The Mystery of Bukit Timah Tomb and Hungry Ghost Howls
What are the secrets of the caves in Bukit Timah Hill?
Written by John Kwok, PhD candidate, History researcher
A thick mystery has canopied SPI for some years. It all started from a posting made at SPI forum in year 2004. Further speculations related to hungry ghost haunting, by other postings added on to the thickness of the mystery. It goes by the original post that tells a personal experience of a forum user that he supposes in Bukit Timah Nature Park there are two caves (actually there are three) which were used as torture chambers by the Japanese, hence spooky and haunted.
First cave, second cave, third cave, they are about 50 meters apart
Here is the original post:
Posted: Wed May 26, 2004 3:36 pm
I went to Bt Timah hill at last Saturday with some small primary school boys. (I had to accompany them and lead the way) During their rest time, I went to explore the cave path with a teacher and i found two caves. The teacher said that it was one of the torture chambers used by the Japanese during the world war II. I tried to look inside and i saw water dripping there. It was quite spooky inside there too
Based on the gruesome concept of “torture chambers” which implies horrendous death took place, the caves became reputably haunted. Following up this idea of killing place, some vivid details of haunting were toted up in our forum and public writing into SPI mailbox.
1 & 2. Torture cave in Baigonguan, China. The cave was used to be air-raid shelter.
Later it was converted to a prison that used to torture political prisoners. More info here.
3 & 4. Artist impressions of people being tortured during the war
To sum up, hearsay has it that during hungry ghost month every year, one can surely encounter paranormal at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR). The descriptions of haunting go like this: “when walk near the caves, you can hear ghost howling. They are the cries from the souls of the victims wronged to die during the Japanese cruel torture. Not only you can hear the howl, you can see their faint apparitions flashing around when you peep deep enough into the dark cave like an endless pitch.”
Scary as it sounds. There is more of it. The rumour says near the caves, there is a mass burial grave that belongs to the victims killed in the tortures. Many dead bodies were conveniently dumped into such a big hole, and covered with thin soil at each round of killing. This is said to be a military secret during the WW2 which not many people know. No offering was given because it wasn’t known by many. So the poor souls howl and cry, most fiercely especially during Lunar Seventh Month. That is the only period of time hell gates open and they can come out to mourn for their return of justice.
When zoomed into the very end of the cave, a ghostly face appeared in the pitch darkness.
Is the face just a manifestation of random rock patterns or a supernatural sign? You’d be the judge
If you look carefully, you’d see the left eye is weeping, and the expression is bearing in grief
The four photos are again taken at different angles.
Another related paranormal incident to the caves and mass burial is at the Bukit Timah quarry. In the 70′s and earlier, the quarry was still filled with water collected from the hill, ideal for swimming. It was known as a popular public swimming place as some elders might still remember.
It served as a swimming pool until several drowning cases happened. Lately the quarry was sealed off from entry for safety reasons, let alone swimming in it. The deaths were attributed to the water ghosts in the water who so-called “looking for substitutes of their death” for their chance of reincarnation.
During Hungry Ghost month, it was such an Old Wives’ Tales that swimming is tabooed especially in the Bukit Timah Quarry. Well, the ghosts were also rumoured to be those victims murdered during WW2 at BTNR. The ghosts would pull the legs of the swimmers and made them drown at the water quarry.
So in summary, the haunting by the hearsay is listed as below:
- Caves were used as torture chambers by the Japanese soldiers
- Many killings occurred but the dead were not given a proper burial
- A mass burial grave was made somewhere near the cave, but was forgotten
- Ghosts did not receive proper offerings; the unrest souls are out to haunt the living
- One haunting is at the cave proximity, where vengeful ghost crying can be heard and dark apparitions can be seen
- The other haunting is connected to the Bukit Timah Quarry that is a stone throw away; the forgotten ghosts since cannot receive proper care of religious rituals they pulled the legs of the swimmers, each man killed the ghosts receive a chance to reincarnation.
- The ghost of the drown swimmer in turn, would have to kill another swimmer to reincarnate. Such is a vicious cycle.
