Ghosts, Poltergeists & Apparitions > Ghostly Encounters



CONSECRATED by the memory of Kipling and other pillars of the Empire, Shimla had the maximum to contribute when it came to British ghosts in hill stations. With new multistorey constructions replacing the old mansions, it is difficult to trace the buildings referred to and sure enough, quite a number of British ghosts seems to have vanished after Independence. But rummaging through old books on the British in India, one came across the following instances.

Arriving in Shimla, at one of the official houses allotted to their family, one British memsahib found the bedroom haunted by a wraith-like apparition. Recounting the tale to the BBC Oral History team in the 1970s, the old lady, then in her seventies, said that on enquiring from the old gardener, she was told that a young army wife had committed suicide in one of the rooms. The lady decided to confront the ghost and went to the churchyard, where the unfortunate woman had been buried. Standing before the grave, the lady rebuked the ghost, "You have given me very unpleasant moments!"


The most haunted house in Shimla is said to have been the Charleville mansion. In October, 1913, Victor Bayley was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Railway Board at Shimla. Arriving there, he and his wife went in search of a house and, attracted by the low rent, took "Charleville". But soon they learnt that it had a poltergeist. The previous occupant was an Army officer. The officer put the matter to test by sealing up the room where the poltergeist disturbances were most frequent, but before long there was a tremendous crash and it was found that everything in the room had been turned upside down. He then vacated the house in despair. The Bayleys occupied "Charleville" for a year. Thereafter, no poltergeist activity took place, but there was one abnormal event. One night a reliable Muslim servant waited up for the return of his employers from a dinner party, and as he did so, he became aware, that there was a sahib in the room. Rising to his feet, he asked what the sahib wanted. The European, without replying, slowly walked away through a closed door. The last Briton owning the house was a Mrs A...who lived in it for many years. She was in Shimla in 1947. She sold the house to an Indian gentleman, after telling him that it was supposed to be haunted. Under his ownership "Charleville" has been completely remodelled.

For another story about Shimla ghosts, we are obliged to Sir John Smyth, a resident of Shimla in the 1920s. In his 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.

Kipling in My Own True Ghost Story, wrote that there were said to be two ghosts in Shimla. Ghost hunters have heard of at least five others. In Lord Halifax’s ghost book, published by his son, he mentioned that a Mrs. Giles, formerly a Miss Fordyce, who, before her marriage in 1915, had lived in Shimla with her mother in an old house. Not long after this, Miss Fordyce and her mother, who was unwell, were alone in the house. One night the daughter was awakened by the agonised whimpers of her fox-terrier, which jumped on her bed and tried in a terrified manner to crawl under her eiderdown. A light was burning, and Miss Fordyce sat up in her bed at once and looked to see what had alarmed her dog. The bedroom had a dressing-room leading out of it. The door of the dressing room was open and through it she saw, standing on the step in the outer doorway, an old man leaning on a stick and staring at the floor. As she looked, he vanished. But the terrier would never enter that room again. Long afterwards she chanced to find herself sitting, at a luncheon party, next to a young man. He told her, that his parents had once lived in the house, which was haunted. An old man had lived in it with a young wife, and one night he had murdered her in a fit of jealousy. Many people since had seen the young wife’s ghost running along the veranda shrieking. But no one save Miss Fordyce is known to have seen the old man.

It is said, that this house is none other than "B...", the erstwhile residence of the mysterious Syrian jeweller, Mr. Jacobs, who figures as "Mr Lurgan" in Kipling’s Kim and as " Mr Issacs" in Marion Crawford’s novel of that name. Jacob, who was ruined by his attempts to sell a huge diamond to the Nizam of Hyderabad in the 1890s died penniless and was buried in Bombay. But he lives in history, as the largest diamond in India— the 184.75 carat Jacob Diamond, the seventh largest in the world — is named after him!


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