Despite years of scientific study, some places remain mysterious, their closely-guarded secrets, unknowable. Sometimes, myths and legends are the only explanations that exist.
Words: Efi Hafizah Hamzah
This island off Peninsula Malaysia’s west coast is part of an archipelago of 104 little islands located in the clear blue waters where the Straits of Malacca meets the Andaman Sea.
Steeped in myths and legends, Langkawi is a mysterious place, also known as the Island of Legends. Its most popular legend tells of a young woman named Mahsuri who was married to Wan Derus, son to the Sultan of Kedah. Mahsuri was wrongly accused of adultery, and executed for it; her innocence was later proven when white blood .owed from her fatal wound. Before she died, Mahsuri cursed the entire island for seven generations. Amazingly, Langkawi did not flourish until the seventh generation of Mahsuri’s descendants were born in the late 20th century. Only then did Langkawi begin developing as a tourist destination. It has now become a duty free shopping haven for visitors. Mahsuri’s tomb lies on the island, and is a popular tourist attraction along with other mystical sites like Telaga Tujuh (Seven Wells) and the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden. While many make their way to Langkawi for a tropical vacation, it is common for visitors to become fascinated with the island’s rich folklore, and opt for tours to its mystical spots.
Cusco Region, Peru
Machu Picchu is the most well-preserved city of the Inca Empire, hidden in the Peruvian Andes high on a steep mountain with a flattened top. The location helped it escape the Spanish conquistadors in the earlier years.
Believed to have been built around 1450 AD, Machu Picchu was a secret to the outside world until 1911, when archaeologist Hiram Bingham discovered it. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, the complexes, plaza, platforms, citadels and what appears to be ceremonial temples were created with incredible architectural precision that continues to baffle modern researchers.
Considering the limitations on structural developments of the past, the architectural know-how of the Inca seems to be hundreds of years ahead of its time. So much so that some theorise that aliens may have played a role in helping the Inca build Machu Picchu.
The stones carved to build this city fit together so tightly that even a knife blade would not be able fit between them. Modern scientific minds continue to modify, correct and mould the legend of Machu Picchu. Some say that it was a defensive stronghold against enemies, others that it was a retreat built by and for the Inca ruler Pachacuti and the elites to escape noise and congestion. What is evidenced by diverse ceramics and objects discovered is that Machu Picchu was a place that attracted people from all over the empire. Its history may have been pieced together, but the wonder of how Machu Picchu was built, remains unknown till today.
Yemen (Indian Ocean)
While Socotra Island was used as a trading port by the Africans, Arabs and Indians as far back as the 3rd century AD, it was cut off from the rest of the world for a very, very long time.
In 2001, Socotra Island was thoroughly studied by a group of Belgian speleologists who unearthed many surprising facts through scriptures, cave inscriptions and drawings, historical documents and archaeological objects.
Socotra was even mentioned in The Travels of Marco Polo; although Marco Polo didn’t pass anywhere near the island. One of his stories describes the inhabitants of Socotra as baptised Christians with an archbishop who has nothing to do with the Pope in Rome, but is subject to an archbishop who lives at Baghdad. The natives of Socotra Island then were Nestorians, who practised ancient magic rituals.
This mysterious archipelago comprises one large island surrounded by little islets in the east of the Horn of Africa and south of the Arabic Peninsula. Its name is derived from the Sanskrit word dvipa sukhadhara, which means ‘island of bliss’. It is interesting that a third of the flora on this island – for example, the umbrella-shaped dragon blood tree, bottle tree and cucumber tree – cannot be found anywhere else in the world. This makes the island seem as though it were an alien planet. It has since been commercialised as a tourist attraction. Its clear azure waters, intriguing marine life, and almost untouched surroundings beckon discovery.
Kuldhara, a village that is about 15 kilometres west of Jaisalmer, is also known as the Ghost Town. It has been abandoned since the 1800s, and according to legend, the villagers vanished one quiet night in 1825, along with people from 83 of its neighbouring villages.
It is said that the village was established in 1291 by the Paliwal Brahmins and enjoyed great prosperity. The Paliwal Brahmins were known for being skilful businessmen, especially in agriculture.
According to legend, the state minister Salim Singh fell deeply in love with the daughter of the Paliwal Brahmins’ village chief, and threatened to levy heavy taxes on all villagers should his marriage proposal be denied.
Troubled, the Kuldhara village chief called for a meeting with all the other village heads. They decided to abandon their home and emigrate elsewhere. Apparently, no one in the district saw them leave or pass through their area. The villagers just vanished, cursing anyone who should try to live in their former homes with death.
What remains of Kuldhara today are the ruins of what was once an organised and beautiful home to the Paliwal Brahmins. There is an eerie silence as you walk through the village. While no one has dared to live there, it has become a popular spot for backdrops in Bollywood movies including the recently released Agent Vinod starring Saif Ali Khan.
Stonehenge is possibly one of the most mysterious sites in the world. Located in Wiltshire England, it’s composed of 82 bluestones that surround a circular setting of immense standing stones weighing up to four tonnes each, and believed to have been raised around 2500 BC.
Folklore has it that the Heel Stone, a 5-metre tall stone that sits just outside the main entrance to the Stonehenge, was brought by the devil. According to folklore, after placing the stones in their formation, the devil said, “No one will ever fi nd out how these stones came here”. Upon hearing this, a friar replied, “That’s what you think!” In anger, the devil threw one of the stones and it struck the friar in his heel and became embedded in the ground – hence, the Heel Stone.