In order to solve this thick mystery, we untangle it by breaking down the research tasks:
What are those caves? What were they used for? Was it really being used as torture chambers? Are ghosts really in there? What actually caused the swimmers to die? What are those crying moans and what are those flashing dark apparitions in the cave? (Assume that the cries and sightings were really perceived by the story tellers, and they were not exaggerating).
SPI team recently checked out the caves, as well as interviewed a passerby at BTNR. Starting from the Cave path, follows a winding forest path Tiup Tiup Hut trail, one of the longer and less popular routes to the summit. We found three caves, at about 50 meters apart. The caves run very deep, man-built, about 2 meters wide and 2 meters tall.
Graffiti on the wall. What are these words? (Close up here) Vendalism or clues to the reasons of the metal gates?
He said here is haunted by many spirits?
On that day when we investigated the caves, we crossed path with a roughly 50′s years man who was wearing a plain vest and shorts. This man told us that the place is very haunted, full of spirits. But to him, the spirits are pitiful entities by his Buddhist religion. He told us he frequently went there for the purpose of reciting prayers to them. We tried to ask further about what spirits and where the spirits are. He gave us a short reply “they are everywhere here” and left swiftly.
SPI bumped into a religious man who believes many spirits are in the forest. At the same time, he also mentioned that this place is called “” which literately means a small bridge over moving water. It is said to be a sacred place with strong and ubiquitous energies. The running water that forms a little stream is claimed to have healing power. We saw a couple came moments ago with water pals to carry away the water. They immersed their bodies under the stream, getting wet head over heels. Cooling as it surely is, how real might the healing power be?
To run an instant experiment, Kenny soaked his fresh wound on the arm that was accidently sratched during the forest exploration just now. Besides it washed the dirts away from the wound, no miraculous healing effect was observed yet. In order to have a more objective assessment, we collected a bottle of water sample to be sent for laboratory water quality tests. Is it really a supernatural elixir of life or just plain H2O with may be some extra mineral contents? SPI rationally verifies.
A holy place in the forest as perceived by some people, filled with spiritual energy.
It is however just a part of the old water catchment facility;
In the first photo, did you notice there is an orb some distance off from the bridge?
A scary face can be seen when it is enlarged.
Ghost pull your legs at Bukit Timah Quarry
On another occasion, we investigated the Bukit Timah quarry. The water level was about waist deep; but the rock formation on the sea bed filled with many pits. In other words, the bottom of the water quarry was not flat. One may accidentally step on the deep pits, either sink straight in or trapped in the soft mud. The mud is like a big suction to the swimmer’s foot. With panic and acute fear set in, the more the swimmer struggled the more he sank with the quick-sand effect.
Anyway, this is not verified as we can never take a risk of putting a human experiment at the water quarry. But from the photo records of Bukit Timah quarry in the early days, we got to know that the rock formation on the bottom is full of very ragged granites.
SPI discovered a strange solitary tomb
SPI team is climbing up a slope just before they discovered the tomb.
Along the way, in three consecutive photos, an orb is observed.
It is not known whether it is the same orb all the way. Close up shots are here: orb 1, orb 2, orb 3
1. This is the Empresses stone tablet behind the main tomb, kind of coarsely built;
2. Some plastic bag debris remained there – possibly somebody came before long time ago;
3 & 4. Is this tomb the landmark to the treasure cave? We continued the search around the proximity
There is an incredible discovery when we were investigating the caves. From the direction where the wind howls into the cave, we observed a steep slope. A strange impulse motivated us to risk climbing down the slope.
After a challenging climb, we were stunned of what we saw – a Chinese tomb was standing at the alcove of the slope. It was never known in any written document that BTNP ever was used to be a cemetery. It is an enigma why there was such a tomb.
The analysis and the debunks
Pertaining to the mysteries listed below, we analysed our findings by rationally reasoning:
Debunking Mystery 1: Ghosts haunting at the caves and the quarry?
