Ghosts of the past
|The entrance of Kuldhara... a ghost village inhabited by people around 200 years back.|
“Give him money and he will tell you stories,” informed our driver-cum-guide pointing at the smiling old man sitting at the entrance of Kuldhara village in Jaisalmer. Spend a few days in this desert region of Rajasthan and you are bound to get used to barren patches, scanty civilisation and endless stories.
The past literally comes alive here with the remains of history so vivid, that it gives you goosebumps at times. And Kuldhara was the perfect example of this fact! Imagine standing at the centre of an abandoned village, which was buzzing with habitation around 200 years back and was suddenly deserted by its people one fine night. The few families who tried to reside here after that bizarre incident suffered such unusual deaths and fatal illnesses that people gave up the idea of settling in this now ghost town, with the fear of it being cursed, we were told.
An eerie feeling gripped us as we walked past a line of broken rock structures that looked like houses (owing to their little openings, making up for doors and windows) across empty lanes. These form the existing infrastructure of Kuldhara along with the ruined village’s only properly built structure -- a temple.
We were brimming with questions as we toured this uncanny stretch of land. Who were these people? What made them flee from here and where did they go? The old storyteller-cum-snake charmer had his own version of history vis-à-vis our driver’s. Kuldhara, apparently, was inhabited by Paliwale Brahmins, a community that was credited to turn the Thar Desert into an oasis in the 13th century. They were a coveted lot for their ability to grow a water intensive crop like wheat in the desert region. But their brilliance brought upon unreasonably high taxes from the then Maharajas.
|Kuldhara's temple... the only built structure in the abandoned village.|
Unable to bear the tax burden and constant harassment from the king (it is believed that dead cattle was thrown into the village’s well, leaving the villagers with no water), people from 84 villages fled in one night. Listening keenly to the white bearded man’s narration, we approached a house in the village which had just been rebuilt. The small dark rooms in there seemed to hold a lot more secrets. And my co-traveller perhaps decided to unleash some of them. She went in one of the rooms and came out screaming. A bat had just flung past her.
On our way back, our driver told us his side of the story. How the Maharaja then had fallen for one of the village girls and threatened Kuldhara’s chief that he would double the tax if the girl was not given to him. Their pride and honour being above everything, the villagers thus fled. I thought of the creepy silence that surrounded Kuldhara… the bare minimum ruins and not a soul in sight.