Scientists have tried to explain the purpose of Stonehenge for centuries. In March 2013, scientists from the University College of London, who had been studying fragments in the area for 10 years, claimed that the Stonehenge was a burial ground built by thousands of ancient Britons, and not the astronomical observatory or place of worship it was previously believed to be. The scientists found 50,000 fragments of cremated human remains in just one of the 56 Aubrey holes (named after the 17th century antiquarian, John Aubrey). A documentary detailing the years of study was aired on British television in March 2013. However, the findings remain merely one of many theories.
Pyramids Of Giza
The Pyramids of Giza never cease to prompt questions and inspire studies and theories. They are closely-related to the ancient Egyptian belief that after death, the soul continues its life in a different form, in another dimension.
These grand burial structures symbolise the power and importance of the pharaohs, whose souls the Egyptians sent off with the respect befitting their status as ‘living gods’ along with treasures and comforts for the afterlife. The pharaohs were embalmed and preserved.
The peak of the pyramid was built to aid souls in their ascension to heaven. The grander the pyramid, the more important was the deceased when alive. The most famous, enigmatic and mystical of these buildings is the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Giza, west of Cairo. People have wondered if this tomb and its glorious design might hold one of the great secrets of civilisation. The pyramids of Giza are said to have been built between 2800 BC and 2200 BC, with the one for King Cheops built around 2500 BC.
To build the Pyramid of Cheops, which stands 147 metres high and covers 30 acres of land, it is estimated that the expertise of 4,000 builders and tens of thousands of labourers would have been needed. To quarry and assemble the 2.5 million blocks of limestone used that weighed some 6 million tonnes, it would have taken 30 years!
While its structural and architectural secrets have been calculated, more within the tombs await discovery. Over the years, the structures have become fragile and further excavation may cause them to collapse. Shrouded in mystery, not all of its esoteric features may be revealed. This is perhaps one of the many reasons why the Pyramids are one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The Bermuda Triangle is located between Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Florida, USA. It is a strange spot that has been said to swallow whole ships and even airplanes, and often, the people within them. For years now, there have been many inexplicable reports of such vehicles going missing and people disappearing as they travel over or through the Bermuda Triangle. After leaving Barbados in 1918, and sailing through the Bermuda Triangle, the USS Cyclops and its crew of 309 went missing. In 1945 during a training flight over the Atlantic Ocean, five TBM Avenger bombers went missing. A decade later, a yacht that had survived three hurricanes while sailing through the Bermuda Triangle was found; all its crew were missing.
Researchers have sought to rationalise these baffling disappearances with explanations ranging from compass variations, gulf streams and rogue waves, to conspiracy theories involving pirates and human error.
However, none of these theories have been accurately proven. It’s possible that the Bermuda Triangle is no different than any other part of the ocean. It’s also possible that these reports may have been exaggerated. But it’s also possible that there could be unknown forces at play.
The allure of Sedona – located 193 kilometres north of Phoenix, Arizona, between the counties of Coconino and Yavapai – is legendary. Visitors have said that this place emits a supernatural energy unlike any other. This small, tranquil city with less than 11,000 dwellers is a big attraction particularly within New Age circles.
Sedona is said to be a place of vortexes, UFO sightings and Native American legends featuring supernatural beings. There’s even been talk of hundreds of frogs mysteriously appearing on roads here.
Sedona is also home to stunning sandstone formations known as the Red Rocks. These hills of verdant pine and juniper trees glow an eerie red and orange when the sun rises and sets. The natives of Sedona claim that there’s been military and paramilitary presence in the back canyons, although no base exists there. They have seen unmarked helicopters flying out from the area and back – sightings that have contributed to speculation that Sedona attracts UFOs. More than that, Sedona seals its reputation for unexplained happenings as many tourists have experienced strange phenomena here.
Moai Of Rapa Nui
Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is a Chilean Polynesian island in the southeast of the Pacific Ocean. It is famous for its collection of statues with exaggerated heads called the moai, that tower over 10 metres tall with the heaviest weighing a hefty 86 tonnes.
Today, researchers still have many questions regarding the history of the Moai. The only info researchers know for sure is that the monolithic figures were carved at Rano Raraku, the main quarry across the island. But how 887 Moai statues came to sit on stone platforms called ahu on the Easter Island, remains a mystery. Who created them remains an even bigger one.
One theory is that the civilisation who built them lived on the island for a very long time, but either left the island because they’d depleted its resources or were exterminated. Theories abound, yet none seem to provide a plausible explanation. At the quarry site, there remain many unfinished Moai statues; one of which, if completed, would have been approximately 21 metres tall and weighed roughly 270 tonnes!
Roswell, Chaves County, New Mexico, USA
A series of controversial events are said to have occurred here in 1947. Conspiracy buffs claim that the US military recovered the remains of a crashed extra-terrestrial spacecraft (UFO) and its occupants, and then covered the whole thing up.The alleged event remains one of the world’s most popular conspiracy theories with references appearing in films, books and other media.
Mount Marapi, near Bukit Tinggi West Sumatra, Indonesia
Legend has it that the Minangkabau people were the first settlers here after their ship landed on the mountain that was described back then as being the size of an egg surrounded by water. The volatile volcanic mountain is said to be both sacred and haunted.
The Himalayan region
Sightings of mysterious lights have been reported in this region.This mystical occurrence is tied to Hinduism; Lord Shiva is said to live on Mount Kailash and the lights are considered testament to his existence.Tibetan Buddhists believe the lights to be a sign of a higher dimension called Shambhala where celestial energies emerge as light.
Route 66, Galena, Kansas, USA
This 18km route is filled with tales of ghouls, possibly due to an abandoned bordello along the highway where the madam, Ma Staffleback, and her three accomplices, robbed and killed many clients.