As for the haunting of the quarry, SPI by an on-site investigation, found that the bottom of quarry was not made flat, but full of ditches and lose sands. Quarries are so dangerous to swim in because there are different layers in the bottom. There could be boulders in places, or drop off sharply in other places. The pitfalls plus the fear by the hungry ghosts are the culprits responsible for many deaths.
The bottom of a quarry which is full of dangerous ragged rocks before water filled in
The ghostly cry and apparition sightings at the caves could be due to the echo of the wind blowing into the cave and the appearance of the wild animals in the nature reserve respectively.
Quoting from Npark, BTNR indeed has a variety of wild animals not very commonly known to the public:
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve has been untouched for almost the past 180 years. The 163-hectare reserve retains one of the largest tracts of primary rainforest left in Singapore.
“The forest is also home to more than 500 species of animals, including butterflies. Keen observers may spot the Common Treeshrew (Tupaia glis), the Flying Lemur (Cynocephalus variegatus) and with just a bit of luck, the nocturnal Pangolin or Ant-eater Manis javanica).”
Other animals that are common there includes:
- Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis)
- Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus)
- mildly venomous Oriental Whip Snake (Ahaetulla prasina)
- Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus)
- Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga sipahaja)
For example, as an experiment here, can you see what the dark apparition is in the photo?
If you click on the thumb image above you will see a dark shadow;
But if the photo is brightened up, clearly the apparition is not a spook.
So lighting condition plays a large part in those so-called ghost sightings.
Furthermore the section of path along the Path Trail and the Tiup Tiup Trail is densely forested. The canopy of tall trees shades off most of the sunlight making the area eerily dark even during daytime. So it is very likely that those dark apparitions being spotted are merely birds and wild animals in the jungle. Bats could have lived inside the caves too.
Debunking Mystery 2: What are the caves used for, torture chambers?
No record ever found in Singapore, caves were used as torture chambers. It was just rumoured from hearsay at SPI forum. Common sense can tell that it is not justifiable to built three caves with deep tunnels, just for torturing people. The sizes of the tunnel that measures no larger than 2 x 2 meters wouldn�t make a good space for torturing. Also, why not just conveniently tied up the victims on a tree for tortures in an open space? Many places in a jungle can be used for torturing, such as those jungles at Burma when many POWs were tortured in the Death of Railway.
The effort for digging into solid granite for three cave tunnels seems to serve a better purpose. A brief search on the internet yields some preliminary results of mentioning that the caves were used for storing supplies and ammunitions during the Japanese occupation by the Japanese army. The same was told to SPI by making inquiries to the information help desk at BTNR too.
Lets examine the structure of the cave, especially the flooring.
There seem to be some broken fragements of slates on the ground.
Does this imply it used to have a solid ground over which heavy items (on wheels) can easily be transported?
1. The cave is somehow shaped like a funnel with a wide space at the front;
You can see that the side walls are almost vertically flat;
2. In one of the cave, there is a strange light somewhere in the middle; See enlarged;
Does it mean there may be an opening somewhere over the top of the cave tunnel?
3 & 4. To verify this, SPI climbed up over the cave and did some carpet search.
This makes sense because an underground shelter provided by the cave tunnel is an ideal shock-resistant storage place for ammunition. The usage of these cave tunnels were generally believed in this way, although a bunker would a preferred choice. However, upon consultation of Dr John Kwok, a lecturer from an Australian University, as well as our SPI Advisor, John found some records of oral interview (accession number 002849) at Singapore National Archive that indicate otherwise. The caves were not likely built for storing supply and ammunition, but TREASURES by referencing to the records. And the tomb discovered by SPI is the “key” to the secret treasures!
According to a Japanese WW2 veteran, whose name was HIGASHIURA Yoshifumi, there were 3 caves that were dug by the Japanese soldiers in the forest of Singapore, believed to safe-keep Singapore’s artifacts and treasures. The interviewee was one of them who dug the caves.
He also said that near the caves would be “a stone marker with red words” when being asked on how to find the caves. We suppose there was no prominent landmark or special feature that can identify the location of the caves, so that the Chinese “tomb” that has a front stone slab with red words was taken as the key position marker.
