Feluda is a detective character created by Satyajit Ray. Ray made two Feluda movies - Sonar Kella and Joy Baba Felunath. Apart from the gripping narrative, what makes the movies special is the way Ray introduces the places. In the case of Sonar Kella it is the journey to the Jaisalmer Fort. And, in the case of Joy Baba Felunath, it is Benares. Bengalis love Ray movies and the Feluda movies in particular have attained cult status with kids and adults alike. In this two part series, I take you through my journey where I retraced Feluda's steps and did much more.
This was expected to be a special trip. Apart from the fact that I was doing Jaisalmer and Benares in succession, I was doing the first leg with two of my friends whom I met after 10+ years! I was joined by a friend in Hyderabad and we reached Delhi on the morning of 24th Dec. Our train to Jaisalmer was in the afternoon, so we made the most of the 4 hours we had at hand. A trip to Parathewali Gali was the perfect start. After gorging on some parathas, rabdi, sultan ki jaan etc. we visited Jama Masjid. I was visiting Jama Masjid after 7-8 years and it felt wonderful to be back. We then headed to the Red Fort. Its such a pleasant sight to see the tricolour flutter at its top. Also its a stop we had to make, because in the movie this is the first fort Mukul is shown and he famously exclaims, 'Eta Sonar Kella na'. Which translates to, this isn't Sonar Kella. Ok, to get the context, you can read about the plot of the movie (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonar_Kella).
Here we make a deviation. While the narrative in the movie moved to Jaipur and Jodhpur, we skipped them both and reached Jaisalmer directly, not before we made a breakfast stop at Pokran and a photo-stop at Ramdevra. Ramdevra, those who've watched the movie will remember, is the station where Feluda & Co. boarded the train to Jaisalmer. Dal Kachoris, Pakodas and Tea at Pokran made for a perfect breakfast. We reached Jaisalmer at noon and went directly to a temporary stay right opposite to the entrance of Salam Singh's Haveli. From there we walked up to the Fort for lunch in Monica Restaurant and had some incredible lassi on the way back. After a brief rest we headed towards the Sam Dunes of the Thar Desert. The drive to Sam is fantastic, and Ganesh, our driver kept us entertained with a lot of stories. We were to stay in the desert on this night of Christmas. On our way to where we would stay we crossed a quaint little village. Ganesh informed us that most of the men of the village are away for most part of the year; they work as carpenters in Bangalore. Its incredible, given the two cities are about 2000 Km apart. At Sam, the camels were already waiting for us. It was time to change our ride. From 4 wheels to camels, or as Jatayu (again from the movie) puts it, the aschorjyo janwar (or, the wonder animal). The camels took us deep into the desert and left us at the dunes. We climbed the highest dune and sat ourselves down facing the west. We saw the sun set as the sky turned from blue to golden to red and into million other unnamed hues in between.As it started getting dark we got back on our camels and reached our camp. A temporary camp was set up for us just where the dunes ended. A group of performers of the Mangniyar tribe welcomed us with songs from the region and entertained us through the evening. It was a full moon night. The experience of listening to beautiful music, in the heart of the desert, with campfire and under the moonlit sky is not something words can explain. I leave it to you to imagine. The performance was followed by a sumptuous Rajasthani dinner (which included my favourite ker shangri curry). After dinner, we had the desert to ourselves. We made a little fire and sat around it. After the fire died it was just the view of miles of undulating sand dunes bathed in moonlight. And silence. We slept in a makeshift tent, on the desert floor. Next morning after some more dune climbing we headed back to the city. These days a trip to Jaisalmer has to include a visit to Kuldhara. Ganesh had narrated the story to us the day before and was very keen to show us around. Those who don't know about Kuldhara can read it here. Well, I can safely say it was the only bad experience of the trip; by the time we got there, (11AM) it was too crowded. A noisy crowd in a ghost town is the last thing you'd want.After getting back to the city we headed out for lunch. Ganesh had recommended eating at Milan restaurant for it non-veg fare so went there for Laal Maas (Red Meat). We then visited the fort. The fort is unique, since people continue to live in it. While most of the houses are new constructions, some ancient havelis can still be found. The architecture and the carvings on yellow sandstone and wood are exquisite. We did the customary trip to the Raj Mahal, which also took us to the highest point in Jaisalmer City. Walking around in the fort, we kept role-playing parts of the movie Sonar Kella. Such an impact the movie and the place has had on us over all these years!The next morning we went to the other major attraction of Jaisalmer, Patwa ki Haveli (Patwa's Haveli). The Patwas were merchants and built five grand havelis. Kothari's Patwa Haveli is the one that's regularly visited. It has artistic work in every corner, and a fine display of imported articles.Our next stop was the Gadsisar lake. The vast, tranquil lake, was such a contrasting sight. Our stay at Jaisalmer was nearing it end; the next morning we would depart for Jodhpur. So at night we decided to visit the fort once again. Jaisalmer Fort, being a living fort, never shuts it doors. This time the walk along the lanes felt very different; the place had turned from touristy to residential.Next morning we bid Jaisalmer goodbye and took a train to Jodhpur. 6 hours later we were at Jodhpur and were already missing the quaintness of Jaisalmer. We were greeted by noisy and erratic traffic. My friends went to the fort. I had visited the Mehrangarh Fort earlier so I decided to give it a skip and visit the Blue City part of Jodhpur instead. Mehrangarh Fort is grand and boasts of a fantastic museum. I particularly like the paintings at display. Oh, and the view of the city from the fort is magnificent. By the way, we did inquire about the Circuit House, but didn't have sufficient time to pay it a visit. Again one would wonder what's so special about the Circuit House; just watch Sonar Kella, I tell you.The Blue City is at the rear side of the fort. Various theories are attributed to the blue painted houses, which you can read here. I didn't really think much about the history; what drew me there was a photograph by Steve McCurry.(While visiting Jodhpur, the other two places of interest are Jaswant Thada and the Umaid Bhavan Palace. Jaswant Thada is at a walking distance of the fort, and definitely worth visiting. Most parts of the Umaid Bhavan Palace has been converted to a hotel; the remaining portion has been converted to a museum. I have visited both these places in the past and hence chose to skip them in this trip.)I regrouped with my friends at the Jodhpur Station. The train ride back to New Delhi went by recounting all that we did in the last 3 days. Ray and Sonar Kella kept coming up. Though a short one, it was one heck of a trip. Back at New Delhi, I parted ways with my friends, with the hope of meeting again next year for another unforgettable travel experience.I boarded the train to Benares. With Sonar Kella done, it was time to exclaim 'Joy Baba Felunath'. Read about my travel to Benares in the next part.