Legend of Paliwals and their abandoned and cursed villages is spread across the outskirts of Jaisalmer. Rajasthan tourism has done its bit by converting them into tourists attractions without really disturbing them and maintaining their essence. We visited the villages twice, once during the day and once as part of the haunted trail past midnight. At night, Himmat Singh, our driver who took us on the haunted trail also called ‘Chudail Trail’ was the one who was most scared. It was well past mid night, at the Shiva temples next to a haunted well, we all sat chatting as if it is just a garden outside our homes, but Himmat Singh kept signaling through the car lights that we should get up and immediately leave. We could have reasoned with him that we did not feel anything but then it is all about the belief, if he believed that the spirits inhabited these places and they like to be left alone at night, then his discomfort at our casual attitude was justified. The trail followed a well where it is said many people were killed and thrown, a temple that was closed at night and many cremation grounds with memorial stones and cenotaphs and finally the abandoned and cursed village of Kuldhara, that is in ruins now. Some of my co-travelers felt that the room in village chief’s house felt spooky, but I did not feel any thing – no fear except the fear of tripping over the uneven surfaces in complete darkness.
The legend of Kuldhara has couple of versions. It is said that Paliwal community inhabited the 84 villages in this area. One version says that the ruler of Jaisalmer levied heavy taxes on them and the other one says the ruler was eyeing the girls of the community and one fine day they all decided to leave the place and move away and this was done overnight – leaving everyone wondering about where they went. Before leaving they left a curse for their abandoned houses that no one would be ever able to inhabit them and they will lie abandoned as they have left them, and they do lie the same way even today. A particular house supposedly belonging to the village head, whose daughter was the target of the king has been restored and a room in the house is said to be the place where the chieftain left the dead body of the girl along with the curse. This is the place where some people felt something was there.
At daytime, Yellow stone ruins almost merge with the similar colored sand but the memorial stone and canopies sprout out here and there in the wide vistas of the Thar Desert. We drove up a hill to see the vast vistas of the Great Indian Desert. There was a simple and small temple on top of this hill, and if you went around the temple with your back towards it, you would see the 360-degree view of the vast plane expanse of the desert. Some depressions show the places where water would collect as and when it rains. It was like letting your eyes see as far as possible. At one point we were just about 20kms from the Indo-Pak border.
From here as we drove towards Lodurva temple, we stopped at clusters of cremation places. Some were just stones standing with an image on it – sometimes a man, sometimes a couple and sometimes a man with two women. There were cenotaphs on top of some while others were free standing. All of them had a citation in Devnagari and a date that as per my limited knowledge should put them in late 17th early 18th CE. A freestanding tall stone with a figure of God carved on it indicates a water body close by. How I wish we could document these old techniques of mapping the places and creating markers to help people locate common necessities.
Khaba fort stands on another hillock and can be seen around all sides as you drive towards it the winding road. From top of the ruins of this fort you see another village just like Kuldhara – abandoned but highly organized and urban. Everyone kept telling us about villages, but these ruins indicate an old urban settlement as the houses are along straight lines with roads running in between them, have very similar structures and are very dense. Incidentally stonewalls still stands as if they are outgrown from the foundation, but the almost none of them had a roof on top of them. It does not look like a village from few centuries’ back but urban settlement of ancient times. I would have been inclined to believe them as part of Indus Valley civilization except that there is a fort and the stone has been used in construction instead of bricks. Sanitation system I could not see, but since I spent very little time, it is possible I missed it altogether.
I hope I get to visit this place again with some historian who can explain more than what the tourism industry can.