He has two gleaming white fangs which protrude from his narrow mouth, his lips are bloodstained, and his dark, slit pupils remind you of a snake. He is Count Dracula, one of the most popular fictional characters in the world, created by Bram Stoker in his novel Dracula.
Published in 1897, the gothic horror story tells of a vampire who lives in a castle in Transylvania. The nocturnal creature feasts on human blood and sleeps in a coffin during the day.
Although vampires do not exist in real life, the fictional character Count Dracula was inspired by a Romanian ruler named Vlad.
According to legends, he used to impale his enemies on sharp, wooden poles and drink their blood. After his death, his body disappeared from the grave, and that is how the mysterious myth of Count Dracula was born.
Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania, where the vampire is said to have lurked, is one of the most popular touristic attractions in Romania. Its original name is Bran Castle and it is 25 kilometres from Brasov, a city not as famous as Bucharest, but which draws more tourists for its Dracula appeal.
One summer, while we were on a road trip in Eastern Europe, we entered Romania from Moldova and visited Transylvania.
Although a beautiful country – people in Romania did not come off as very warm or friendly. We blamed the cold, foggy weather, the dark mountains and the long history of oppression in the country.
It was a lovely summer in other parts of the country, but in this particular area, the weather was wet and misty. I cannot say it was not a little frightening.
We reached Bran Castle late in the afternoon – shaken by the cold weather and the cold behaviour of our hotel owner who refused to give us warm water. He also firmly told us that we would be fined $400 if we use any one of our sleeping bags because once a traveller's sleeping bag had bed bugs in it, which had spread all over the hotel.
It was a windy evening and the whole atmosphere was spooky – seemed like darkness had engulfed the whole area like a giant bat with its wings. And there was light in only one place, the castle of Count Dracula! The entire place was glowing in the dark.
We went for dinner and three of my travel mates admitted that neither had they read Dracula nor had they watched the movies. But they were laughing at people's craze about an imaginary creature called a vampire!
The next morning, the sun looked brighter and it had brought some liveliness in our midst. After breakfast, we went to see the Dracula castle, where there was already a long queue of tourists from all over the world.
It was a well-built stone castle whose construction was started in 1377 and it has a long rich history of battle and defence.
Inside the castle, it is well maintained and you can get glimpses of the medieval times and also a good view of the lush green valley from the top tower.
The torture chamber had a collection of weapons and medieval torture tools, including an iron maiden. Looking at them sent shivers down my spine. God knows how many people were tormented with these!
There were tunics and crowns displayed in glass boxes that were used by the royals. One surprising thing about the crowd of tourists was that it was unusually quiet, it seemed as if Count Dracula had cast a spell on them!
We all agreed that we did not want to spend more time in that gloomy atmosphere, and later went to visit the nearby small market where souvenir shops were selling fun items with vampire pictures.
It was quite an interesting trip, but we did not want to prolong it due to the strange atmosphere of the whole area, and soon we headed towards Bulgaria.