Archaeologists start dig in northern India after holy man dreams of hidden gold

Archaeologists began excavating an abandoned palace in northern India on Friday after a popular Hindu holy man said he dreamt 1,000 tonnes of gold were buried underneath.

The dig at the fort of Raja Rao Ram Bux Singh in Daudiakala village, Uttar Pradesh state, started after Swami Shobhan Sarkar relayed his vision of the treasure to a federal government minister three months ago.

Barricades have been erected to control the crowd gathered at the site where a 12-member team from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is conducting the excavation, led by ASI deputy director P.K. Mishra.

Mishra told reporters that the team began excavating on the basis of findings from the Geological Survey of India that suggested gold or silver could be buried.

Deepak Chaudhary, a supervisor at the dig, said "drilling machines had hit something that seemed different from earth" about 20 metres (66 feet) under the soil.

"We can establish it's the treasure only after we dig that deep," Chaudhary told news magazine India Today.

The guru told India media that he was worried about the "collapsing economy of India" and so also wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Reserve Bank of India about the "hidden treasure".

The nation's economy has been slowing sharply under the weight of high interest rates and weakening consumer demand.

"I cried the day I realised that India is going to collapse economically. I talked to my gurus, Late Bhaskaranandji and Late Satsaganandji Maharaj, in my dream," he told India's Mail Today tabloid.

"I told the spirit of the king still roams around the palace and has pleaded to me to liberate it by digging out 1,000 tonnes of gold buried beneath his palace."

"It is a hidden treasure for the country," he said.

The seer performed prayers on Friday and marked out the points to be excavated by the archaeological team, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

Local district magistrate Vijay Kiran Anand said the excavation work would take at least a month to complete.