Here is the synopsis of the oral interview record by Higashiura Yoshifumi at National Archive:
Interviewee ordered to dig three caves in forest of Singapore. Believed caves were meant to safe-keep Singapore’s artifacts and treasures. Described the structure of the tunnels. Interviewee believed that treasures were kept within. Described the location of the tunnels.
This is John’s observation. The National Archive interviewer was asking him where the caves are. He replied vaguely… like “100 meters further deeper in the jungle and go around the hill. Go to your right, when you find the marker with red words, the caves are there.”
Each cave was described to be at least seven to eight meters deep. They were dug sometime in 1944. The tone of the interviewer was like pressing him for information. On one hand it sounds like the ramblings of an old man. On the other hand, he sounded very sure about those tunnels.
So quite clearly, if the Japanese veteran was telling the truth – the caves are built by the Japanese to hide the treasures and artifacts of Singapore. Those treasures probably were looted during the Japanese occupation time. How true and believable this account can be? By referring to the legend of Yamashita Gold in Philippines, many similar caves were dug for storing loots of treasures.
Illustrative photos that resemble how treasure caves look like
Why then the Japanese needed those cave tunnels to store the treasures? Wouldn’t it be better if can get them transported directly back to Japan during the occupation? Well, by 1943 the Japanese were no longer in control of the seas… It doesn’t make sense to bring in something that valuable here when you know it’s going to be lost to the Americans anyway. It however could be a good contingency plan that they temporarily hide the treasure in a very secret place (like the three caves with relative unnoticeable entrances in a thick jungle) with only the tomb being the marker “key”.
And coincidentally, the caves were dug in year 1944 that was about a year later when the Japanese realized that they no longer can take the sea route safely to send home the treasure. Hence the contingency plan of burring the treasures in a secret location took place, in the hope of recovering them when the war was over in the future.
Chronologically it goes like this:
End of 1941, the Chinese tomb was erected
1942, Japan invaded Singapore, probably looted certain amount of treasures
1943, Japan started to lose power in sea to the Americans, sea transportation of treasure may not be feasible anymore
1944, Japanese army dug the caves for hiding the treasures
Subsequently, by the old Japanese soldier’s account, the tomb was the “key” to the caves.
Debunking Mystery 3: Why a Chinese tomb was found at BTNR?
It seems like the tomb fits the description of a marker with red words in the account of oral interview at National Archive. In this case, the tomb may be established with a significant reason – as a marker to the treasure cave, if it is not a coincidence that it happened to be there.
Observing around, there are no other tombs around implying that the area was not meant to be a cemetery. Compared to the famous “Water Tomb” at McRitchie Reservoir which was believed to be built because of the Feng Shui environment facing the water, the tomb at BTNR is just a simple tomb without any Feng Shui resemblance.
Furthermore, the tomb at BTNR looks quite “make-shift” as if it was built in a hurry. You can see the inscription of the BTNR tomb tablet was quite sketchy too, but the words are in red-paint.
Perhaps this solitary tomb was deliberately erected there as a marker telling the position of the secret caves. If so, this must be a clever idea as tombs are common objects which people would not pay much attention about (except may be SPI : ) and to the traditional Chinese concept, people would leave tombs alone out of respect.
This is just a speculation anyway. However, the year when the tomb was established might give some clue: 30th year of Taiwan national calendar, 29 December. Converting to western calendar, that was the end of year 1941. That was the year even before the Japanese aggression army set foot in Singapore.
Therefore, the tomb shouldn’t be erected by the Japanese as a disguise of a position marker. It is nevertheless possible that the Japanese might have discovered this tomb in 1944, and conveniently used it as a position marker to dig the caves. The tomb, as well as the caves, are facing direct East as found by SPI.
So why the tomb was located there which later made use by the Japanese army to dig caves and hid treasures?
It is still a mystery.
Perhaps you can help us to unlock the mystery…
Close-up of the words which are clearly shown on the tomb – Do you know who this Madam Hsu is? We would like to hear from you to complete this mystery.