Ghosts of the East and West

Namdang Factory Bungalow: courtesy Larry Brown. Larry says, “I lived here for a number of years and it had a resident ghost. I thought that I had exorcised him but he came back to annoy others. The ghost was that of a 23 year old who worked on the outgarden of Namtok in the early 1900’s He contracted Blackwater Fever and died in the factory bungalow.

Tea garden bungalows come equipped with a retinue of servants and often a resident spook (no extra charge!). Invariably the spook is a boga-sahib (white master): an old British tea planter who died on the job and who is buried somewhere in the tea garden. The bungalows themselves are creepy: drafty with echoing rooms, weak-wattage bulbs, creaky wooden floors and rattling rafters. Many are located within deep forests and surrounded by bamboobaris (FYI the spooks love bamboo as much as pandas!).  Add to that the blackest, deepest nights of Assam, lots of melancholy rain and vapors steaming off the jungle floor and voila! you have a phantom’s paradise.

John E. Bartlett, a pioneer tea planter arrived in Assam on December 30, 1866. He fell from the river steamer at Dhunseri Mookh on October 2, 1885 and drowned. His body was recovered on October 5 and buried at Numalighur on October 7, 1885. (Courtesy KOIHAI.COM)

Folks died easily back in the old days of tea. Tea gardens were far-flung and remote, the roads bad, communication poor and medical help often too little, too late. Malaria, black water fever, typhoid, tetanus, wild animals, accidental drowning, gunshot wounds…all claimed planters lives.  As a child I believed the dead turned into backward-footed entities that prowled the bamboobari shrieking their heads off. I always made it a point to check out people’s feet, just in case.

Many young Europeans fell victim to accident and disease, never to see the shores of their homeland again. Some took their own lives in desperation. There are hundreds of moss-covered graves scattered across tea plantations in Assam, mostly in wooded areas, tangled in vegetation and overrun by creepers. Many are unmarked but some have carved inscriptions that speak of the short, precarious lives of these young men in Assam.

Assam (which grows the finest tea – click the red link if you want to learn more about Assam Tea) is riddled with ghosts. Over 60 different ghosts and evil spirits have been identified in the state of Assam – that’s enough to fill a whole bus (imagine what a jolly ride that would be!) Assamese spooks have their own personality and agenda. Check out some of these  heavy-hitters:

Bura Dangoria (the old one) A good spirit dressed in white clothes and a white turban, often seen on a white horse who guards Namghars, the community places of worship where the sacred Bhagavad Gita is kept.
Baak A malevolent ugly creature that sometimes kills a person and takes on the corpse’s appearance. Often seen hanging around isolated ponds and lakes.
Ghoda Paak Has the hooves of a horse, but is otherwise human looking. Some stories show it as helpful, while others call it so deadly that you can die if it looks at you.
Bira (Poltergeist) Like all poltergeist of the world, usually believed to be unleashed on a family by an enemy to eliminate and torture them.
Bamboo Ghost This one lurks in the bamboo grove and bends down a bamboo on your path. If you try to step over it, it’ll snap back the bamboo and kill you.
Jokhini A female demon like creature that often tries to lure males and kill them.
 Bordoisila (the storm goddess) She’s the storm in April who throws a tantrum because she has to return to her husband’s house after visiting her mother for the Assamese new year which is around that time.
Puwali Bhoot (tiny ghosts) These are mischievous ghosts the size of small children who steal rice and sweets from the kitchen
Khoba-khubi  A pair of evil spirits who haunt a newly wedded couples and can be scared away by reading the hara-gauri (Shiva-Parvati) mantra on the third day of marriage
Khetar A local evil spirit that is said to harm little children
Churini Bira A female evil spirit that steals items from the house and kitchen
FYI this is a ghostly sampling of just one tiny state in India. India has 28 states so if you do the maths you will realize, we far outweigh the western world in both spirits and spirituality. The western world sure pales (pun intended) in comparison, besides Indian ghosts are more rowdy and fun.
Brown Lady of Raynham Hall ghost photograph, Captain Hubert C. Provand. First published in Country Life Magazine,  Dec 1936 issue.
Western ghosts are tame and well-behaved compared to the Indian hoolie-ghoolies. They are polite lurkers and don’t like to create a ruckus. Here are some ghostly facts courtesy of Midlands Ghost Hunters, Britain’s leading spook experts: (comments in red are mine: no disrespect intended)
  • Ghosts want to be noticed
  • Ghosts have no sense of passing time
  • Often, they do not know that they are dead
  • Ghosts can smell things and love the smell of lemons (ha ha! It’s the opposite in India people actually string up lemons–limes actually–to ward off evil spirits. Go figure!)
  • Ghosts have a sense of humor and love to hear humans laugh (maybe I should stop laughing so much –  oh hell!)
  • Sometimes ghosts get bored with their surroundings (that’s why they come snooping around)
  • Most ghosts are happy, but some still cling to an emotional pain
  • They can appear to the living in dreams
  • They can leave behind certain scents, such as perfume (or apple pie *)
  • They can make sounds that are audible
  • They use their energies and ours to move things
  • They are pranksters
  • They usually appear as intense balls of light called orbs
  • Ghosts favor night due to the decrease in daytime energy use
  • Ghosts may appear as mists or vapors
  • Ghosts can read your thoughts
  • Ghosts retain all the memories and emotions of their lives
  • Sometimes ghosts are trapped and need to be released
  • Noisy, troublesome ghosts are known as poltergeist
  • Ghosts tend to be very temperamental
  • Ghosts hang out in cliques with other ghosts
  • Ghosts make friends with other ghosts from different eras
  • Ghosts do not sleep
  • Ghosts like to climb up and down stairs at night (especially creaky ones)
  • Most ghosts can’t or won’t hurt you
  • When a ghost enters a room, the room usually gets cold
  • Animal ghosts exist and have been sighted
  • Ghosts who lived hundreds of years ago keep up with the trends (not clear about this one – like fashion? That does not sound right. Imagine a castle ghost in a tank top and Jimmy Choos!)
  • Children perceive ghosts as imaginary friends (that I know for fact)

Read my mom’s famous *APPLE PIE GHOST STORY HERE!!

If you like tea, ghosts and stories you may like my upcoming novel Teatime for the Firefly soon to be published by Mira Books in October 2013.  Check out the synopsis and first chapter HERE.  

18 thoughts on “Ghosts of the East and West

  1. I knew so little about ghosts before I read this! As I was reading about your Assamese ghosts, I was thinking to myself, but surely ghosts don’t behave in such a manner, don’t they just float around looking sad and wistful? Shows you how much I know! I have obviously only ever heard of the polite sort of castle-haunting British ghost that simply sits and cogitates on things. These are the sort that are described in tours of old houses here, but I don’t recall ever having heard of ghosts that can actually do anything, such as ping bamboo at you, push you into ponds, etc. I think I would be a nervous wreck living in Assam! I got really spooked when I re-read your post too, because the first time I read it I didn’t see the last picture, I must have been concentrating on the text, but when I scrolled up again I saw it and my heart just about stopped! Was it there all along? I feel all hot and cold… Can’t wait for your book!


    1. Haha! You are so funny, Lorna. Hey, you live in Ghosty old Scotland yourself – land of the floaties. The floaty, silent ones scare me more. Too ethereal to communicate with. The Assamese ones you can shake a fist, argue with and say, “Now wait a minute chum, I was not bothering you so why are you giving me a hard time…etc, etc.” Hopefully they speak other languages. My Assamese is real shoddy now. BTW what last picture are you talking about? There are only two on that post. One of the bungalow and one of the grave. Just checked again to make sure. Hmmmm…


          1. OK, if you tell us about the experience in Tocklai! 🙂

            In 1999 we were staying in an old cottage while attending an outdoor show, very rural, quiet country village, no street lights, no moon. At about 12.30 am I woke up and saw a lady in a long dress standing at the foot of our bed. She appeared to be shimmering, like a holograph. I couldn’t see her head properly! I hid under the duvet but unfortunately she was still there when I looked again. She remained there for a while and then gently disappeared from the top down. Colin was disappointed that he couldn’t see her!


