Table of contents for Sonar Kella
- Reaching Jaisalmer – A road review
WoW! Absolutely amazing!
I still couldn’t believe what we had witnessed in the middle of a cold winter night after 15 hours long drive. Every one of us was mesmerized. Weren’t we waiting just to be there for so long, probably since our early school days?
Childhood memories coming back… in those early days like every other child, I used to love crime fiction and there is a great tradition of detective fiction in Bengal…those month long Summer and Puja breaks were spent mostly reading Tenida, Ghanada, Kakababu, Bomkesh, Pandob Goenda, Feluda Series*. These stories were written mostly for kids and we enjoyed reading them a lot. Sometimes our wait for the next issue to come, would have been a month or even a year. Would we mind? No, not at all. Those were the perfect gifts for kids to inculcate reading habit.
During one such long break from school, I was hooked to a novel “Sonar Kella” and became a fan of Feluda almost instantly. Sonar Kella or the Golden Fortress, is a 1971 mystery novel by the great Bengali writer and film Director Satyajit Ray, definitely remains my favourite, along with “Sabuj Dwiper Raja”. In stupefied silence even the drop of a pin would seem to be a disturbance, my pupils would dilate as the mystery began deepens further. The story of Sonar Kella revolves around a six year old kid, Mukul, who is said to be able to remember events of his previous life and Feluda, a private investigator in Calcutta, became my all time favourite detective hero, forever. I love Kakababu and Pandav Goenda as well, but Feluda till date remains my favourite detective hero even after so many years.
Jaisalmer was in my dream for a long time, but never had a chance to plan a visit. Last December, we planned to do a road trip to Jaisalmer during winter break in Schools. My cousin brother decided to join the three of us along with his family. It would have been a great fun, we thought, as we hardly had time to meet each other. We expected a rush of visitors during our stay due to the year end / New Year and decided to break the journey at Jodhpur. The accommodation was also arranged accordingly in Govt. quarters under Ministry of Defence.
Meanwhile courtesy to the Google map and some well researched write-ups in Ghumakkar, I had chalked out the route map. One thing we were sure that we are going to experience one of the best maintained highways in India and were excited for the D-day to hit the road after a long time in Rajasthan. At the same time, we were also praying for a clear sky as the fog and the low visibility could jeopardize our plan and dampen the spirit of the journey.
We were all set for the journey. My brother reached Gurgaon a day before from Delhi as we planned to leave early, but he also brought the bad news along with him. Our accommodation was cancelled at the last moment, due to the yearend family trip of a Sr. Govt. official to Jodhpur. We had no other choice but look for some other options…and all our last minutes’ efforts were in vein naturally. However, like a true travelers’ spirit (though it is not always turned out to be in our favour, learned the hard way only two weeks’ ago), we decided to go ahead with our original plan and try to manage our accommodation en-route to Jodhpur, which is closed to ~ 565 KM from Gurgaon and achievable. I was confident that we would be able to make it on time, even if there is some fog in the morning.
All of us knew that it would be a long drive and I was mentally prepared for the same. As planned earlier, six of us started our journey exactly at six in the morning on 27th of December, 2013. I only drove to Jaipur couple of times in the past and had no idea about the road ahead, except relying on the feedback and a blind faith on NH-8. There are different routes to reach Jaisalmer depending on where you live in Delhi/NCR. As suggested by Nandan in one of his post, I took the NH-8 via IFFCO Chowk (Gurgaon), which is just a KM from my place.
It was still dark, but felt happy to see a clear sky. The NH-8 is still in bad shape till Chandwaji (~195 KM from IFFCO Chowk), though in patches, with numerous flyovers are still under construction. It was similar to our last trip to Jaipur four years ago, in November 2010. NHAI should actually scrap the idea of collecting toll in those stretches where road work is still not complete. Anyway, we kept going since nothing was in our hand, except just a wish to see a good road in the near future. It took four hours to reach Chandwaji, from there you need to take a left turn (~195 KM, towards Mahindra World City/Hotel Country Touch) on your way to Ajmer (~165 KM from Chandwaji).
