If you google “the most haunted places in India,” you will come across the name of Dumas beach, which is about 20 kilometres from Surat in Gujarat. The beach’s sand is black, providing fertile ground for stories about curses and dark magic, mass-cremation of bodies long ago, and the unquiet dead guarding their final resting place.
If you actually visit the place, you will find a striking black expanse of sand, the sea lapping at it, tourists enjoying camel and bike rides, and most locals bemused by the ‘ghost’ stories. However, those who live around Dumas beach are indeed scared—of something man-made.
Gaurav and Rocky Patel are brothers in their thirties who run ice-cream stalls at the beach. Neither has heard of ghastly goings-on here. “I have been coming to this beach for the past 15 years, earlier to play and later to work. Never heard of a ghost,” Rocky says.
“About why the sand at the beach is black, they say they have never thought about it. The only other beach I have seen is Juhu Chowpatty in Mumbai, and now that I think about it, the sand there is brown. In movies, Goa beaches seem to have golden sand. But I have never really questioned why the sand here is black,” Gaurav says.
One of their customers, Aniruddha Sinha, 27, an engineer who works in Surat, has read about the ghost stories. “I read online about this beach being haunted. There are stories that visitors at night hear strange voices. Howling dogs try to stop people from walking toward the water. Some tourists have gone missing,” he says.
Vaishali Mohite, 18, a Class 12 student visiting from Pune, has heard her cousin and his friends tell tales about Dumas. “They all study in Surat. They say if you click pictures at the beach at night, mysterious objects show up in the photos. Like spots of light or a hazy outline of a person,” Mohite says.
According to these stories, Dumas was once a crematorium. The sand is black because of the ash from the cremated bodies, and many of these spirits still roam the beach.
Anandbhai Parmar, 55, who is at the Dumas beach with his family, says the sand is black “probably due to the high iron and mineral content” in the ground here. “But most locals don’t really wonder about the colour of the sand. What we do worry about is the deteriorating quality of water. The beach is surrounded by industries,” he points to the outlines of factories visible on one side. “Every year, the availability of fish goes down. I have heard that aquatic birds drop dead for no apparent reason, but it must be because the sea water is polluted.”
The Patel brothers nod at this. “Yes, a friend of ours has been in the fishing business for generations. He says they now have to go deeper into the sea to catch any fish at all. The taste of the fish has also suffered,” Rocky says.
Dumas is an urban beach, close to the heavily industrialised belt of Hazira. Local residents and environmental activists say waste from the industries is degrading the beach, with severe consequences, but no comprehensive study has been conducted to study the damage.
Chandravadan Pithawala, former Gujarat unit president of Akhil Bhartiya Koli Samaj, who belongs to an old family in the region, says, “It is true that bodies were once cremated at the beach. Fishermen would conduct the last rites of their loved ones here, till they moved to crematoriums inside the town. But this haunted business is more of internet creation. I have been going to Dumas for more than 50 years now, and I can say that the danger at the beach is from pollution, from industries flouting norms related to building and treatment of effluents.”
Roshni Patel, an activist who hails from a local tribal community and now works for fishermen’s welfare, says that in October 2020, many dead fish washed ashore at Dumas. “The unchecked industrialisation has threatened the livelihood of fishermen and adversely impacted water quality,” Patel says.
However, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board says the government inspects effluent treatment and acts against offenders. “We carry out regular checks on industries. The Surat civic body too prioritises wastewater treatment. In fact, it supplies 40 million litres of treated sewage water to firms per day. Whenever local environment agencies come to us with useful suggestions, we incorporate them,” says D M Thaker, Member Secretary of the board.