DHANAK THE FILM- ROAD TRIP TO RURAL RAJASTHAN!

Dialogue from Dhanak, the film by Nagesh Kukunoor,

“अब हम साथ में धनक देखेंगे, रात वाला धनक!”

(Now we will see the rainbow together. The rainbow which appears in the night, that is!)

There are noisy big budget Bollywood films and then there are those Bollywood films which release without making much noise, touch the lives of those who appreciate good cinema and remain etched in their memory forever. I prefer the latter.

I went to watch Dhanak with zero expectations. After a sluggish beginning, the film surprised me with its riveting narrative and stellar performances by the kids. The film turned out to be a road movie (of a different kind!)

The story line is simple. A village girl fails her exams on purpose so that she can study with her visually impaired brother. The boy is a fan of Bollywood star Salman Khan while the girl is a fan of Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan. Both are Bollywood megastars and apparently rivals. When news spreads that Shahrukh Khan is shooting in nearby Jaisalmer, the girl gets excited. The excitement is less of a fan girl excitement but of the hope that the megastar may help her cure her brother. Earlier in film, she sees him promoting eye donation on posters.

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Watch Dhanak, the film, directed by Nagesh Kukunoor on DVD. (Pic Credit: Drishyam Films)

What ensues is an epic road journey from the nondescript village (Dhani) near Jaitaran to the touristy Jaisalmer and beyond. Dhani (Remember Chowki Dhani?) are the cluster of huts in rural Rajasthan, the residents of which either belong to same caste or family tree or both. The opening sequences slowly revealed the life in a hut in distant Rajasthan through its characters. Sleeping under stars in desert (The quintessential Rajasthan Package for the urban) is an everyday reality here. I wanted to jump into the screen as the wicked aunt cooks Bajra Roti on a wood fired mud oven and the uncle smokes a hukkah.

The kids are rebellious and confidently embark on the journey in the ‘veerana’ (uninhabited lands) all by themselves. What happens next is very relatable to me as a traveler. I have always found the rural Rajasthan more charming than the Rajasthan one sees in brochures. The hospitality, the food, the people in Rajasthan just win your heart. I have found the roads in the hinterlands of Rajasthan to be baby bottom smooth as was also evident in the movie.

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Khichan in Rajasthan was the most memorable part of my road trip to Rural Rajasthan

Having exhausted all their water, the kid bump into a truck driver and ask him for water. Amused by their banter and boy’s dramatic “I am going to die soon.” (he repeats that almost every half an hour), the driver interrupts his siesta and offers them a ride till Garnia naka. He also offers them Amdavadi farsaan (Gujarat shares border with Rajasthan and the influences overlap). The scene was totally believable as I have experienced such goodness on the roads of Rajasthan.

Music and food are important to me when I travel. As they waited for a bus, a ‘saadi ka tractor’ (Tractor carrying wedding attendees) stops. The drunk man in tractor and the little boy indulge in magical jugalbandi. The silence of the desert was broken with the echoes of their mehendi rang lago’ It was melodious and smelt of Rajasthani soil.

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Pushkar Fair, Rajasthan. Why I love rural Rajasthan!

The man offers them a ride, food and an overnight stay. The next day, they leave for Jodhpur sitting atop a jeep. I remember hanging on to the rear of such jeeps in rural Gujarat and feared for my dear life. They end up in a God women ‘Mamtamayi’ Sheera mata’s darbar. The enticing smell of sheera (aka halwa) and poori (fried bread) tempts the boy and they end up missing the bus since they queued up for the food. I have missed some buses in rural and remote areas only so that I could eat more. At other times, I have almost missed my trains and buses because I tend to walk a bit far in search of interesting food during breaks.

TRAVEL GONE WRONG: WHEN I WAS STRANDED IN RURAL GUJARAT IN PITCH DARK

While walking from Lohawat to Jodhpur, they bump into an American. When the American starts singing “All I am saying is, let’s give love a chance” the kid spices it up with a rustic version of ‘damadar mast kalandar’.  It was one of my favourite moment of the film. The jugalbandi ended with the echo of a peacock in the background. In my road trip to rural Rajasthan, I was amused to see hundreds of peacocks on either sides of the road, sometimes even sitting on the paan shops.

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Camels at Pushkar Fair, Rajasthan

The kids meanwhile get kidnapped and then rescued by a ‘banjara’ (nomad) women. Good opportunity to weave in a kalbelia dance performance! The kidnap and rescue was a bit simplistic and so was Shah Rukh Khan rescuing the dehydrated duo later from the desert and sponsoring the boy’s eye operation.

The film ends with the boy getting his vision back and with this heart warming song :

ख्वाबों में अपने तू,

घुल कर खो जा रे

पलकों पे सपने

मल कर सो जा रे

होगी फिर महक तेरे हाथो में

और देखेगा धनक तू रातों में!

