Kuldhara is an abandoned village situated about 18km southwest of Jaisalmer city in the Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan, India. Established around the 13th century, this village was located on an 861 m x 261 m rectangular site aligned in the north-south direction. Kuldhara used to be a prosperous village inhabited by the Paliwal Brahmins (Paliwal is an Indian toponymic surname from Pali, Rajasthan) until, one night, by the early 19th century, it was left by the entire population, including 85 surrounding villages for unknown causes. Then onwards, Kuldhara acquired a reputation as a haunted site. Although, in the 2010s, the Government of Rajasthan decided to develop it as a tourist spot.
Possible reasons lodged in the 20th century include dwindling water supply or an earthquake. However, the local legends claim that the desertion happened due to the atrocities by the Jaisalmer State’s minister Salim Singh. The story goes like that the evil eyes of the debauched prime minister fell on the village head’s daughter, and he desired to marry her by force. He threatened the entire village with terrible consequences if they did not follow up on his wish. But, instead of submitting approval, the villagers asked for some time and left the land overnight by imposing a curse that no one would ever be able to inherit those villages. Another, more possible story is that as Salim Singh was known for his sinister practice of collecting the tax, he may raise the taxes to such an extent that it became unfeasible for the people to survive in the village, and they decided to migrate to greener grazing land from the reach of the ruler.
Thereafter, to this date, the village remains arid, left almost the same as its inhabitants had left it centuries ago. Nowadays, the deserted, narrow, and ancient streets of Kuldhara are the source of myths and spooky folklore. It is also said that people who have tried to stay there at night have experienced strange paranormal phenomena. Presently, this place is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
In the centre of the township was a temple of the mother goddess. It had three horizontal roads cut through by several vertical narrow lanes. The residues of a city wall are seen on the town’s north and south sides. The eastern side faces the dry-river bed of the small Kakni river, and the back walls of man-made structures protect the western side. Along with the main street of settlements, rows of mud houses exist, with their roofs gone and ruined walls standing there like the skeletons of some sad past. Some residences are still in pretty good shape and have void rooms.
The destroyed abandoned architecture still speaks for a planned settlement along with straight and wide streets running through grids with houses opening into them. A kind of garage space for parking bullock carts, temples, step-wells, structures for rainwater harvesting, and other establishments were all signs of sound development over the centuries. Most of the houses are double-storied and were built not to be affected by thunder or heat. Only bricks were used all over the village as the primary construction material. Elements of vernacular architecture can also be seen through the use of large stones placed one over the other, forming thick walls keeping in view the time lag for cooling during the scorching daytime weather and heating in the cold, shivering nights. The blowing wind from the desert was meant to carry sand particles that got trapped in the void spaces between the rocks.
The inner courtyards of the houses consisting of a small bathtub and a small structure to grow a tulsi plant were designated for women. The outer area was designed for men and cows. An underground cellar was used for storage purposes, but these lie sealed now. The yellow hue of the houses came from the colour of the local mud and sandstones. The floors of the houses were plastered with cow dung and clay, and the roofs were constructed with wood. Each house in Kuldhara was built to the precise calculation, which includes sleeping quarters for the masters and their children, a puja room, and a kitchen.
By the outskirt of the village, they built wells several feet deep, and simple canals drained into them for storing rainwater that would last for the better part of three years. The step-well had dried up by 1850, along with two other deep wells. Most of the other wells went out of function by 1815. In a survey of 1990, it was stated that the only water remaining in the town was the stagnant water at some portions of the dried-up river bed. The landscape of the area is dry and dusty, and it can be realized that even during the contented times, it would have been a struggle to live there. However, the entire village was planned with all design elements keeping both aesthetics and utility in mind.
Kuldhara used to be an architecturally rich place, but now it is just a desolate place with a forlorn look that brings sadness to the heart when one thinks of those unfortunate people who were forced to leave the land of their forefathers. However, the place doesn’t seem to be haunted for any reason other than the perception based on those stories. Though there is sadness in the air, nothing is hopefully cursed.