A little over 20 kilometres to the west of the desert town of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, lies Kuldhara.
As I take the dusty road that leads to it, I notice the scant presence of human existence. The vegetation is minimal – the meek straying goats have probably feasted on the last bits. The afternoon sun is fiery when I reach the ruined gates of the town. Kuldhara stands desolate and an uncanny silence prevails all around. This village was abandoned by its people 200 years ago.
Why is a once prosperous village now nothing but an abandoned old site?
I spot two shepherd boys and for a paltry sum of Rs. 10 they narrate to me the legend and curse of Kuldhara.
In an era of powerful kings and ministers, about 200 years ago, Kuldhara was home to the Paliwal Brahmins. It was during this time that Salim Singh, the Diwan of Jaisalmer, known for his debauchery and unscrupulous tax-collecting methods, set his eyes on the beautiful daughter of the village chief. The Diwan was absolutely hell bent on having the girl and he told the villagers if they came in his way he would levy huge taxes on them.
Fearing the wrath of the Diwan, the residents of the entire village fled one dark night, leaving behind their homes and everything within them. Kuldhara was abandoned by its very own people. No one saw the thousand-odd members of the village leave. For generations now, no one knows where the Paliwals have resettled. All that is known is they cursed the town when they left – that no one would ever be able to settle down in Kuldhara again.
That curse stays true till date because the town is barren and uninhabited.
The houses are almost in the same condition as they were left behind by their inhabitants. As I climb up the steps of one such home, I can see the entire expanse of the village. Lanes and brick homes, equidistant from each other, are neatly laid out.
I spot a little temple amidst a cluster of houses. Its walls have small niches that once held tiny little lamps.
As the sun sets across the sand dunes, the gates of Kuldhara are closed by the locals of the neighbouring villages.
They believe the ghosts of Kuldhara still haunt the place.
A sudden chill sweeps over me. Is it because of the eeriness of the place or the cool evening breeze of the desert? I’m not quite sure. But the legend and curse of Kuldhara definitely leave me intrigued.
Kuldhara today is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India as a heritage site.