Being Women

Jaisalmer Fort (Sonar Kella): An Unforgettable Road Trip Adventure

The author, a Bengali film buff, achieves a childhood dream of visiting the Jaisalmer Fort, also known as Sonar Kella.

A Bengali’s Love for Sonar Kella

If you are a Bengali, Sonar Kella (Bengali for Golden Fortress) must hold a special place of importance in your heart. Academy Award winner Satyajit Ray’s film was shot at Jaisalmer Fort. I have seen this film at least 39 times; I can watch it with the same interest and fervour for the 40th time. As a kid, I always wanted to visit this place.

One October, around 10 years ago, we made a plan to visit Jodhpur and Jaisalmer via a seven-day road trip.

Road Trip to Jaisalmer

The distance between Delhi and Jaisalmer is around 800km. We decided on a route of Delhi > Nееmrаnа > Mаndаwа > Nаgаur > Jodhpur > Jaisalmer, which would take around 15–16 hours. The travel team was my husband, his friend and his wife, their 9-month-old kid, and me. We decided that for such a long road trip, we would need at least two strong drivers and one “stepney” (I had just earned my driving license).

The Drive

We were to start after office on a Friday and drive overnight to reach Jaisalmer without a stayover. Shubhransu’s friend took the initiative to drive through the night while both of us slept in the back seat. Around 3 a.m., he felt exhausted. He woke us up and told us to take the driver’s seat. My husband started driving. The roads were clean and empty. As we started approaching Jaisalmer, we could see vast stretches of dunes on either side of the road. We thought we saw mirages, and I dozed off. I think there were around 50 kilometres left when Shubhransu also started feeling exhausted. He told me to drive; both he and Amit (his friend) gave me the assurance that they would watch out for me and guide me. 

My First Highway Drive

I took the steering wheel—it was my first drive on a highway. I was driving very carefully, but I was feeling very tired and nervous. I had to ask for something on how to ask for a pass from a driver, and I looked sideways. Shubhransu was fast asleep. I turned to the back to ask Amit Bhaiya; all three of them were in deep slumber. I decided to be brave and drive the rest of the way without waking them. There were no Google Maps in those days, and the road signs were the only directions. I woke them once we were in Jaisalmer City. I had done it!

Sonar Kella- A Living Fort

In the evening, we went to ‘Sonar Kella.’

Jaisalmer Fort is the second oldest fort in Rajasthan, built in 1156 AD by the Rawal (ruler) Jaisal. It is one of the few “living forts,” as one-fourth of the city’s population still resides in the fort. The fort is built of yellow sandstone that gives it a golden hue at sunset; it derives its name from it.

While walking through the streets of the fort, I could almost remember the scenes of the film—Mukul running through the houses and reliving his past life. The streets were bustling with artefacts, people, colourful dolls, etc. We took a tour of the fort before moving off.

Sak Suka- A Culinary Misunderstanding

We were starving when we came out and went to a nearby café that was supposed to be famous for its international cuisine. It overlooked the fort and gave a mesmerising view. The waiter, a boy of 14–15 years old, told us that we should try their famous dish, “Sak Suka.” We decided to try it.

What a blunder that was! The cheese smelled like it was 100 years old. We quickly paid and left the food untouched. We went to a nearby restaurant to have the famous ‘dal bati churma’ from Rajasthan. It was divinely delicious.

It was much later that we realised that ‘Sak Suka’ actually meant ‘Sashlik.’

The Beauty of the Thar Desert

It was time to move to the Sam dunes and experience the desert. The tent houses, bonfire at night, Rajasthani gatta curry, and the Kalbelia dance made our stay in the desert memorable.

But one cannot go to a desert and not see the sunrise or sunset.

The next morning was our chance to have the famous camel ride in the desert—it might remind you of Lal Mohan Babu—and watch the sunrise. Absolute truth – it is scary when the camel gets up from its sitting position and one needs to manoeuvre the body to not have a falling sensation. Nevertheless, it was a nice experience to enjoy the sunrise mounted on the camel.

While coming back, the camel suddenly started running, giving me another panic attack. The small boy guiding the camel told me not to worry, but he was not holding the reins of the camel either. We promised him some good tips, and then he stopped the camel from running and brought us back to the tent site safe and sound.

What a trip it was, but it fulfilled my dream of visiting the Sonar Kella!

Manjusha Dutta

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2 Responses

  1. Wonderful trip experience!!

    I literally imagined the part – “While coming back, the camel suddenly started running, giving me another panic attack.“
    🙂

    1. Haha, yes Neha. It was tactics to get good tips. The ordeal is still fresh in my mind and I never had another camel ride since then 😔

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