I had wanted to visit the Nicholson Cemetery in the Kashmere Gate area for long. Having explored Old Delhi, particulalry Chandni Chowk, pretty much, I was intrigued by that part of Delhi which has a British influence.
The Kashmere Gate area of Delhi beckoned me; the events of 1857 have made an indelible imprint over this area.
The more important reason why I really wanted to explore this area was that it is associated with a headless ghost!
Nicholson Cemetery- the house of a headless ghost
Getting to this graveyard was not easy for me, trust me.
I boarded the Delhi Metro from the Red Fort station and got off at the Kashmere Gate terminus. After asking a few autorickshaw drivers for directions, I realized the futility of the situation.
Nobody knew about the Nicholson Cemetery. The reason was apparent- many Delhi walas are first-generation immigrants from other states. I think they have a very little stake in the City’s heritage and history.
I turned my Google Maps on and started on my course. It seemed that the graveyard of the headless man was just 10 minutes away. I began walking.
Have you ever used Google Maps while walking? The experience is quite frustrating, and therefore I asked a few youngsters about this ‘kabristan’. These guys knew the directions and I was relieved. Finally, I sighed to myself, I am getting to somewhere.
But, there were two ‘kabristans’- one for the Muslims and the other for the Christians and they were not quite sure whether they knew the right graveyard.
Finally, one of them requested me to ask a neighborhood pan wala for directions. The pan wala exactly knew what I wanted; he told me that the Christian graveyard is just opposite the Kashmere Gate Metro Station!
I cursed myself- I was all the time moving around in circles!
Finally, at the Cemetery!
The entrance to this 19th-century graveyard is a near hit and miss. Since I was walking, it was easy to locate it. If you are planning to visit this place by car, then slow down to, say, 20 kph to locate its gate.
It was my first visit to any cemetery and I was unimpressed by its unkempt condition.
Tombstones jutted out from the ground surrounded by thorny grasses. Many graves were in bad condition.
I peered at the words written on some of the graves, they belonged to young children! There was no trace of the grave of the headless ghost among them!
As I began wandering among the dead, I was reminded of a few scenes from some Hindi movies; I half imagined that some sepulcher would slide open the stone covering and emerge out.
Now where is that grave of the headless ghost, I muttered to myself.
I got him!
As they say, a traveler never arrives.
I had all the time on my hands to locate this special grave so I kept peering at the inscriptions on those tombs.
Nicholson cemetery contains graves of Indians as well as Europeans. The whites are buried on a higher plot which is covered with weeds and thorns.
I peered intently at the ‘white tombs’ but could not find him. Most of the dead were buried in the latter part of the 19th century and later. My candidate had died in 1857 and was buried in September, the same year.
I thought of going back to the main gate and make inquiries.
It wasn’t required, though.
The caretaker of the graveyard was washing himself at a handpump and beckoned me. ‘What are you looking for, Sir?’
I gave out the name.
‘Oh, him? He lies there..can you see the grills? Brigadier- General Nicholson is buried right over there.’
Indeed, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I was looking for the dead Brigadier in the Nicholson Cemetery all this while.
The headless ghost, you said?
Yes, yes, I did describe him as such.
So here is the real story.
The year was 1857 and the Englishmen were engaged in a mortal combat with the rebels of Delhi. The latter had captured Delhi in June that year and had put many English men, women, and children to death.
The ‘goras’ were desperate to reclaim Delhi which they did after months of careful planning. In September 1857, the Englishmen stormed into Delhi by breaking open the defenses of the rebels. The main center of fighting was the Kashmere Gate area.
This attack was led by Brigadier- General Nicholson, a formidable soldier. He had taken part in the Afghan and Punjab campaigns and proved his leadership skills.
Nicholson was 35 when he led the attack. Did he succeed?
No, and yes.
While his soldiers won the battle of Kashmere Gate, the Brigadier had to lose his life. John Nicholson was shot in his chest by enemy bullets and after lingering for a few days, he passed away on September 23, 1857.
People who live in this area swear that they have seen his headless body wander in the cemetery during the nights. When I checked with the caretaker of this graveyard, even he admitted to this.
Ronald Vivian Smith in his book says that many people believe that Nicholson indeed roams like a headless guy here. Read this link>http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/Creatures of the night/1/74571.html
Nicholson is not dead, ladies and gentlemen, he lives on as a headless ghost in this cemetery.
Would you like to take a tour of this part of Old Delhi? Please let me know. You can book your tour here > http://www.indiatraveltip.com/delhi-india-tour-packages/old-delhi-history-heritage-and-street-food-walk/