Text & Photographs: Gustasp & Jeroo Irani
This article first appeared in the May 2013 issue of Hi! BLITZ magazine
Tales From The Crypt
Bites From The Legend Of Dracula
A ghost sighting destination can add spice to your vacation. Here are a few places where sightseeing takes on a chilling new meaning.
Thunder roars in the distance and mist descends like floating veils and drapes itself across the forested mountains. The blurred contour of a church steeple presides over a graveyard, ensuring that evil spirits are contained within the grounds pockmarked with headstones. Visitors daring to drive through Transylvania, Romania, get a chilly reception: Dracula, it would seem, has been expecting them and has thrown in special effects as a welcome to his ghostly domain. And as you roll into Bran, the first thing that catches your attention is the count’s castle of horror towering menacingly over the little town. But Bran does not cower, in fact it seems to revel in the fact that it has now become a part of local folklore that was spawned by the fertile imagination of the 18th century Irish novelist Bram Stoker who based the evil protagonist of his novel on the much feared Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, a 15th century noble who was also known as Vlad the Impaler. The town itself is a one-street settlement studded with quaint little cottages that snuggle in the embrace of wooden fences. A little church cowers on the banks of a gurgling stream. It is squat and seems to deflect attention from itself, fearful that it might incur the wrath of the evil Dracula who rules the town. But it also exudes a sense of determination, built from solid blocks of stone, ready to stand its ground if challenged by the castle that surges menacingly behind it. Further down the road a narrow cobblestone path leads up to the 14th century castle, and with a little imagination one can almost hear Dracula’s horse-drawn carriage rattling down the pathway as he sets off at sundown to snare his next victim. Inside, the fortress’ narrow passages and stairways lead to grand chambers that conjure images of Dracula reclining on a sofa sipping blood from a wine glass, playing eerie music on a grand piano, warming his hands by a fireplace as he plots his next sinister attack on the innocent… And as the sun sets, he metamorphoses into a bat, flapping across the night sky.
Shenanigans In Chester There’s something innocent and rustic about Chester, the ancient walled city in northwest England. It resembles a small market town that seems surprised by its own allure! Under its old world veneer, overlaid with a lively vibe, lurk deep dark secrets that go back to its Roman origins of 2,000 years ago. Not for nothing is Chester said to be one of the most haunted cities in the UK. Admittedly though a tourist revelling in its majestic sights—the cathedral, half-timbered houses and the Rows (its medieval double-tier of shops with covered walkways)—will not encounter any paranormal activity. Chester’s Roman ghosts are the earliest in Britain—one legionnaire occasionally strides along the walls and to the ancient amphitheatre at dusk, recounts Liz Roberts, our guide. The story goes that he used to guard one of the gates of the fortress and was in love with a Welsh girl. The Romans, however, regarded the Welsh, just across the border, as their barbaric enemies. One night, the lovelorn soldier left the gate unguarded and nipped down to the River Dee to meet his lady love. In the meantime, the Welsh slipped in and raided Chester. When the soldier returned, there was an uproar. He was dishonoured and was either killed or flung himself off the wall. Postscript: the beautiful Welsh lass was a decoy! There are many haunted pubs and inns in Chester. For instance, things go bump in the night at the attractive little Ye Olde King’s Head (named after Charles I, the only English monarch who was beheaded). Things disappear or move around on their own in this atmospheric pub, messages are scrawled on the mirror after the pub is closed for the night... When an 1881 bell tower collapsed near the spooky ruins of St John’s Church and monastery, many spirits were disturbed, it is said. Ever since, locals have seen a hooded monk, lips moving in prayer, heading down to the river. He vanishes into thin air when accosted by humans. In the same church where the wind whistles eerily through bare trees, there is a small oak coffin buried way up in the wall. Inscribed on it are the words: Dust to Dust. A wraith-like nun is said to haunt the churchyard. “She was buried up high as she wanted to be closer to heaven,” said our guide. Let your imagination run riot and feel a thrill of fear as darkness closes in.