Suddenly the quality of the road improves drastically with six lane highway and it’s a sheer joy to drive on this stretch. You will definitely love to drive. We covered the next 166 KMs within 1 ½ hours and reached Ajmer (~361 KM) in 6 hours, with ½ hour break near Jaipur. Not bad. Ajmer attracts a large number of tourists, being a pilgrimage centre for the shrine of the Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and is also the base for visiting Pushkar, (which is ~ 11 km from Ajmer), an ancient Hindu pilgrimage city, famous for the temple of Brahma. But, Ajmer was not in our plan this time, we need to come back again to see them. However, we had a fair idea about the road and the time to reach the place from Gurgaon.
At Beawer (~54 KM from Ajmer and ~ 410-415 KMs from Gurgaon IFFCO Chowk), you need to leave NH-8 (turn right, bypassing the Beawar city towards Jodhpur on NH-112). If you are going to Udaipur/Ahmedabad or Mumbai, you will need to go straight. It was almost 1 p.m. and we were feeling hungry. Just after 2 km from NH-8, we stopped our car in front of a restaurant ‘Hotel Kartik’ for lunch. Initially, we were skeptical but the preparation was very good and I would recommend you to stop if you have time. Moreover, the menu card will definitely bring smile on your face.
Post lunch, its one straight toll free road (NH-112) where you don’t have to think much and keep driving. Though the first 25 KM was bad (till Sendra) as road widening project is on, you will soon find an excellent road waiting for you after that and be ready with your camera to shoot Windmills. You will enjoy the drive through the interior of dry Rajasthan. We reached Jodhpur (564 KM) at 4 p.m. after driving 10 hours. We were on target.
Suddenly I feel the urge to reach Jaisalmer on the same day, which is another 290 KM from Jodhpur. Unlike my other road trips, this time I have a co-passenger who can drive too, if required! Driving such a long distance was never a hindrance for me. Till now, the condition of the road was good and if this continues, we would reach there within the next 4 hours, completely ignoring the fact that we would have to look for a hotel as well. Jaisalmer was the main attraction for me. The road was like a straight line and watching sunset behind the wheel was a great experience for me, as well as to everyone in the car. All the way while driving, I was remembering the novel and the movie ‘Sonar Kella’. My childhood hero ‘Feluda’ leaves for Jaisalmer by car from Jodhpur Circuit House, but Mandar Bose (the villain) leaves first and scatters broken glass on the highway, puncturing the tires of their car and today, I am on the same road. Isn’t it a thrilling experience?
We were averaging almost 80 KM in the last two hours and at 7 p.m. we were just 150 KM from Jaisalmer. It was dark and there was practically no traffic on the road, finding another car was rare. But I must admit, it was one of the best highways in India. Finally at 8:45 after almost 15 hours drive, covering 870 KM, we reached Jaisalmer. We managed to find hotel near the fort. It was a long route, compare to the alternate route (i.e. Delhi – Loharu – Fatehpur – Bikaner – Jaisalmer), which is approx. 800 KM from Delhi.
It took half an hour to freshen up and then moved our tired legs to the roof-top restaurant for dinner. Then the magic moment! Our first sight of the fort. “Sonar Kella” – the Golden Fortress. The imagination of a child comes back to me, once again. I forgot the tiredness of our journey since morning. It is not the time to relax either…click…click…click…it must be well past mid night by the time I returned to my room for a few hours’ sleep. I wanted to go back to those days in my sleep and read the story once again in my bed…to be with my hero once again…thank you Feluda for making our childhood a success…and fell into a deep sleep.
…to be continued
* Note: Prodosh C Mitter, Felu Mittir or our beloved Feluda, is a fictional private investigator in a series of Bengali novels and short stories written by Indian Bengali film director and writer Satyajit Ray. He was ably assisted by his cousin Topshe (Dr. Watson) and taking up only interesting cases and willing to put both physical and mental energy into solving them. They are also accompanied by Lalmohan Ganguly, an enthusiastic and cheerful companion who writes potboiler thrillers under the name of Jatayu. Feluda’s mysterious adventures are favorite for all ages, all readers. In 1974, Satyajit Ray also made a Bengali film ‘Sonar Kella’.