 (Get lost in your dreams,

Rub the dreams on your eyelids and go to sleep.

You will discover sweet smell in your hands then,

And you will see a rainbow in the night!)

 

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My picture of Om Banna Temple in rural Rajasthan. They worship motorcycle here! It was shown in the film Dhanak, directed by Nagesh Kukunoor.

Ecstatic to see the sand falling from his hand the boy says, “isn’t it all beautiful?” The sister says, “Yes, everything is beautiful!”

I have noted down the names of the village so that I can make a journey or maybe even follow their trail. The visuals in the film for sure made me want to take this road trip.

Their route (From what I could construct) was:

A dhani near Jaitaran – Lohawat – Jemla Bus Stop – Om Banna Temple – Jodhpur – Jaisalmer.

 

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Dhanak, the film is directed by Nagesh Kukunoor (Pic credit: Drishyam Films)

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UNSEEN RAJASTHAN: AN OFFBEAT JOURNEY THROUGH THE RURAL RAJASTHAN! ONCE IN A LIFETIME!

This winter why not traverse through the less explored destinations in Rajasthan. Be there before tourists throng it!

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Haveli at Bikaner

Every year in winter, tourists from across the world and India inundate the famous cities of Rajasthan. However, if you are bored of the cliched destinations in Rajasthan, I would suggest a detour to its rural landscapes. In my road trip to the rural Rajasthan last winter, I realized that is where the true heart of Rajasthan lies. Raw, real, quirky and hospitable! I hopped on to the ever reliable State transport buses and Indian railways to make this journey to the far interiors of Rajasthan happen. I discovered the true beauty of this Royal State like never before. I have seen so much of Rajasthan and it still never fails to surprise me. During my journey, I also happened to unearth the heartwarming stories of man and animal living in harmony, very unique to this state.

PUSHKAR

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A Day at Pushkar fair!

Pushkar fair needs no introduction. It is one of the most popular and largest cattle fair not only in India but in the world. There is plenty to do here. Hot air balloon rides, rural Circus shows, seedy magic shows, rural sports, and sumptuous food had me hooked for 2 days. I could not resist ODing on Daal-Bati-Churma (Dough Balls served with lentils and sweet powder), lasoon Ki Chutney (Garlic sauce) and gatte ki sabzi (Curry of gram flour cakes) in the many restaurants that line the streets.

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Performer at Pushkar fair. I had seen him at Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, Mumbai too

An ‘open to all’ impromptu magic show on grounds (pay as you like!) had the audience riveted. My city bred mind was amused to see the spectacle. The snake charmer had his own stardom.  After downing countless sips of tea from kulhad (mud cup), I headed to Pushkar lake. Claimed by humans and pigeons alike, the lake oozed spirituality as thousands thronged to take a dip in the holy water. Soon a religious procession at a road nearby distracted me.

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Local women watching sports at Pushkar fair

Hundreds marched in colorful attires, crushing softly the fragrant rose and marigold flowers beneath their bare feet. Absorbing the hedonic scents, I moved to the bus stand for a quick stop at Ajmer. I spent some time admiring the sunset at the Anna Sagar lake in silence. Not far away was Ajmer Shariff Dargaah. I couldn’t resist a soul stirring qawwali session. Being a vegetarian, I stayed away from the restaurants, though binged on the sweets at street shops. ‘Dhai Din Ka Jhopra’ nearby is a must, but before sunrise.

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Local women, Pushkar fair

KHICHAN 

Sevaram Malli Parihar, who lives in the nondescript dusty village Khichan, has been awarded several times for his focused wildlife conservation efforts. Some 20,000 demoiselle cranes migrate to Khichan and surrounding areas from Siberia every year in winter. He has worked overnight to ensure that the birds are not harmed by human intervention, electric poles, the works!

He has a set routine every morning. His day starts with feeding countless number of cranes in a bird feeding ground facing his house. He often identifies any injured bird and gets them admitted to an animal hospital nearby if required. The birds have invented a routine for themselves as well. They feed in batches in a disciplined manner. I was amused to see how the second batch of cranes waited patiently outside the fence of the feeding ground until. They didn’t enter until the first batch is at least halfway through the feed.  Such discipline!

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The cranes at Khichan.

After talking to Sevaram and spending quality time with him, I was impressed with the determination of a ‘powerless’ man. It’s humbling to see how an uneducated village man brought about enormous change in the attitude towards wildlife conservation. I have always maintained that only locals with the help of government can help sustain and bring momentum to wildlife conservation. Such stories restore my faith in humanity. It is heart-warming indeed to witness the one of its kind cordial relationship the cranes share with the local villagers and animals. Rajasthan sure knows how to extend its hospitality to human and animals alike.

