Portraits of an Old Man in Kuldhara

In the desert city of Jaisalmer in India is an abandoned 13th century village called Kuldhara. I had gone many years ago on a junket to write about a hotel, when along with another journalist and PR I came upon a curious settlement of honey-hued roofless houses and temples that seemed be at one with the desert they were a part of. The empty village was the erstwhile home for a high caste of Hindus known as the Paliwal Brahmins who were said to have been royal priests thousands of years ago, till they vanished from their home in the matter of a night.

The story of Kuldhara hinges upon the beauty of a woman, the daughter of a Paliwal Brahmin chief and the lust of a prime minister (to a king in Jaisalmer) for her during the 18th-19th century. The Paliwal Brahmins would have none of it and they decided to pack their belongings and leave the village. That is the local lore. Also, that they cursed this village so no one could inhabit it ever again.

Do abandoned villages make your curious? You see traces of lives that must have been, empty fireplaces, pits covered with ashes where the villagers would have cooked their food, the beams on ceilings that must have been constructed out of locally sourced wooden branches, stepwells from where they got their supply of rain harvested water, the temples where they prayed – and you wonder, what could have really happened for them to have abandoned their homes. For would an entire community really abandon the roofs over their heads for the sake of honour? Or could it have been more practical matters such as the water drying up in the vicinity?

The eerie quiet was resounding.

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In that ghost town of crumbling mud houses and remains of walls inscribed with the ancient Devanagari script (it traces its roots back to the 7th century CE), we met one old man. The 75-year-old frail Sumer Ram who guards the entrance to the village that is supposed to still have precious gold coins buried in its vicinity.

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How to get there: You would have to first get to Jaisalmer. On the way to the sand dunes of Sam, you shall spot the village of Kuldhara. There is a sign board that announces its presence in the deserts of Rajasthan.

What to do: Spend time listening to this old man playing his flute which he does hauntingly, explore the 400-odd ruins of the abandoned village and search for the paranormal (Rajasthan Tourism deems it to be a haunted village). If you do spot ’em ghosts, I would say keep a camel handy. Those yellow humped babies can run. One almost threw me off its back once.

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