind of renovation he was referring to, as there was no work going on around here. But the matter was sealed. I wouldn’t be able to go inside the Bhuli Bhatiyari ka Mahal. I would have to try and go around it.

That’s when I noticed that there seemed to be some kind of a small park at the back. It felt like someone started building this a while ago, but gave up for a while, and recently started again. There were a couple of construction boards, and future plans for the park put up.

But there wasn’t any work going on right now. Well, so that’s the most I could get out of the day-time ghosts of Delhi. Looks like they want to avoid me as much I want to see them.

I went back to paharganj and started looking for other ghosts of the night.

lock delhi

The most scariest thing I saw today, was a lock. I am not welcome.

bhuli bhatiyari mahal park

The small park behind Bhuli bhatiyari mahal

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Paharganj ghosts

In search of the ghosts of Paharganj

This post is part of my travel stories about India. Click here to check out other amazing stories from India.

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About Abhi Surendran

Abhi quit his corporate job, and decided to immerse himself in travels, photography, occasional periods of bankruptcy, and copious amounts of insanity. He is currently working on a book of his experiences, and a dream road trip through South Asia. Both in a haphazard fashion. He blogs at Iamnothome and you can also catch him at times on Facebook and twitter.

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