SCARIEST PLACES IN THE WORLD : Hoia Baciu, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Forget Count Dracula‚Äôs castle; Transylvania‚Äôs really frightful place is a ‚Äėhaunted‚Äô forest. This is Hoia Baciu, just outside Cluj-Napoca, Romania‚Äôs second city in the depths of Transylvania. It has been called the creepiest forest in the world. And The Clearing is, allegedly, the creepiest place in the forest. Warped trees fill this forest, their skeletal figures twisting and spiraling, making it seem as though they‚Äôre contorting themselves to reach out and touch you. An eerie silence fills the air, interrupted only by the footsteps of unseen figures. It defies the investigations of soil scientists and attracts Romanian witches, sword-wielding Americans, and people who try to cleanse the forest of evil through the medium of yoga.

Named after a shepherd who went missing in the forest with a flock of 200 sheep, Hoia Baciu came to international attention in 1968 when Emil Barnea, a military technician, photographed what he claimed was a UFO hovering over The Clearing. What differentiates this story from other UFO claims is that Barnea had nothing to gain from reporting the sighting, and everything to lose. The Communist government equated a belief in the paranormal with madness and state-sabotage, and Barnea lost his job in a country which had no support for the sacked. Today, visitors to the forest report strange symptoms ‚Äď nausea, anxiety, the feeling of being watched ‚Äď and the failure of electronic devices.

‚ÄúEctoplasms‚ÄĚ are routinely seen by joggers brave enough to enter. There are pictures of the forest photobombed by shadowy figures. One shows a man in the traditional dress of northern Romania ‚Äď a very local ghost. One tale tells of a young girl who disappeared into the forest, only to reappear five years later unable to remember where she had been. Another legend speaks of a shepherd who, along with his sheep, vanished within the woods. And, with most places associated with the supernatural, there are also rumors of alien encounters.

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