Shimla, a city that is often called as queen of hills and known for its stunning vistas and scenic beauty. But if you look close enough, the amount of history it has is probably greater than the scenic part; though it never really gets known as a historical city. The English loved this city when they ruled India. They loved it so much that they named it as their summer capital of India; and took all the hassle of getting it connected by railroad. Long gone however is that era and the only remnants of that time now are the old structures of British time; which too have now started to collapse. But it was not really just the buildings or houses that the English left behind. Buried deep underneath the history here and the magnificent structures are the ghosts of Shimla.
Image Credit: Reckontalk
When it comes to a place getting tagged as haunted, it is always or mostly because of something local. Phrases like “As per the locals”, or “myths”, or “As per the beliefs of the people here” get used. In case of Shimla however it is quite the opposite. It was not the Indians that marked some of the places here as haunted; but rather it were the narratives of the English themselves that started the ghost tales.
Ghosts of Shimla
Much of this is accredited to acclaimed writer Rudyard Kipling. Shimla was the British summer capital so it had seen a lot of British presence. Several of the other writers visited here as well but it was eventually Kipling whose writings in “My Own True Ghost Story” voiced out several haunting incidents that may have happened here. Much of that now is lost and I am sure many of the other ghost stories are long forgotten; but mentioned below are a few that still survive.
1. The Charleville Mansion Haunting
The most famous of all the haunted places here is probably the Charleville Mansion which is said to be still present somewhere in Shimla but I could not really locate it. But then Shimla is way too big now and it could possibly be some mansion sitting atop a hill or covered by tall trees; and there are quite a few of such mansions here. Nevertheless, the story of Charleville goes back as far as 1913. The house however is much older than that. It is said that that an English Army officer used to reside here and he was well aware that his house was haunted. Who that officer was or who built Charleville Mansion and when however is not known.
The Haunted Room
As the legend goes, the haunting incidents in mansion were all limited to just one room in the upper section of the house. The Army officer hence kept that room locked and secured; and never entered it.
Everything was peaceful except for a few noises from that room every now and then; nothing much ever happened. One night however, the officer heard a loud thud and crashing noise which shook the entire house. He opened the room to inquire and was shocked to found the entire room in a state of disarray. Nothing was in its place, mirrors were broken; window panes shattered; furniture tossed against the wall; in short it looked like a storm has just passed through the room. This was more than the officer could handle and decided to vacate the house the very next day.
Then in the 1913, a certain Victor Bayley was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Railway Board at Shimla and arrived here. Now this is as far as the account of the house is available. Anything that happened prior to 1913, the officer that I mentioned above was all just hearsay. Bayley was looking for a house which was comfortable, at a good location and was not too high on rent. Charleville was available on rent and due to all the haunting stories, the rent was not too high either as no one was ready to live here.
Victor Bayley and his wife liked the house very much and decided to move in. They were told of all the ghost incidents and warned of the supernatural presence here but decided to ignore it. As a precautionary measure, they too kept the room in the upper section locked. They lived here for about a year and nothing really happened ; except for one evening which changed everything and forced the Bayleys to find elsewhere to live.
They had hired a local Muslim as domestic help and had great faith in him. The servant too remained devoted to his masters and proved quite reliable. So much that Victor Bayley and his wife were in the habit of often leaving the house in his care and attend parties; or go out for long duration. One such night, while Bayleys were out for a dinner party, their servant was back home waiting for them to return. As he was going through the household chores, he noticed an English gentlemen walking around in the house.
Thinking that his master had returned, he called out to him a couple of times. The walking man however did not hear or notice him at all and walked through a closed door; like a spirit or ghost would. Having witnessed it with his own eyes, the poor servant was completely shaken and narrated the entire incident to Victor Bayley after he returned. The very next day, Bayley and his wife too decide to vacate the place.
What happened after this however is unknown. Some say that the house was bought and owned by another lady; and then sold to an Indian gentlemen post independce who got it renovated completely. Surprisingly, several people are aware of the ghost tale as it appears to be one of the favorire ones here in Shimla; but if you asked the location of this place, mostly you will either get shrugged shoulders or contradictory answers. The house may or may not have survived but the story indeed did and continues to do so.
2. The Incident at Dukhani House
Second is the tale of the Dukhani House which too surprisingly no one knows the location of. It is another structure that may not have survived after the British moved out but the story around it definitely does; thanks to the writings of a certain Sir John Smyth. In his own words,
“My wife and I used to go, fairly often, to stay for weekends at a lovely rambling old house in the Shimla hills called the Dukhani. This was owned by an elderly gentleman by the name of Buck (always known as Bucky), the Reuters correspondent at Delhi. On one occasion Bucky was having a very special weekend party at Dukhani. I think it was to celebrate his seventieth birthday.
