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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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!)


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.


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

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

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.


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.

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.

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.

Local women, Pushkar fair


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!

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.


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.

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.


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.

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

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!


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.


How to reach by Train (In logical order)


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)


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


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 Black bucks sanctuary

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Local woman, Pushkar fair


When I visited the Bishnoi Village Where Superstar Salman Khan Allegedly Killed The Endangered Blackbucks!

India was awaiting justice for past 18 years for the endangered black bucks which Salman Khan allegedly slaughtered in Bishnoi Village. Predictably, Salman was acquitted of his charges today, just like his previous crimes. I am not saying I was physically present at each of his crime scenes. But when so many things go wrong (Beating women, run and hit, destroying people’s career, talking loosely about rape survivors and much more) you know there must be a reason for it. He can’t be a so-called ‘soft target’ all the time.

The Bishnoi Women perform Pooja at the Temple built in memory of martyrs of Khejarli Massacre (Circa 1731). They sacrificed their lives to protect trees. This inspired Chipko Aandolan

I visited the Bishnoi village in Rajasthan in January, 2014. My guide showed me the exact place where Salman Khan killed the blackbucks. It was a deserted area with no humans in sight. The blackbucks and other antelopes and many migratory birds such as demoiselle cranes roam this area fearlessly. They know they are safe because no one dares harm them, thanks to the fierce protection by the Bishnoi people.


Animals are a part of life in this area. I met a Rabari family in their home, behind Bishnoi colony. It is not easy to gain access to a Bishnoi family’s home

Bishnois are the community who can sacrifice their lives and even kill the culprit if even a single animal or tree is harmed. My guide told me “Salman came here on a jeep with a clear agenda of hunting the blackbucks. He did shoot two of them. Even though it was a deserted area, the sound of gunshots reached a lone ‘chaiwala tapri’ (Makeshift tea shop). Perhaps Salman did not see it coming, the chaiwalla was instantly alerted and came rushing towards the direction of the gunshot. One blackbuck was killed on the spot. Sensing trouble, Salman’s driver rushed the jeep through the jungle and not the single straight road for the fear of being spotted. The blackbuck, I am imagining ran away from him in the similar fashion to save his life.

The Exact Place Where the Blackbuck and Chinkara was killed by Superstar Salman Khan. As told to me by the driver.


It was possible that if the Bishnois got hold of him, they would have given their justice on the spot, Salman or no Salman. Thankfully, I was told, the Bishnois did see Salman’s face. I was told the other deer who was half injured was soon rushed to the animal hospital by the Bishnois (who are poor and not that privileged to afford treatment of animals). My guide said the Bishnois have still not forgiven Salman Khan and would want to give him the strictest punishment possible. I did not have to try hard to sense the immense love and affection for the nature in Bishnois. Salman’s fans dismiss it with their lame excuses such as “It was just a deer” “He has been framed for being a celebrity” “Much ado about nothing” “So many people hunt” etc.

The Guide told me this was the road which Salman took to run away. Being chased by villagers, he avoided the main road and passed through mud on the left to avoid being trapped. The ‘Crime Scene’ was on the right side. See pic above!


What they fail to see is the context. Even if it was not a celebrity involved, they would have fought for it. I was told about an incident happened in nearby Nokha village in Rajasthan. The Bishnois killed a hunter for killing a wild hare. This resulted in a riot and a 2 day ‘Bandh’ in the region. They take animal and plant conservation that seriously.

I shot (with a camera) this blackbuck at the Tal Chappar Sanctuary in Rajasthan

After all, these are the same people, 363 of whom, who sacrificed their lives in order to save the trees in 1730.. Centuries later it inspired the ChipkoAndolan (More on that in a separate blog) The blind fans fail to understand the perspective sitting from their comfortable living rooms

The whole village is a heaven for animals and birds. Guda lake nearby attracts migratory demoiselle cranes, blackbucks, chinkara etc. They know they are safe here. Tourists are not allowed access to the lake but can view from a distance. Thank God for the little mercies!

Here’s what I learnt from my visit to this amazing village

  1. Respect the region you are travelling to.
  2. Learn from the people of the region you are travelling to. May such local conservationists thrive and may the culprits be punished!
The jeep I hired for the trip. At the crime scene.

