There’s not much of a jungle left in Delhi now but there was a time when Shah Jahan could hunt up to what is now Uttam Nagar, near which he built his Hashtal Minar and elephant house. Before him Firoz Tughlak found shikhar much nearer, like the Karol Bagh Ridge, where he built a mahal for a gypsy woman, who had won over his heart during a hunting trip. So, the tale of Bhuri Bhatiyari-ka Mahal still holds good over 600 years later. Whether Shah Jahan had any such romantic encounter in the jungle is not known but Maharaja Agarsen, who lived during the Lodhi period, did find an “apsara” (female form divine) in the jungle, where he built his famous Baoli, which now exists right in the heart of New Delhi’s Hailey Road. Augustus Somerville wrote a book, Strange Tales of Shikar in the early 20th century. One bought a copy of it while passing time in Old Delhi station to catch a train to Agra, on the way back from Shimla in 1962. It was an engrossing book which, together with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, made the wait in scorching June less irksome.

Somerville recounts the story of a girl, who was murdered in a forest and the police could neither find her body nor any clues to her assailant. But one night, not long after the incident, an Anglo-Indian Mail train driver had to suddenly apply engine brakes on seeing a young girl standing right in the middle of the railway track on a moonlit night and pointing to a spot in the distance. The enterprising driver and his jack (the assistant who shoveled coal into the engine furnace) walked towards the girl but she disappeared. Even so, they went towards the spot to which she had pointed and there, under a small mound, they discovered a body which was presumably of the girl, whose apparition they had seen. The discovery helped the police to catch the murderer and cause the girl to rest in peace thereafter

Cyril Thomas, who hunted from Agra to Gurgaon and was known as Jungle-ka-Bad- shah, once had a strange experience when, after a shoot he tied up the hind legs of a deer and a wild boar he had shot on a tree branch in Korya Khar and lay down to sleep on a crumbling platform like structure as he had got belated and his bicycle tyre was punctured. In the middle of the night, he was aroused from slumber by someone pulling the gun from under his head. As he opened his eyes he saw a wolf-like snout from which emerged blue smoke and octopus-like tentacles. Whenever he tried to push the snout away, his fingers turned painfully backwards. In desperation to retrieve the gun, which belonged to his cousin, a captain on leave from the Army, he uttered the words, “O, God!” and lo, the apparition vanished. Cyril Thomas, who died in 1992 aged 85 and was buried at St Paul’s Church cemetery in Agra, later thought that he had unawares slept on a Sayyid Baba’s grave to whom a pig is repugnant.

The Rev John Robinson, who died in 1945 at a good old age, had a weird experience in the 1890s when he was a pastor in a Rajputana town bordering Agra district. One Thursday while out on shikar, he shot and wounded a deer, which managed to escape in the jungle. The same night a hoary, old man with a long white beard, appeared in his dream on a horse and berated him for giving him a painful wound on the leg during his weekly transformation into a deer. He warned that the priest would not be able to sleep in peace henceforth. Rev Robinson and his wife endured several sleepless nights after that and it was only after a Maulvi gave him an amulet (tawiz) that the couple was able to get over their ordeal. After that Padre Robin- son never went hunting on a Thursday, recollected his son, who passed away in 2007 at his house in Sikandra, near Akbar’s tomb at the age of 85. But he too never entered the nearby jungle for shikar on Jumairat (Thursday).

M Krishnan, wildlife expert, who used to write a column for a Delhi paper, had these two strange stories to relate, which were published on 27 July 1969. “While in the Kalahandi Division of Orissa on a film shooting expedition, I met a local shikari named Dandasena, who told me that sometime in the past a tiger had carried away a woman from a jungle path in the Cossipore area, took her to a shady nullah, made love to her and left her there in a shocked state.” Krishnan, however, adds that tigers have no amatory interests in humans and their anatomy is ill-suited to their ravishing women. He avers that the woman from Cossipore was being just hysterically imaginative. But, he says, “It is quite not beyond the limits of possibility that a man-eating tiger could carry away a woman without actually doing any bodily harm to her. Another story is about a Thakur Padam Singh of Ponhri. “The Thakur sat up over a human kill by a tiger one night and his ghastly vigil was rewarded when the tiger came to its kill and began to feed on it. Just when Padam Singh was about to press the trigger (of his gun) the corpse raised its arm and pointed out the hidden hunter to its slayer,” wrote Krishnan. Bears are also known to sexually assault women, whom they catch unwares in the jungle. Their amatory interest in village beles is well-known. Once a shikari offered to show Krishnan a woman still alive in a nearby village, years after being raped by a libidinous old bear. At that time the woman was quite good looking and so became a victim for the bear, which had probably lost its mate. However, the shikari finally did not show Krishnan the woman as he thought she might not like to be reminded of the incident in her old age, surrounded by grandchildren. Even so, such jungle stories of bears have been reported all over the country, right from the hills of Himachal Pradesh down to the South and from Burma too, before it became Myanmar, with its Wolf-Woman who had entrapped a British official, injured in a fall while riding on a horse to Haflong.

Cyril Thomas was of the opinion that it was quite possible for a bear to rape a woman and leave her in such a state that she could not be in a condition to have sexual intercourse with a man thereafter. “This was because of the throny organ of the bear”. Make what you like of these tales but in 40 villages of Pratapgarh, Jaunpur, and Sultanpur districts of Uttar Pradesh many years ago, the death of 30 children had created quite a scare, with nobody knowing who had done the mischief-man or animal. The authorities blamed wolves and hyenas but the villagers were not convinced and said it was a werewolf (a Jekyll-Hyde- like a human being, who undergoes transformation into a wolf when his sexual instincts or lust for killing is aroused). Well, this is a belief not confined to India alone, for it holds good in Africa, America, and Europe too, along with vampire stories in which corpses drink human blood and revive themselves like Count Dracula. Somerville, an Anglo-Indian shikari of undivided Bengal, seemed to have the best of such yarns in his now not so easily available book. Ruskin Bond is undoubtedly his best substitute in present times for the mysterious midnight “White Lady” and other strange happenings in the hills, but Delhi also has its spooky jungle tales.