            1. WOW!! Did you ask the cottage folks the next day if there had been similar sightings? Mamlu and I saw this “man” in the bedroom who walked into the bathroom and disappeared through the wall. We were teenagers visiting my aunt who lived in an old bungalow in Tocklai, Assam. We ran screaming out and slept in the kids room that night, I think. Next day we were told the “man” had been sighted in that guest room before. Mamlu will remember the gristly details. She has good head for these things.


              1. Whoa, that sounds terrifying! My ghost at least didn’t move! Thank you for telling me about that.

                About my experience – yes, we did ask, and no, nothing had been seen before. The owner was very interested. Colin was totally unfazed but I didn’t want to stay there again!


  2. ” Add to that the blackest, deepest nights of Assam, lots of melancholy rain and vapors steaming off the jungle floor and voila! you have a phantom’s paradise.”

    ” As a child I believed the dead turned into backward-footed entities that prowled the bamboobari shrieking their heads off. I always made it a point to check out people’s feet, just in case” ~

    I love how you write Shona, it’s exactly the way you talk and makes me feel like you’re sitting right here and telling me the story!

    And I lived so many years in Assam but never knew all the different names of the ghosts, even though I saw them more than once!!!


    1. Thanks Mamlu. You always had the sixth sense. FOLKS THIS LADY, MAMLU, CAN SEE GHOSTS!!! She made me see one too. Mamlu, let’s relive that ghost experience we had in Tocklai so I can do blog post. I have forgotten the details.


  3. I was just hunting for old photographs of the Bungalows around Tocklai Experimental station, when I saw your blog. We were there 1958-1965. Our Ayah used to scare us with “Bhoot” stories and would point out towards flickering candles in the Malibari . When we grew up our mother told us that it was the cook who would go looking for herbs etc. with candles. We attended the club school called Brightlands .


    1. Ayahs told the best bhoot stories and Assam has the best bhoots for sure. You were in Assam, the same time as I was. Did you know the Hadfields? I remember the polo field you could take a shortcut to get to the Gymkhana Club. Remember the horse races and the movies? Some of the Tocklai bungalows (on the other side of the track – or was that Cinnamarra?) had several emerald green ponds where I used to fish. So many memories. Thanks for sharing some of yours.


  4. We knew the Hadfields very well. Susan was in the same class with my eldest sister Harmeet (Baby) and Robert studied in my class. Their Bungalow was behind ours . I remember pushing Robert from the swing at school and being punished for it. The Hadfields had a pond or swimming pool. Caroline Johnston was also in my class. Both Mrs. Johnston and Mrs. Hadfield taught us at the club school. Our father Dr. Iqbal Singh Bhatia was in research at Tocklai. My younger sister was born at the Cinnamara hospital.
    I remember the Mickey mouse movies,the piano lessons ,polo on fridays and Fish n chips. We had Dr. Sen on one side of the Bungalow and Dr. Agni and Indira aunty a little away on the other side. The Gokhale’s still further up or down . Sherry Gokhale was also in school with us along with Amit Sen .

    I have vague but beautiful memories of visiting Dr. Hanspal’s bungalow.

    My older sister Harmeet once wrote on the family website about those times. May be I shall reproduce it here one of these days.


    1. You may be interested to know I am in touch with Dr. Sen’s son, Buddha. He is in Huston. We must talk some more because I am doing research on Tocklai for my second book – and you are one of the few people I have connected with of the right vintage. I have also connected with Dr. Rahman – you may know him? More soon on all that. This is most exciting. Cheers!


  5. Hi im gaurav sikdar…i am born and bought up in tea gardens…as my dad is a tea garden manager…i have also felt ghost around my bunglow


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