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Tragic Past And Tales Of Suffering: Visit These Dark Tourism Destinations Around The World

On the fateful day of April 13, 1919, a British officer ordered his soldiers to shoot unarmed protesters at Jallian Wala Bagh, a public garden in Amritsar, Punjab. Gathered at the park for a peaceful protest, hundreds of men, women and children were killed without a warning while some were left injured trying to escape the attack. The Jallian Wala Bagh is now a memorial commemorating Indians who lost their lives in this massacre. Entering the park, one can still see the bullet holes visible on the walls and the well where several people jumped to save themselves from the bullets.

Cellular Jail, India

Cellular Jail, India

Often referred to as ‘Kala Pani’ (black waters), India’s Cellular Jail was a colonial prison built by the Britishers in the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, at least 1000 km off the eastern coast of the country.

The British regime at the time used to deliberately ship out the political prisoners fighting for India’s independence to this prison to contain the spread of their revolutionary ideas. It not only was a way to isolate them in the archipelago but was also a way to socially exclude them. This three-storeyed building has witnessed some of the most inhumane atrocities that were borne by the convicts. This jail is now a national memorial and houses a museum, an art gallery and a photo gallery inside it.

Soi Sai Yood Bus Cemetery, Thailand

dark tourism
Image credit: Michał Franczak/Unsplash

Nestled in the realm of ghostly tales, Soi Sai Yood is a frightful graveyard of vehicles. But these are not just any old vehicles; each mangled piece tells the story of tragic ends. Among the victims are teenagers, young adults and even the elderly, all meeting their untimely end in fatal road accidents. This bus cemetery is an unusual spot for dark tourism, and it is not advised to be visited by the faint-hearted.

Kranji War Memorial, Singapore

Dark tourism

A hillside cemetery that pays tribute to men and women who lost their lives in World War II while serving their duty. Located 22 km north of Singapore, this site has more than 4,000 gravestones arranged in rows along the slope of the cemetery. Visiting this dark tourism spot, you’ll find inscriptions on the walls with over 24,000 names of Allied soldiers whose bodies weren’t found. During the Japanese invasion of Malaya, this area was a military camp, primarily where ammunition was stored. Following the attack launched by the Japanese, which lasted for days before they withdrew, Kranji became a camp for prisoners of war and eventually a hospital.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Japan

Dark tourism

The atomic bombings of August 6 and 9, 1945, stand as one of the most tragic events in Japan’s history. The bombings killed over 140,000 civilians in Hiroshima and nearly 74,000 in Nagasaki. Even though these bombings by the USA marked the end of World War II, the tragic event left behind a trail of devastation, both in terms of human lives and infrastructure. Thousands of survivors suffered injuries and radiation poisoning due to the exposure to the blast. In response to this tragedy, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was set up at the epicentre of the explosion to pay homage to the victims and spread the message of ‘No More Hiroshimas’ in the world.

Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, Cambodia

Dark tourism
Image credit: Tourismcambodia.org

It is gut-wrenching to learn the story of an orchard turning into killing fields. Located six miles from the capital Phnom Penh, Choeung Ek Genocidal Center in Cambodia has mass graves of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. Around 20,000 detainees, including children, were tortured at the S-21 prison between 1975 and 1979 and then transported to Choeung Ek. Saving the bullets, as those were scarce during the time, victims were beaten to death with axes and hoes. The reason behind this atrocity was Pol Pot’s (former Prime Minister of Cambodia) ideology for society to start afresh with farmers in control. In the centre of the field sits the 17-storey glass stupa that houses 8,000 skulls that were exhumed from the graves. The spine-chilling tale of this site is reason enough to attract tourists from across the globe.

