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NOTE: The following post comes immediately after our epic adventures with camel buddies Hrithik Roshan and Carlo in India’s Sam Desert, as posted here. [Unless otherwise indicated, all photos are ©Janine Smith & Jayalakshmy Ayyer]

These thinks are a little tough to manage.

“Nooooooo!” I squinted at the time shown on my phone. It would be another hour before our tents would have hot water—a useful info tidbit the adverts for our desert tent stay’s online brochure failed to mention when they promised “…luxurious and Unique Camp accommodation which are carefully established, similar to the camps establishment of ‘Rajasthan Royalty’ from Mewar”.

Possibly my favorite India sign yet. “These thinks are a little tough to manage.” Words to live by…

Another thing they don’t tell you is deserts can be cold. Freezing, in fact. How did those old Rajasthan royals stand it? Bundled into coats, hats, and gloves over our pajamas, we shivered our way over to the deserted food hall in the predawn shadows.

A shocked waiter setting out plates on empty tables told us he’d bring hot coffee. He came back with chai instead, already sweetened with enough sugar to make our teeth ache. We drank gratefully, showering him with so much praise he was back almost immediately with the full breakfast we were not supposed to get for another hour.

Caffeinated, we went back to our tents for hot showers those maharajas of old could only have dreamed of, packed, and met our driver Dashrath at the car.

It was time to visit some ghosts.

Dashrath clearly didn’t approve of a stop that didn’t include a single thing you could buy or eat, but since we’d heard about the mysteriously deserted, and possibly cursed, ghost village of Kuldhara, we couldn’t wait to see it and find out if that curse was real.

Turns out it was, at least for us.

According to our online research, the ghost town had once been home to prosperous Brahmins. Founded in the early 13th century, Kuldhara flourished for six hundred years. But in the nineteenth century, the town of over 800 structures was abandoned. Local legend says a corrupt prime minister, one Salim Singh, demanded the young daughter of one of the villagers. Rather than attempt to fight, the entire town and its surrounding villages were abandoned in a single night. Their former inhabitants disappeared, and were never heard from again, but not before cursing any who tried to ever occupy the deserted Kuldhara.

Kuldhara: the ghost town is still keeping its secrets.

While Janine and I climbed happily over the surprisingly substantial two-story homes with their carved windows and elegant proportions, Jaya sat down to check in with the hotel she’d booked for that night in Jodhpur.

And the Curse of Kuldhara struck.

I’d wandered over to check out a partially restored well, as Jaya’s call went through. I could hear her shocked voice. “No reservation?”

Obviously, they had no idea who they were talking to. Jaya gave them our reservation details. She read out emails. She quoted banking transactions. “What do you mean no rooms?”

Janine waved from the roof of a nearby house, motioning for me to pose for a picture with Jaya. But Jaya was demanding to speak to someone’s superior, and she did NOT sound pleased. “No, I am not hanging up.”

Her voice took on a steely note reminiscent of the announcer in a horror film trailer. “Please give me your name and stay on the phone until this is fixed.” A young couple who’d been edging closer to demand “Selfie, Madam?” reconsidered and slunk away.

Janine examined carvings on an abandoned house. I found a litter of adorably fat puppies tumbling in the dusty street, and slipped them a packet of Nice biscuits I’d found crumbled in my jacket. Jaya called Expedia. Lots. As she reminded each person she addressed, she’d made the reservation months ago, paid a deposit, and received email confirmation.

Janine and I explored the ghost village, avoiding places where the decidedly non-ghostly horse and camel rides left landmines, while Jaya’s discussions with Expedia grew far less cordial. She proceeded to read them her email confirmation in its entirety.

Janine and I admired an abandoned kitchen while Jaya’s calls to Expedia became decidedly heated. ”If you don’t fix this, I’ll notify every form of social media, and give you bad reviews. I’ll tell everyone I know.” She listened for a moment. “And I’ll tell the government.”

“They said they would ring me back.” She glared at her phone. “They. Said. I. Should. Wait.” She folded her arms and stared at her phone as if her laser-focus could force it to ring. Or maybe just melt.

The selfie-seeking couple, who had been edging closer, immediately turned around.

Jaya waited. Janine and I joined her and waited. Our driver waited. The selfie-seekers, tired of waiting, tiptoed politely forward, and we posed with them.

Eventually, Dashrath pointed out that we could wait in the car—the air-conditioned car—as we drove to Jodhpur.

We left Kuldhara and stopped for lunch at roadside hotel, where Jaya paced and threatened Expedia and various minions with fates worse than death. I think. To tell the truth, I had just been introduced to my new food obsession, masala papad. And my life—or at least my snacking, and really what else is there?—changed forever.

Masala Papad. My past stretched behind me in gastronomically-barren decades when I didn’t know about this Indian street food/snack/instant pizza/total gift to your mouth. 

And because I love each of you, I’m going to tell you how it’s done. Oh sure, proper cooks will tell you the papads should be individually fried or some such fuss. But we know the truth. Microwaves were not that popular in India. Then someone noticed how papads could be roasted, oil-free, in the microwave. In seconds. Now some refer to them as papad-ovens.


  • All I know is you take your papad, put it in the microwave for 15-20 seconds until it’s roasted.
  • Then you put it on a plate, spread it with chopped tomatoes, onions, coriander, and really anything else that’s fresh and flavorful. (Chopped chilis? Mangos? Peppers? Pomegranate?)
  • Sprinkle on some chaat masala if you can get your hands on it. (It’s a miracle-working little spice mix that usually contains rock salt, black salt, dry mango, cumin, pomegranate seed, black pepper, ginger, chilli, mint leaf, nutmeg, and bishop’s weed. But if you don’t have that, you can just sprinkle some chili powder, salt, cumin, and really anything else you like.)
  • Squeeze some lime juice over your masterpiece and eat as fast as you can. Really. Apparently, the whole thing can turn into a soggy mess if you wait. I wouldn’t know, because…Wait to eat masala papad? As if!

So now I’m not sure. Yes, we were on our way to Jodhpur with no place to stay when we arrived. Yes, Jaya might make good some of her threats and civil authorities could get involved. Possibly judicial ones. But… Masala Papad! Completely worth it.