I arrived in Dukhani, hot and exhausted, to find that owing to difficulties of accommodation, the sexes had been segregated and I was to sleep in a camp bed in Bucky’s own room, which was in the old part of the house. Bucky was a notorious snorer. But I was tired and very early slipped away from the music, the singing and the bridge to seek my camp bed and was fast asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.
When I woke up rather suddenly, the light of the half moon was filtering into the room, through a French window, which led into the garden. What had woken me was a curtain blowing into the room, making a flapping noise. Should I get up and shut the window or should I lie? I had decided to do nothing and go to sleep again, when, in the middle of the room I saw the figure of an elderly grey-haired gentleman in a dressing gown. Naturally I thought that it was Bucky. “Oh. Do shut the window,” I said to him. But at the very instant from Bucky’s bed, in the far corner of the room, came a loud snore.
I suddenly had the same eerie feeling that I had in the Bower ( another haunted building in the vicinity). The old gentleman looked sad and lonely. He was perfectly clear in the moonlight. As I advanced, he retreated towards the window. Then he quietly melted away into the garden. I dashed to the lawns but there was no one there. I felt very shaken. After breakfast, someone searched out details about Shimla, and found that exactly 40 years ago, an old man in a dressing gown, had shot himself in the very room”
3. The Fordyce Episode
Another account of a ghost sighting in Shimla is in Lord Halifax’s ghost book which was published by his son after his death. Lord Halifax writes on behalf of a certain Mrs. Giles who lived in Shimla before her marriage in 1915. Mrs. Giles who was known as Miss Fordyce before her marriage used to live with her mother at an old house. She had a Fox Terrier as a pet dog and except for the mother and daughter, there was really no one else in the entire house.
One night, she was jolted out of her sleep as her pet dog climbed up on her bed. The poor animal looked terrified of something and was trying its best to hide under the sheets. There was only little light in the room and Miss Fordyce for a few moments sat upright in her bed, rubbing her eyes and trying to figure out what had alarmed the dog. Attached to her bedroom was a dressing room, door of which was slightly open at that time. As she looked out of the door, she noticed an old man, leaning on a stick, standing near the outer door staring at the floor. She froze in terror and as she looked, the old man vanished in to thin air right in front of her eyes.
The Old Man & His Wife
Years later, after she was married and had long moved out of Shimla city, she heard a man tell her the tale of her own childhood house; the very house where she one night saw the ghost of the old man. As per the young man, his parents had lived in an house which was haunted by the ghost of a lady. This house was owned by an old man who married a woman much younger to his own age. One night, in a fit of jealousy, the old man ended up murdering his wife and then took his own life as well. Since then a lot of people often saw the young wife running through the house, shrieking and asking for help.
Also read: The Haunted House at Sach Pass
Upon listening this tale, Miss Fordyce immediately knew that it was her own house of childhood that was being talked about. Surprisingly however, she never saw the young woman but only the old man once. All other accounts of ghost sightings were of the woman and except her, no one ever saw the ghost of the old man.
Legend has it that the house mentioned in accounts of Lord Halifax is none other than Belvedere in Shimla. This house was the residence of Alexander Malcolm Jacob, the diamond and gemstone trader who lived in Shimla in 1890s. The seventh largest diamond in the world, Jacob Diamond, is named after him. He however himself died penniless in Mumbai. The claim of the house mentioned in ghost story as Belvedere however cannot be true because Jacob built his house himself and lived in it until 1901. He died in 1921 in Mumbai after 14 years of blindness. So Miss Fordyce seeing him as a ghost before 1915, even before he died is just not possible.
4. The Interview and the Ghost Story
This so far were all the written accounts; narratives told by famous English authors. However it does not stop here. In 1970s, an old lady in her interview with BBC mentioned how she lived in Shimla when she was young and encountered a ghost. At the time of the interview she was well in her seventies but used to reside in Shimla before 1947; at one of the official houses allotted to her family. Soon after moving in, she found out that the house as haunted by the ghost of a lady. When she asked the gardener, she found out that the wife of a young army officer had committed suicide in that very bedroom and was now haunting it.
Are the tales true? Did these sightings really happen or were they merely a fragment of the writer’s imagination? I guess we will never know. Those times are gone, that era has long passed. As the city gets modernized by each passing year, most of the old crumbling mansions are now getting replaced by modern structures. It is now tough to even recognize or point out the buildings that were referenced in these stories. Truth or not; stories are interesting enough still and worth telling. The people who told these stories are long gone; probably even the ghosts have moved on to other world; those buildings have since crumbled down and replaced but the tales live on.
Have a thought or opinion to share? Do you know of any other ghost stories told about Shimla? Have you been to any of the haunted locations mentioned? If yes, please feel free to share your thoughts either in the comments section here or at our Community Forum.