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The Ghost Town of Kuldhara

We had finished a fascinating few hours at the ‘living fort’ at Jaisalmer, roaming around the place, gazing in admiration at the architecture of the Raja Rawal’s palace and the many temples inside the fort , hearing many stories from different guides, no doubt embellished over the years, spending time observing the intricate work of a miniature painter and aimlessly roaming through the narrow streets.

It was a warm day in September and with a satisfying lunch behind us,  all of us lazily gravitated to the idea of going back to our uber comfortable rooms at Suryagarh for a siesta. The Amar Sagar temple could be visited later in the afternoon before the visit to the dunes later in the evening.

As we headed towards the outskirts, our driver, Ram Nivas, who had seriously taken up the responsibility of showcasing as much as possible of his wondrous state of Rajasthan to us, suggested that we squeeze in a visit to the ruins of Kuldhara.

Why not, indeed.

We took the dusty roads to the ghost town of Kuldhara and pretty soon we were at our destination. What seemed to be a rather well planned town lay in front of us. Empty. In the middle of nowhere. Sparse vegetation grew around it with a few shrubs cautiously venturing into the buildings.

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Many of the buildings were in the expected state of disrepair but some seemed remarkably well maintained. It felt a bit eerie. Walking around in a once thriving place now completely empty. And silent.

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We climbed up one of the buildings and looking at the spread of the buildings below us, what struck me was the neat layout of the settlement. Broad, well marked roads, neat, almost geometrical houses. Nothing seemed haphazard. It seemed so orderly and structured.

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Houses even had a parking lot for their vehicles. How quaint. This one still had its ‘vehicle’ parked there.

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Why would it still be there ? Why was it not taken by the owner ?

Most importantly….Why is Kuldhara a ghost town ?

Ram Nivas narrated the story with much relish, though I detected a keenness in not to be seen as having bought into the legend and maintain a level of detachment from it. I wondered if it was because he didn’t want to be seen as a gullible person in front of us city slickers or if it was an honest skepticism about these legends.

Anyway, I  digress.

The story of the ghost town of Kuldhara, ladies and gentlemen.

Kuldhara was a town that was inhabited by the Paliwal Brahmins. They had stayed at Kuldhara for seven centuries. About three hundred years ago, these Paliwal Brahmins were under the rule of a cruel Diwan of Jaisalmer. One day, when the Diwan was out riding, his evil eye fell on the beautiful daughter of the village chief. Completely besotted by her beauty, the Diwan made it clear that he desired to marry her. He gave the village chief a few days to decide and was rather unambiguous about the repercussions if his wish was not granted.

The entire village was thrown into a fix. That evening itself elders from Kuldhara and 84 other villages close by gathered for a council. As Brahmins, the elders decided that they cannot allow the village chief’s daughter to be married off to a Rajput. But it was clear that if they communicated their decision to the Diwan, tough and violent times lay ahead for all of them.

The decision was taken in the council that all of them will leave Kuldhara. All of them. That very night.

Overnight the entire village of Kuldhara was emptied out. Every single villager left their houses with what can be carried with them, leaving behind everything else. No one saw them leave. No one has ever known where they went and where they resettled.

A thriving town one day. A ghost town the very next day.

As I stood on top of one of the ruined buildings looking at the stillness around me I tried to visualize that evening.

The elders discussing the turn of events, presumably under a tree in the dim light of a few lanterns. Decisions being taken that will change their lives forever. Were there disagreements ? Or did everyone simply go by what the elders decided since that was the way it always has been ? How did they make the painful decision on what to leave behind in the houses ? How confused were the children about this sudden turn of events ? Did everyone look at the developments with sense of fatalism or was there panic ? Did the exodus take place in the same manner they had planned their town – orderly and disciplined ?

At home for seven centuries. And now rootless.

And how is it that no one ever knew where they went ? Where they resettled ? And why is it that over the last three hundred years, no one ever came to live here ? Good, well constructed houses in a well planned town, close to the trading fort. It had all the advantages.

But no one ever came. Kuldhara stayed a ghost town.

Mysteries that I guess will stay mysteries.

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