OM BANNA TEMPLE

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The ‘Bike God’ , Om Banna Temple

Om Banna is a unique temple, only one of its kind in India. The diety worshipped here is a 350 cc motorbike and not a clay idol. It is situated on the highway towards Pali and the nearest big city is Jodhpur. The owner of the motorcycle was one Om Singh Rathore. The folklore has it that some years ago, he met an accident and perished at the spot where a tree still stands (and worshipped).  It is said that the police locked the bike many times in the station. Every time, the same bike re appeared at the accident spot, as if by magic! The word spread far and wide and today pilgrims throng the place and offer their prayers. The bike has finally been relocated to the spot, a little away from the tree, owing to the sentiments of the ‘pilgrims’. The much revered tree exists at the exact spot. The temple and the bike has been shifted a little beyond in order to avoid disruption in traffic.

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Inside Om Banna Temple

Some of the thousands of devotees who throng every day, offer alcohol as a tradition. I saw many newly weds visiting the temple. It is considered auspicious to do so. The ‘God fearing’ passer byes often make a stop at the temple. The legend has it that doing so ensures safety on the road. I was amazed and amused to hear the customized Om Banna Aarti being belted passionately by the local singers. The roadside shops sold only Om Banna merchandise such as Om Banna stickers, Books, CDs and Decorative pieces. Faith has many faces in India.

BIKANER

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Haveli, Bikaner

The world knows Bikaner for its famous aaloo bhujia, but did you know about the secrets that it hides? The narrow lanes of the old city boast of many drop dead gorgeous havelis. As I made my way through the winding lanes, the ancient havelis struck with their grandeur. The exquisitely carved haveli display varied embellishments and architectural styles.

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Details of a haveli, Bikaner

If you are attentive (and erudite), it’s easy to spot Mughal, Rajpoot and even British architecture style on the havelis’ façade. Some craning of neck helped me to appreciate the beauty of the delicate stone jaali, chajjas, windows, et al. The red sandstone gives the haveli a character of its own. I think it is best to make a visit early morning since there is not much traffic in the streets. That said, really early morning is the trick, lest be prepared to get embroiled in the morning rush hour. You can easily lose track of time as you explore the serpentine roads, admiring one haveli after the other. These havelis are unique to Bikaner. I found some havelis locked up. However, the locals still live in many of these.

Karni Mata Temple

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Karni Mata Temple

In Rajasthan the curious can find many quirky places. Top position on that pyramid is perhaps claimed by the Karni mata temple world famous for the thousands of black rats it shelters. And worships! 30 kilometers away from Bikaner, Karni Mata temple at Deshnoke, is also known as, the temple of Rats. Rats rule here and how! There are theories galore on how and why the people of Rajasthan began worshipping the approximately 20, 000 rats in this temple.

It is said that despite such huge numbers the place has never fallen prey to any epidemic. I could not walk smoothly without bumping into a rat. In this temple if you step on a rat, you have to pay hefty fine. It is accepted that if a rat crosses your leg, luck will be on your side. That said, if you have been able to spot a rare white rat it is said to bring you even better luck. Many rats did cross my legs though I am not sure if it brought me any luck or not.

They were every-where, feeding off the milk pot, resting in the holes, fighting for a spot in the holes, sharing the abundant food quietly, the works!

TAL CHAPPAR BLACKBUCK SANCTUARY

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Black bucks at Tal Chappar sanctuary

So few wildlife sanctuaries in the world allow you to explore on your own, without a guide, on foot! Tal Chappar lets one walk in the sanctuary at your own pace. This is exactly what I did one fine winter morning. The haven for blackbucks and other species such as wild boars, neelgai and many birds, Tal Chappar is an under rated delight. Early morning and evening is the best time to appreciate the beauty of this land and its inhabitants.

FACT FILE 

How to reach by Train (In logical order)

Pushkar:

Train Number: 19032, Yoga Express

Destination: New Delhi (21:25, day 1) to Ajmer (6:40 a.m., Day 2)

Khichan and Om Banna temple

Train Number: 15014, Ranikhet Express

Destination: Ajmer (13:40, Day 1 ) to Jodhpur (17:35, Day 1)

Bikaner

Train Number: 14708, Ranakpur Express

Destination: Jodhpur (10:00, Day 1) to Bikaner (15:35, Day 1)

Karni Mata Temple:

(Road Trip from Bikaner)

Tal Chappar : Reach from Bikaner

 

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Karni Mata temple

Note – A different version of this article was published as a cover story in the official railway magazine of India called Railbandhu.

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tal-chappar
Tal Chappar Black bucks sanctuary

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Local woman, Pushkar fair

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