Shivers through your spine as you explore the crumbles,
They say it existed, it isn’t a story,
There used to be a village in its times of glory.
These are the feelings that I would use to describe the Ghost Town of Kuldhara, in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.
Many of us have heard of Ghost Towns – towns that have been abandoned owing to natural calamities, some buried under the sands of time and others left behind with an intriguing tale of their own. Kuldhara for me is one such story – a bustling town emptied owing to an incident, a town that still exists but does not, a town that still whispers its tales as you walk through the ruins.
I had heard of Kuldhara from a friend who had visited Rajasthan. Ever since then, it always intrigued me and with my recent trip to Jaisalmer, I has this as an uncompromisable destination – a definite must-visit place. For me, it was about a lot of questions that I wanted answers to. Why was it abandoned? What was the real story? What is still there? Is it really haunted? Let me start with a history to this Ghost Town –
The story of Kuldhara starts with the settlement of Paliwal Brahmins, a tribe that flourished in trade and was well settled for generations in this place. It is said that Salim Singh, one of the ministers here, had an eye on the beautiful daughter of the village chieftain. He gave the entire village an ultimatum that either they hand-over the girl to him or be ready to face the consequences of not acquiescing to his demands. The village elders asked for a few days to come to a decision. Instead of handing over the girl, the chiefs packed their belongings and vanished from the village overnight. The entire settlement consisting of over 83 villages disappeared – and no one knew where. It is said that while leaving they cast a curse on the village of Kuldhara stating that no one will ever be able to inhabit the place and therein, starts the story of the ghost town.
3 centuries later, this village lies as an abandoned town, 18 kms from Jaisalmer, enroute to Sam Desert. As I entered the gates of the village along with my friends and family, I could not help those little tingles of excitement and curiosity. Not many people visit this village, considering the eerie stories of the ghosts roaming around and some reports of Paranormal activity. The lack of people adds to the mystic of the place.
As you walk along the roads, you will see tons of ruins – of homes that have decayed and fallen down over time, of dusty roads and overgrown shrubs. I ventured into a few of these homes – trying to figure out the layout, all the while wondering, what would it have been like when the Paliwal Brahmins actually lived here. Various thoughts like – where would the kitchen have been, who would have lived in this room, what would have been the view from this windows etc, kept running through my head, adding further mystery to this town.
As we moved ahead, we reached this set of re-constructed homes. Based on what would have been, the Rajasthan tourism is trying to re-create the same environment as what Kuldhara would have looked in its hey days. You can venture into the re-constructed homes to get a feel of the layout and in my case, get a few answers to the questions that were running through my head.
Here I meet this little boy, who self-appoints himself as our guide, insisting that since his parents are from thereabouts and he knows every little story, every little legend and every nook and corner of this town. He re-affirms the story of Kuldhara, adding that the elders in the village did not go with the rest of the families owing to their age and slowly died in the village, leaving behind the curse. 🙂
Another version of this story that seems to be available online is that Salim Singh increased the taxes on the village to a point that the villagers could not take the load and hence, abandoned Kuldhara. When I checked on this with our little guide, he insisted that the first version was the correct one and that the pretty girl was the reason for the villagers to have fled this town. 😉
As we continued to tour the rest of the house – taking in the views from the terrace, the balconies and various rooms, our little guide followed educating all of us on the various aspects of Kuldhara. On top of the building, is a small temple like structure, which may not have been in all the homes but in a few important ones – almost like a small shrine for the family God.
According to our little guide, there is some re-construction happening in Kuldhara where they are trying to create a set-up of what could have been Kuldhara 300 years ago.
Based on the ruins found, the team is mimicking the architectural style and piecing together the long-lost village. Some of the carvings as in the picture above, seem really exquisite…beautiful enough for you to want to pose, take a picture and a memory home. 😉 In a hurry to leave, the villagers are said to have left behind quite a few of their belongings. When this abandoned village was discovered, the remains were pilfered and taken away by the local residents, leaving behind just rubble and ruins that you encounter on your visit.
As we walked away from the re-constructed house, we reached an area that has a huge step well. The step well lies abandoned and in a state of dis-repair. While there is no restriction on entering the same, I would advise against doing so as the step well seems quite steep and deep and has not been used for centuries.
Ahead of the step well, is a regular well – that has not been fenced. I tried taking a peek into the same to see how deep it was but honestly, my heart skipped a beat – for two reasons. One – there was no protection or a handrail to hold while I attempted peeking into the well and two – there did not seem to be an end or a bottom that was visible from where I tried standing. Adding on to the goosebumps, were the shivers of a desolate ghost town. Check out the picture below to know what I mean!!!
The entire area was covered with lots of wells, almost as if there was one for a cluster of families. Curiously, around each well, there were these poles, as in the picture below.
Our little guide admitted his first defeat of his knowledge of Kuldhara – for he did not know why these poles existed and what they meant. Personally, I was quite intrigued by them – with their carvings of deities and some inscriptions that I could not decipher. This is when I wished that I had studied some ancient language and could read what was written. Among the various sculpted deities, I could recognise Lord Ganesha while the other one seemed like Goddess Durga. All the poles around the place were alike. My guess is that it possibly had a religious significance of thanking and praying for the water in the well. 😉
With this, we bid our little guide a goodbye and did tip him off for the interesting company that he gave us. We headed back to Jaisalmer but I could not shake this feeling that I had left with a lot of questions – possibly more than what I had gone with. What happened really? Is there really a curse? Where did the Paliwal Brahmins go? What happened to the girl? How did they escape without noticing – all 83 villages, disappearing overnight is a feat… I guess, I may never know the answer but it is precisely the reason why this place will always remain intriguing for me.
Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, is the closest town to Kuldhara. It is 18 kms away and the best approach to this is road.
There are no buses that take you here. You need to hire a cab to reach here. Cabs are easily available in Jaisalmer for the same.
Kuldhara is often, covered by the Desert Safari operators as a part of your Desert Safari package. Make sure you check on the same.
Like any other town in Rajasthan, the best time to visit Kuldhara or Jaisalmer is between October to February.
A lot of my general tips on Rajasthan can be accessed here. A lot of these would hold true for your visit to Kuldhara.
A visit to Kuldhara is permitted only during daylight owing to the rumours of a Ghost town. Hence, you can plan your visit in such a manner that you visit it on the way to the Sam Desert for this is just a small diversion on the same road.
Sure it is a ghost town, but there isn’t anything spooky about it. So, stay chilled and calm. Remember not to venture out on your own, especially near the well as the entire area is desolate and there are no safety precautions or fencing around.
The tickets to enter this town is available at the entrance. It is a minimum of INR 10 per person and INR 50 for a vehicle.