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World's Most Horrifying Mummies

WARNING: Even the spookiest Halloween costumes and "haunted" houses can't compare to these hair-raising preserved bodies. Don't read this story after dark!

Ivolginsky Monastery

Buryatia, Russia

Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov was the spiritual leader of Ivolginsky Datsan (Ivolginsky Monastery), the most important Buddhist monastery in Russia at the time of his unexplained death in 1927. When Itigilov's body was exhumed in 2002, it was almost lifelike, sitting upright in the lotus position and looking meditative. Ever since, during the annual summer Maitreya Festival and other select times, purple-robed monks display the remarkably composed body of the 12th Khambo Lama under glass on the upper floor of the main temple. The religious complex is about 14 miles southwest from the nearest town, Ulan-Ude, in the Russian republic of Buryatia. While the bus ride is only 35 rubles ($1.15), it's best to hire a guide with a vehicle to navigate and translate, for 1,500 rubles, or about $50. Admission free, Ivolginsky Datsan, Buryatia, datsan.buryatia.ru.

Timbac Caves

Kabayan, Philippines

You'll need a guide to see the 500-year-old Timbac Caves mummies near Mount Pulag National Park—the locals don't like their Ibaloi ancestors visited without a proper chaperone. As it happens, the guides are tremendously helpful. They'll lead you on the two-hour drive (or five-hour hike) to the site, unlock the iron gates that now protect the cave entrances, and pop open the coffin lids so you can see the flaking skin and protruding bones up close. Unlike mummifiers elsewhere in the world, the Ibaloi left the internal organs inside the bodies and merely dried the corpses out with heat and smoke and then bathed them in herbal preservatives. Get additional background and additional mummy sightings back in the village of Kabayan at a branch of the National Museum of the Philippines. Admission to Kabayan Branch of the National Museum of the Philippines about 50¢, admission to caves about $2.30, guide from the visitor's center of Kabayan about $30, Kabayan, 011-63/2-527-4192, nationalmuseum.gov.ph.

Vietnam History Museum

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Step into Room 4 at the Vietnam History Museum, a pagoda-like structure by the Botanical Gardens in Ho Chi Minh City, and glimpse the mummy of Mrs. Tran Thi Hieu, who died in 1869 at around age 60. Found 17 years ago during a scientific excavation, the body remains in remarkably good shape. Researchers identified her based on a silk monogrammed item of clothing with a woman's name on it, which was found next to the corpse. Mrs. Tran is now housed underneath glass and wearing traditional Vietnamese burial garments; her rings, bracelets, and other jewelry are displayed in an alcove. Expect to overhear local visitors muttering "Troi oi" (or, "Oh, my!"). Enough said. Admission about 72¢, 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, 011/84-8382-98146, asiaforvisitors.com.

Lenin's Mausoleum

Red Square, Moscow, Russia

Every 18 months, the body of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (known worldwide as Lenin) is re-coated in paraffin, then re-dressed in a dark, Swiss-made suit, his eyes and lips left carefully sewn shut. His mausoleum on Red Square— once one of the most visited mausoleums in the world—is a stark pyramid of red, gray, and black stone, designed by the Soviet Union's Immortalization Commission. Ironically, Lenin had never wanted his body to be on display, having instead asked to be buried in a private plot next to his mother's grave in St. Petersburg. But his political successor, Joseph Stalin, wanted to showcase the body like a holy relic, presumably to inspire patriotic feelings in the Russian people. Another irony: This temple to Communism is no longer state run, and it's said that Lenin's skillful embalmers offer their services on the private market, commanding sky-high prices for their handiwork on others. Admission free, Red Square, lenin.ru.

Jeremy Bentham's Vault, University College

London, United Kingdom

He may have died in 1832, but students in a campus building at University College, London, can still see English philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham. Bentham willed his body to a scientist in the hope of being useful to the emerging study of anatomy, and he was so keen on this idea that, for years before his death, he reportedly carried around the glass eyes needed to adorn the head. Upon his death, scientists preserved the body, but they swapped Bentham's head with a wax effigy by a French artist. Since World War II, the school has shown the body in a wooden case topped with plate glass; Bentham is wearing his own clothes and holding his favorite wooden stick. Find him at the main campus hall on Gower Street by entering the South Junction and looking for a hall called the Cloisters; the exhibit is in an alcove opposite from the large windows. Admission free, Gower St., 011-44/20-7679-2000, ucl.ac.uk.

 

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