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, USA

dark tourism

A maximum-security prison, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary served as a prison for military offenders. First sailing into San Francisco Bay was the Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775. Mapping his expeditions, he named one of the three islands he explored as Alcatraces. Later, in 1850, after a presidential order, the island was used as a United States military reservation. Protecting San Francisco Bay, the U.S. Army had built a fortress. The army also had plans to convert the place into a strong base for military sites on the West Coast by installing more than 100 cannons. Towards the late 1850s, the army began housing military prisoners on the site, and for the next 100 years, it continued to be a prison. Eventually, the prison had to be shut down as it could not bear the cost of operations and now is a popular dark tourism destination among travellers.

Catacombs of Paris, France

dark tourism
Image credit: Rijin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the late 18th century, due to the improper disposal of corpses, the local cemeteries in Paris were getting overcrowded, spreading diseases among the people. Dealing with a huge health crisis at that time, the city decided to convert the remains of the dead Parisians into underground ossuaries. These catacombs now house the remains of millions of Parisians, and visitors have the opportunity to explore their history through guided tours.

Pompeii, Italy

dark tourism
Image credit: User:Matthias Süßen, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Another site for people interested in dark tourism is the city of Pompeii in Italy. The cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The release of toxic gas, ash and other volcanic debris made the inhabitants escape their homes. Unfortunately, many people couldn’t flee the site of destruction. Pompeii was rediscovered after almost 2,000 years when only the skeletons of these human bodies were found as the layers of ash and pumice fell on the city. Today, the city can be visited and is a popular tourist attraction for travellers visiting Italy.

Auschwitz Concentration Camps, Poland

Dark tourism
Image credit: Auschwitzmemorial/Facebook

Known as the largest German Nazi concentration camp, over one million Jews lost their lives in the Auschwitz concentration camp. It is remembered as a place of torture, suffering and killing of innocent lives. Established by the Germans in the year 1940, the camp was eventually liberated by Soviet soldiers in January 1945, rescuing 7,000 prisoners. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, over two million people used to visit the museum every year.

Murambi Genocide Memorial, Rwanda

dark tourism

What was once an educational institution has been converted into a Murambi Genocide Memorial, one of the most horrific genocide sites in dark tourism. In 1994, during the Rwandan Civil War, over 50,000 members of the Tutsi ethnic community were slaughtered here. They had sought refuge in the half-built technical college after being told that they would be safe hiding in the building. Sadly, they were misled. Hutu extremists soon descended on the college, leading to the massacre. The memorial preserves human bodies in lime for visitors to know the hardships of the victims.

Chernobyl, Ukraine

dark tourism
Image credit: Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Chernobyl in Ukraine is the site of the world’s most devastating nuclear disaster, which took place in 1986. The nuclear energy accident killed two people the same night when one of the power plant’s four reactors exploded. In the following weeks, 28 more died due to the radiation exposure. The exact death toll is still unknown, but the explosions released radioactive materials into the environment that went far, reaching many parts of Europe. Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, visitors could take a guided tour of Pripyat – the town where power plant workers were housed. Since February 24, 2022, the Russian forces have taken control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant site.

9/11 Memorial and Museum, New York

Dark tourism
Image credit: Wtc.com

Revisit the catastrophic day of September 11 through a collection of artefacts and compelling stories at the memorial cum museum in New York City (NYC). This place bears witness to the tragic events when terrorists crashed hijacked planes into the Twin Towers in NYC in 2001. It resulted in the loss of 2,000 lives. This museum also details the attacks at other places in the US on that fateful day, the personal accounts of survivors and families of victims and the process of rebuilding shattered lives. Over 10 million people have visited this museum since it opened in May 2014, and it continues to be one of the most popular places for dark tourism.

St. Nicholai Memorial, Hamburg, Germany

dark tourism
Image credit: Gedenkstaetten-in-hamburg.de

The St. Nicholai Church ruins have been transformed into a museum and memorial dedicated to the 40,000 victims of the Allied bombing of Hamburg in July 1943 during World War II. The church was extensively damaged in the bombing; the entire building was almost destroyed, leaving some external walls, the crypt and some parts of the tower intact. Visit the memorial to walk through the details of the events that led to Operation Gomorrah, the ‘Battle of Hamburg’.

Source : Travel Leisure