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As the wind in the desert howls, a sandstorm envelops you with haunted sounds. A bunch of tourists sit in the middle of a near empty camp with ultramodern tents. A fluttering bonfire lights up the pitch dark sky and traditional singers sing in the romantic reflection of the yellow light. Tall men with colorful headgear, royal demeanor and humbling humility sing their souls and the desert completely mesmerizes one and all. As the music drifts away and the tourists get restless, the local attendants are urged to join in and narrate stories from their lives in the desert.

 

Flowing with the mood, the conversation soon moves to ghosts and the powers possessed by haunted spirits. The camp soon divides into groups of believers and nonbelievers and as the powers of persuasion go, the locals turn out to be more convincing than the urban disclaimers. Story after story is narrated as people talk about their chance meetings with ghosts and spirits in various shapes and sizes. Our thirty something cab driver pitches in and starts narrating the story of his meeting with a tantric guru. How he slaved with the well-versed witchcraft guru to witness the power of spirits and finally spent three nights in a cemetery to get lucky. When the spirits came they were more real than he'd ever anticipated, real people--kids, old men with bent backs, young brides in their bridal finery-all real people with unfinished business but all with their feet facing the opposite side. Some spirits came too close to comfort and our cabbie had to use some special exotic materials to woo them away.

Still unconvinced, real proof was sought for all these claims and then suddenly someone mentioned the name of Kuldhara. Kuldhara, a 13th century deserted village on the outskirts of the tourist city of Jaisalmer is considered an existing proof of the power of spirits by the villagers. Charged up by a real opportunity to prove their points, everyone packs into and on top of a huge SUV in the middle of the night hopeful of a meeting with the primitive spirits. After an exhilarating drive through the desert the car reaches the village which is in shambles. A rusty board reminds one that the village has been converted into a tourist spot.

As the story goes, the village used to be the residence of the rich and learned paliwal Brahmins. The daughter of the village chief was a doe-eyed beauty who'd just stepped into her sixteenth spring. The notorious king of Jaisalmer happened to lay his eyes on this beautiful girl and wanted to take her as his wife. The king was famous for his debauchery and some loyal friend tipped the chieftain about his mal-intentions. The entire village of Kuldhara evacuated bag and baggage in one night and all that remained was an empty village without a single soul. As the paliwal Brahmins left, they cursed death upon anyone who ever came to live in that village. Over the years, a few skeletons had been discovered in the village.

As the old watchman, of the gnarled hands and stooped back lifted the lantern in his hand and opened the gate for us, we are informed of his misfortune. We are told he lost his two sons, their wives, his daughter and his own wife to a mysterious illness, all because he decided to visit his ramshackle hut inside the boundary wall of the village. As we entered inside we saw an entire village--empty with broken walls and bricks strewn all around. A self-sufficient village with a deep well, a few temple like structures and houses. Home to people several centuries ago, complete with sleeping, cooking and bathing areas. The feeling was like being at one of those old archeological sites the likes of which you see on Discovery Channel. The dusty little village had long narrow lanes crisscrossing everywhere -don't know whether it was the heightened senses but one could really feel strange faces peeking from behind the walls. A local guy came running, breathless and nervous, saying that he'd heard a woman crying a little distance away. Everyone ran in the direction but all we got was a sense of something else in the air.

We could feel the spirits but never once got to meet them. The believers still stayed believers and the rest came back with a story to tell.

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