People like Salman will continue to rise. The problem is not him but we who put him on a pedestal and fail to see his flaws because we are so attached and attracted to his on screen persona. The dichotomy of our society lies in the fact that we will talk about ‘culture’ and ‘values’ and will turn a socially dangerous person into a Demi God.

The view from my #SoulWindow is frustrating!


Me breaking papad with a local Bishnoi family in their home.

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel : One of the finest travel movies!

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (For the elderly and the beautiful) is a heartwarming coming of age tale about 7 English retirees rediscovering themselves and reinventing their lives in an alien land they know zilch about, India, that is. They find the answers to their problems and miseries in an nation which is far from being perfect.


All the seven have 7 different problems to grapple with, such as Muriel dealing with India and ensuring her hip replacement is done by an ‘English doctor’. Evelyn (played superbly by Judi Dench) deals with the loss of her husband and tries to find a job in Indian call centre. Graham is in search of his gay lover (‘I am gay, more in theory than in practical”, he announces). Douglas and Jean try hard to give their marriage a last chance. Madge is hunting down a rich guy to hook up with, and all Grandfatherly Norman wants is free sex, everytime, everywhere.

337c6ca00545ad43c47f44575abbc2c1How these stories intermingle with each other and how everyone gets their ‘nirvana’ in India is something to watch out for. They all are lured to ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ near Jaipur on seeing an online ‘photoshopped’ profile of the same hotel. When they actually turn up, all they get is a still under renovation hotel (far from being exotic) with pigeons, cockroaches, leaking taps and doorless rooms (“doors coming soon”, the manager tries to pacify). The hotel is managed by Sunny(Dev Patel).

Performances and the dialogues (the witty repartees between characters and the profound ones, both) are the strength of this film. The theatre and film veteran Judi Dench was the only superstar in the film and for a good reason. She rises above the script and lends the predictable film a credibility with her nuanced and understated performance. Norman (Ronald Pickup) plays the Casanova at 60 with aplomb. He visits sexologists, practices Kamasutra poses and finally hooks up. When asked “Aren’t you afraid of the perils of having sex at your age?” He retorts back smartly, “Well, if she dies, she dies!”


But my favourite is Muriel (‘lived’ by Maggie Smith), who is the most ‘SCARED’ of India (‘Indians roam in packs!’, she said) and hates all things Indian. After braving her first few days in India, she announces, “I am in hell!” And when offered an ‘Aaloo ka paratha’, she TGEMHrefuses with a grimace saying,” If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it.” Later in the film, she has a heart of change and finds the purpose of her life in India and moves on from her tumultuous past. Dev Patel(Slumdog fame) irritates with his overenthusiastic antics and goofy ways. But then it’s his success with acting; his character was meant to be ‘insane’, over the top and irritating. His relationship with his mommy is interesting, played superbly by charismatic (and my fav) Lilette Dubey. His passion for this hotel (which Mommyji is hell bent on selling) is apparent in the dialogue, “I have a dream Mommyji. To create a home for the elderly, so wonderful that they will simply refuse to die.”

The film threatens to be predictable and to reiterate the clichés associated with an India as perceived by westerners. But it works bigtime, despite a predictable denouement and Body-28clichés such as crowds, poverty, untouchability, camels and elephants et al. The Incredible India first shocks, confuses, overwhelmes the characters but they soon adapt to the quirky and maddening ways of this extraordinary country. Usually most foreign director(Danny Boyle included, Oscars be damned!) exhibit utter lack of understanding when they portray India. No wonder I was appalled to see Kolkata in a poor light in The Avengers. John Madden (The director of Shakespeare in Love) has tried his best to be true to different aspects of the India, the land of baffling contradictions.
The movie gets philosophical in the end but still it doesn’t lose its vivre de joie and the light heartedness.It’s somewhat reminiscent of the film Eat Pray Love but with multiple characters. It will make you laugh and it will make your eyes well up. It will get you in touch with your human side. It makes you look at the vulnerability of human life sans being too serious. It’s the tugging at heart human stories told with great craftsmanship which works here. And the movie ends with all characters almost finding the answers to their dilemmas and inner demons. As Dev Patel says in the movie, “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end.”

Do see this feel good, slice of life film today. And yes, it’s worth a repeat watch.

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