The Ghost Of A War Hero The icy fingers of a frozen waterfall claw out from a vertical cliff; icicles hang like silver daggers from overhanging ridges; a cold breeze sweeps across the frozen lake and sends a shiver through one’s body. The snow-draped crest of Sela Pass (at 14,000 feet, it is one of the highest motorable passes in the world) on the road to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh is enveloped in the cold embrace of a pregnant silence: a void filled by the ghost of Jaswant Singh Rawat. Rifleman Jaswant Singh of the Fourth Battalion Garhwal Rifles died a hero during the 1962 border war with China. Single-handedly he held off the advancing Chinese army and took out a machine gun bunker and captured the weapon. In the process, he killed over 300 enemy soldiers before sacrificing his own life. Awarded a Maha Vir Chakra (posthumously), he retired as a Captain (again posthumously). The lonely bunker from where Jaswant Singh made his last stand is today converted into a shrine. The memorial houses his bed, shoes, linen and personal effects. Till recently, it was said that every morning his bed would be unmade as though someone had slept in it at night. Sentries would report that should they nod off, they would be slapped awake by an invisible hand. And when it snows it feels like the ghost of Jaswant Singh is sprinkling confetti over the icy outpost that was once the scene of a bloody conflict.
The Spirited Castle Leslie Just a 70-minute drive away from Belfast, Castle Leslie Estate in Glaslough, Republic of Ireland, is one of the most haunted castles in the country, it is whispered. A thousand acres of glowing green parkland flare in front of the imposing building and in the afternoon sun the stolid citadel seems luxurious yet secure... Yet in a land that thrums with magic and mystery and where elves and fairies of the imagination roam anything can happen. The interiors of the 100-room castle-hotel (of which only 20 are bedrooms) are studded with period furniture, chandeliers, damask draperies, crackling marble fireplaces, gilded mirrors and objets d’art as befitting the home of a nobleman. After a speedy check in, you sweep up a grand staircase, lined with gilded portraits of the Leslie family, including one handsome Norman Leslie who died young in the fields of France in World War I. His penetrating eyes follow you as you explore the castle and step into one of the guest rooms—perchance the Red Room which was his favourite! With mesmeric views, blood red drapes, a red carpet and a magnificent 400-year-old walnut wood bed, the Red Room is said to have the occasional nocturnal visitor—Norman Leslie himself, who appears in a cloud of light. Some guests have heard strange noises emanating from above the room at night as well. Many apocryphal stories are told about the Leslie family that is known and loved for their eccentricity in the village and about the ghosts that visit the castle. But it is Norman’s Room that sends shivers down the spines of most people; for here the heavy oak canopied bed had been brought from one of the most haunted homes in Surrey in England—a house in which a man had been hacked to death! Today, intrepid wayfarers specifically ask for Norman’s Room and have emerged the next morning with tales of a levitating bed, sudden gusts of cold air and hearing screams and groans renting the quiet night. However, the other-worldly apparitions are harmless—the insomniac Lady Constance whose portrait hangs in the dining room, paces the gallery in a flowing white gown on restless nights and then melts into the woodwork…
Rattling Through A Gay Pub When seen from Manchester’s famous Canal Street, Via looks like any other city pub. Step inside and you are immediately struck by the quirkiness of the place. The mosaic tiles on the floor betray its age. The multi-level wood bar is fashioned from the altar of an old Irish church. The pub has hideaways tucked away in little alcoves and gay couples love that…as also does its resident ghost who rattles through the premises once the last drink is consumed, the lights turned off and the doors shuttered. “There’s something down there. I don’t think it is malicious or evil but it’s definitely very disturbed,” the girl behind the bar confirms. Even as the doors are being closed at night, the staff hears something start to shift around the premises. And it is not uncommon to find things moved around the next morning. There are times when a guest might feel the touch of a chilly hand. Or even get locked in the washroom next to the Piano Bar where the spirit is known to lurk. The identity of the ghost is unclear, but the spirit is believed to be that of a monk who once haunted a church in Ireland in a benevolent way. Later when the building fell into disuse, the altar was stripped and shipped to Manchester where it was reassembled in the Via pub. It is believed that the ghost of the monk travelled with the altar to its new location and is not too pleased with the way his beloved altar has been rearranged. The pub itself is a lively joint on Canal Street that is associated with the gay community. Tourists also frequent this pub which has live music in the evening and serves great food. And you may not know it but you could be sharing a table with a spook!
Text & Photographs: Gustasp & Jeroo Irani