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Spend a day with spirits

The afternoon sun is raining fire when I reach Kuldhara's ruined but remarkably well-preserved sandstone entrance gate. As I walk up the desolate and dusty main thoroughfare that leads into the village, I notice the scarce presence of human existence. The vegetation too is equally minimal – the meek straying goats are probably feasting on the last bits. A string of ruined homes, equidistant from each other, are laid out in a neat gridiron pattern. The houses are almost in the same condition as they were deserted by their inhabitants about three centuries ago, the dry climate of the desert act as a catalyst in decelerating the deterioration. As I climb up the steps of one such home to the terrace, past rustic walls adorned with small niches that once held tiny little lamps, I can see the entire expanse of the village and well beyond. Kuldhara stands deserted in the sizzling afternoon sun with an uncanny silence prevailing all around.

Rajasthan portrays the picture of a mystifying desert kingdom with many glorious forts, palaces and villages. But one more thing can be surely said of the state - its various abandoned and haunted places. One such place worth mentioning is the village of Kuldhara- one of the most haunted villages in India. The desolate landscape serves as the fountainhead of myths and spooky stories and further reinforces faith in the paranormal.

The first look of the village is very striking and sad with ruins all over. Wide dusty roads and abandoned sandstone houses on either side of the empty roads depict the architectural marvel of the people who once set up the place. 'Tawarikh-i-Jaisalmer', an 1899 history book written by Lakshmi Chand, states that a Paliwal Brahmin named Kadhan was the first person to settle in Kuldhara. The village was home to the community of Paliwal Brahmins who had been living there peacefully and comfortably for more than five centuries. They were skilled farmers and formed a very knowledgeable community as they even knew the technique of cultivating water-intensive crops like wheat in a desert. But one night, about 300 years ago, the entire community of Paliwal Brahmins vanished overnight mysteriously in the dark, leaving behind a curse that still haunts Kuldhara and prevents the place from being inhabited once again. And today, even after so many years of this incident, the village remains true to the curse as residents of Jaisalmer and many other neighbouring villages have tried to stay in Kuldhara but they haven't succeeded.

Folklore points out that Salim Singh, the then Diwan of Jaisalmer, who was known for his sinister practice of collecting tax, had set his eyes on the beautiful daughter of the village chief and decided to marry her without her consent. Salim Singh threatened the villagers that if the marriage doesn't happen, they would face dire consequences. Instead of directly giving in, the villagers asked Salim Singh for some time and then fled from their houses overnight.

As per another theory, Kuldhara's location became its curse because of which it was abandoned. The village was located bang on the overland trade routes connecting India with Persia and Arabia, due to which the invaders from the north (present-day Afghanistan) passed through this area. To escape the wrath of invading armies, the vulnerable village was abandoned by its inhabitants, as apart from looting the wealth, the invaders also captured and enslaved men, women, and even children.

Whatever be the actual reason, no one knows till date where the Paliwals of Kuldhara went or have since resettled. Some believe that they had gone to a place near Jodhpur. The source of this belief is that the Paliwals left Kuldhara on the day of Rakshabandhan and some of the Paliwal Brahmins presently residing in Jodhpur still do not celebrate Rakshabandhan even today.

At Kuldhara, many strange activities keep on happening which have attracted the attention of many ghost seekers and paranormal believers. People from different part of the world visit Kuldhara to see the dark and spooky side of nature and attempt to unveil mysteriously.

About a decade ago, a team from the paranormal society of Delhi visited Kuldhara and decided to spend the entire night in the village to ascertain the actual state of affairs. The team equipped with their high-tech electronic equipment scanned the entire village and encountered some really strange activities. A device named Laser ray proved that there were indeed moving shadows in the surroundings. One of the members even felt someone touching his shoulder from behind. However, when he turned back to see who it was, he found no one. The team members lived through one of their scariest nights and made a declaration that though they could not concretely establish the ghost-phenomenon they were also unable to deny it.

Everyone loves to hear a good story and a good ghost story definitely has many takers. So, in 2015, the Rajasthan government decided to actively develop the village as a tourist spot. As of date, a couple of houses have been restored and these restored houses display courtyards, kitchen, along with other rooms.

As I am about to leave Kuldhara and head back to Jaisalmer, a sudden chill sweep over me. Is it because of the eeriness of the place or the cool evening breeze emanating from the desert? I am not sure. But the legend and curse of Kuldhara certainly leave me intrigued.

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