Over 200 years ago, about 84 thriving villages emptied overnight. No one knows where the villagers went, or what happened to them. Intriguingly some of the villages still remain…abandoned! Traces of their existence can be found scattered across the vast Thar Desert!
I am a sucker for folklore. And Rajasthan is a goldmine! So you can imagine my excitement when I got a chance to visit an abandoned ‘ghost’ village. About an hours drive outside of Jaisalmer through decreasing vegetation and human presence was Kuldhara. Once a prosperous village of Paliwal Bhramins – an affluent clan, it was mysteriously abandoned in the dead of the night.
The story goes, that the Diwan (Prime Minister) of Jaisalmer, known for his corrupt and devious tax-collecting systems, laid his eyes on the beautiful daughter of the village head. The Paliwals were given no choice in this matter. If she refused his proposal, he threatened to make life hell for the villagers by levying heavy taxes. To escape his wrath, the villagers chose to abandon their homes and vanished overnight, leaving behind whatever they owned. None of them was ever traced again. On their way out, they cursed the village that it will never be settled again. It is kept rather empty by the ghosts who roam its lanes after sunset. It is said that whoever has tried to settle in, has been chased away by paranormal activities.
The ruins of what once would have been a rather prosperous village scatter around the lone (now renovated) temple giving a glimpse of that era. The village today wears a desolate look with an uncomforting silence. Barren and uninhabited, the dilapidated sandstone houses and dusty roads have an eerie calm, which becomes more conspicuous if your visit coincides with the setting evening sun. Looked after by the Archeological Survey of India, the village is now a classified heritage site and is closed to the public after sunset.
Of course, the folktale is just that, a folk-tale! There is no record of any such incident or any traces of it on the ground. In fact, the old man and his family, who are the ‘caretakers’ of this village, dismiss rumors about ghosts too. It seems, the human tendency to give context to history goes beyond the realms of reality. Nevertheless, the derelict structures in Kuldhara, which have stood the sands of time, are apparitions in themselves! After all, the mystery of the mass exodus still remains unsolved and visiting the ruins after sunset does require special permission and a strong heart.