AMG Great Escapes: The house of haunted

AMG Great Escapes: The house of haunted

Words by Aninda Sardar
Photography by Rohit G Mane

Murder, revenge, deaths, curse and a city sacked and burnt. The story of Bhangarh Fort near Alwar in Rajasthan could rival that of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A wizard adept at black magic fell in love with the beautiful princess Ratnavati. The princess was out in the bazaar one day when this wizard tried to ensnare her with his dark powers, but unfortunately for him Ratnavati saw through his trickery and threw the love potion laced ittar (perfume) that she had been offered by him on a nearby rock. The rock began rolling and eventually crushed the wizard, who, with his dying breath, cursed Bhangarh to an eternal afterlife.

For a while, all was well but Bhangarh was soon attacked by the Mughals who besieged and then sacked the city. All 10,000 inhabitants, the princess included, died in the battle. True to the wizard’s curse, Bhangarh would never rise again, instead doomed to a paranormal existence where things remain normal only as long as there is light. Fun begins as soon as the sun dips below the horizon and the ghosts of Ratnavati, the dark wizard and others come alive. At least, that’s what legend tells us and what the people of the surrounding village believes. With such intensity that even the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) forbids you from being there after dark. In fact, Google the words haunted places in India and Bhangarh Fort headlines every single one of them. Going in to Bhangarh Fort is a daring act that only the most adventurous will undertake. This, is no journey for the faint hearted. This, is a journey of guts and glory.

And for this journey of guts and glory we had the powerful and strong Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupé  with us. For good reason too. With its 3-litre V6 biturbo engine pumping out 362bhp and a massive 520Nm of shove, this beautiful and unique SUV-Coupé is capable of a 0-100kmph in just 4.9 seconds and can reach an electronically limited top speed of 250kmph. A quick getaway, should things go wrong, therefore was guaranteed on this first and rather hair raising AMG Great Escape. That, and the fact that although few people put it to that use, we reckoned the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupé would prove to be an excellent touring machine.

The journey kicked off at the Indira Gandhi International airport in Delhi where T and T Motors had sent the vehicle for us. Built like a tank, the moment we laid eyes on the shining white exterior of our tank, reassurance was automatic. It’s hard to imagine that any harm will come to you when you’re ensconced in a vehicle that’s as robust and has as powerful a heart as the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupé.

Two hundred and sixty odd kilometres separate the swanky Terminal 3 of the airport and the ruins of Bhangarh Fort. To get there you will have to head towards the city of Jaipur on NH 48 up to Manoharpur where you will need to get off the national highway and hang a left on to the Dausa bypass. With Google saying it will take four and a half hours to complete the drive, we headed away from the airport with Dire Straits strumming Sultans of Swing.

The Delhi-Jaipur highway happens to be part of the section of the Golden Quadrilateral that connects the national capital with Mumbai. As such not finding this highway choc-a-bloc with traffic, mostly overloaded and slow moving trucks, is something of a rarity. But with its powerful and punchy motor, darting through gaps between trucks and other slow moving vehicles turned out to be a piece of cake. We would just point the front wheels of the four driven wheels of this SUV and give it a hefty dose of throttle. That massive engine would crackle to life from a rumbling constant and in the blink of an eye we’d be ahead of the riff raff. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable exercise that soon became a sort of amusement and stayed that way for a good 20 minutes before we got tired of dodging through traffic.

The Rajasthan state highway that connects Manoharpur to Bhangarh and beyond, of which the Dausa Bypass is a part, is superbly finished. And despite being a humble two-lane highway, its flawless surface combined with the lack of traffic, meant that this was where we got our first taste of this performance vehicle’s touring abilities. The Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupé extends its legs on the highway effortlessly and instinctively as she cruised over mile after mile of Rajasthani highway. And thanks to that silent cabin, the going was virtually entirely free of fatigue.

About two-thirds of the way through there are a few sweeping turns that saw the smile widen a bit. Under normal circumstances I would find a mostly straight road boring but here with miles of spectacular landscape on either side and a road that has been surfaced to near perfection, barring a couple of patches, I would stick my neck out and say that the Dausa Bypass is one of the finest driving roads in the country today. It’s exactly the kind of road where you’d be able to drive a powerful Mercedes-AMG the way it’s meant to be driven. Fast.

With Bhangarh Fort still an hour away and our tummies rumbling with an intensity to match the SUV-Coupé’s motor, we stopped for some grub at the grandly named but modest in reality Bhangarh Food Plaza. Good thing we stopped here for it turns out that untouched though it is by the Prime Minister’s drive for digitisation (it accepts cash only), Bhangarh Food Plaza and its pure vegetarian fare is the only food available in the vicinity of Bhangarh. The fort is indeed in that remote a location. The road leading right up to the walls of the abandoned fort ends at a boulder strewn parking lot. Parts of it is rough and we were glad that we had a vehicle that was not deterred by ground clearance issues.

The fort itself looks like it’s out of a movie set. Parts of it, especially its seven temples, are extremely well preserved but the rest is a genuine ghost town. It’s almost as if the ghosts of people past have not dared to desecrate holy ground but have left their imprint everywhere else. It’s a long climb to the main palace complex, the one that princess Ratnavati might have inhabited once. Once a grand seven-storey structure that towered over the countryside, today the four-storeyed ruin is the haunt of bats.

What’s incredible is that whatever remains of the structures, is very well preserved and one can easily see the kind of houses the common folk might have lived in. The view from the top is testimony to the Rajput penchant for military mindedness for you can see miles away even from the base of the main palace complex. The presence of a huge water tank next to the Shiva temple is an indication of the need to store water inside the fortress walls. In case it was besieged, as it indeed was towards the end of its existence. It’s a fascinating place really where the past comes alive in more ways than you can imagine. As for the legend? Who knows, perhaps if the ASI could be persuaded to give us permission to stay a night inside the fort then we might one day be able to tell you if the past really is alive in what is reputed to be India’s most haunted fort.

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