India, a continent masquerading as a nation, with dozens of faiths, hundreds of tongues, and a myriad of different cultures and traditions, all beautifully set in landscapes as diverse as the scenic coastal backwaters and coconut groves in the south, to the mighty snow-capped Himalayas in the north, has always allured people from across the world. It has always welcomed travelers from across the seas, who have, since ancient times, sought refuge in India and its rich cultural and natural heritage in their pursuit of happiness and adventure. Such a vibrant land is bound to have places of all flavours; spiritual and serene, modern and hip, and of course, puzzling and mysterious. The subcontinent is home to many perplexing places, with many bewildering stories behind them, and these are some of them from across the length and breadth of the country.
Commencing in the southern state of Kerala, we find a small village of around 2000 families, known as Kodinhi. The small yet tightly-knit community has no spectacular nature or historical architecture to boast of, but its mystery lies in the people - in this small village alone, there are over 200 pairs of twins! The village garnered international attention due to the concentration of so many twins being born in the village when such births are fairly uncommon throughout the rest of India. Even Kodinhi women who were married to people from other villages and towns gave birth to twins at a rate much higher than average. Although some doctors believe this is due to the prevalence of certain chemicals in the local food and water, no proper reasoning has yet been established for this phenomenon.
Then we move north along and across the Western Ghats to reach the historic city of Hampi in Karnataka, known for its magnificent temples and city ruins. The brilliance of Vijayanagara architecture is nowhere better exemplified than the Vitthala Temple, whose famous stone chariot is also featured on India’s currency. However, the pièce de résistance is the collection of 56 musical pillars, which when struck produce musical sounds. How these pillars produce music always alluded people, with the British even cutting two of them in half to discover nothing but hollow granite pillars. This is just one instance of the many mysteries that medieval and ancient Indian architecture has left behind.
As we then move west and up along the coast of the Arabian Sea, we reach India’s “City of Diamonds”, Surat, where a beach has, over the years, developed a reputation for being haunted. Dumas Beach is a picturesque site, with the foaming waves striking the pristine black sands on the shore, but it has a bad reputation among the locals. Many visitors say they hear someone whispering to them when they’re at the beach, only to find no one when they turn back. Adding to this are the alleged cases of disappearance in the area. Some say the beach is haunted by spirits from a Hindu burial ground that once existed in the location, although there has been no concrete evidence to support these anecdotes.
Then comes the land of kings, Rajasthan, whose vast and sandy expanse is home to many mystifying places and stories. In the middle of the Thar desert is the infamous village of Kuldhara, or what remains of it. Once a prosperous settlement of around 1,500 people, it was mysteriously abandoned, almost overnight, in the 19th century. While historians believe it was due to forces of nature, such as an earthquake or dwindling water supply, local folklore spoke of people fleeing the village to escape the tyranny of the erstwhile Jaisalmer kingdom’s Salim Singh, placing a curse on the village as the left to make it unlivable for eternity. These rumours gained a lot of traction in recent years, and it is believed to be haunted by the spirits of its former residents. The reasons for its abandonment continue to be a mystery.
We then reach the snowy and pleasant valleys of Uttarakhand, where a tiny glacial lake, tucked in between the towering peaks of the Himalayas, reveals a dark secret in the summers. As the ice melts in Roopkund lake every year, hundreds of skeletons float to the surface, despite there being no known burial grounds in the region. Research has concluded these corpses are over 1200 years old, although the true identity of these people remains identity. Popular folklore suggests these are the remains of the King and Queen of Kanauj, and their many servants, who perished in a hailstorm they got stuck in as they trodded by the lake on a pilgrimage.
We finally reach the Bay of Bengal, where we find the idyllic Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In these exotic landscapes of palm-lined shores and sandy beaches lies an island known as North Sentinel Island. While most indigenous tribes of the archipelago have made contact with the rest of the country and integrated into mainstream society, the North Sentinelese remain hostile to outside contact; so much so that they even killed an American missionary who tried establishing contact with them. They have been so disconnected from the outside world that it is believed their Iron Age started only in the 1980s when a shipwreck on the island gave them access to metal when humanity has known iron for more than 5000 years. Their lifestyles continue to be an enigma.
These are just some of the many, many more mysteries that dot the country, from the supposedly alien-inhabited Kongka La Pass and Hanging Pillar of the Lepakshi Temple to the mysterious bird suicides in Jatinga and the haunted fort at Bhangarh. India continues to be the abode for many such strange and peculiar places. Sometimes we know the answers to these mysteries, sometimes we don’t, and it is our pursuit of answers to these that make for some of the most adventurous and enlightening experiences of our lifetimes