On the Feluda trail

Following in the footsteps of Pradosh C. Mitter on the Sonar Kella journey



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the original book

For the unaware, ‘Sonar Kella’ (‘The Golden Fortress’) can be considered to be a rite of passage for any Bengali. Directed (story-written, music-directed, costume-created etc etc etc) by Oscar winning director Satyajit Ray and starring Soumitra Chatterjee, it is a detective story that almost every Bengali is expected to have seen. Some, like yours truly, remember almost everything in the movie by heart. Set mostly in the Indian state of Rajasthan, it tells the story of a young boy, Mukul, who claims to remember the events of his past life, where he speaks of a Golden Fortress and a possible treasure. A parapsychologist, Dr Hajra, takes professional interest in the boy, but a failed kidnapping attempt forces the boy’s father to turn to Pradosh Mitter aka Feluda, a private investigator, to protect the boy from harm. This leads to Feluda, his cousin Topshe, and Lalmohan Ganguly aka Jatayu, an aspiring writer whom they meet on the train, to travel across Rajasthan with the boy and Dr Hajra in search for the Golden Fortress and the treasure.

Enough background, on to the point of this post.

A disclaimer first, for those who know the storyline of the film. This post involves no train journey or camel journey whatsoever, so you could take it as the route Feluda, Topshe and Jatayu took by car, from Jodhpur to Ramdevra and then the route taken by the driver from Ramdevra to Jaisalmer.

So, I found myself in Jodhpur, a city in the state of Rajasthan, along with my parents. It was the start of a ten-day long trip through the state over the Christmas holidays. We were making our way back to our hotel after visiting the Mandore fort when I noticed a signboard for the Jodhpur Circuit House. Circuit Houses used to be the only places to stay 30-40 years back in Indian small towns, but the only place I had encountered it before was the film, ‘Sonar Kella’. Something stirred in my memory and I soon remembered that it was the Jodhpur Circuit House where the Feluda, Jatayu and Topshe first meet Mukul and Dr Hajra. A quick Google search confirmed the same, and we immediately noted the fact that we were about to travel from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer along the same route as taken by the characters in the movie.

I begin from the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, which is the first stop they take in the journey to find the Golden Fortress. I love the way the sun gives a halo to the fort in this photo!

Mehrangarh Fort

This post is somewhat filled with the records of a very amateur photographer pointing and clicking at random things, therefore forgive me for including this only because of the ‘bird-in-flight’ silhoutte in the frame (taken inside the Mehrangarh Fort)…

Pigeon in Mehrangarh

Next, the road to Jaisalmer…

Road to Jaisalmer

This road probably looks much better than what it was when filming took place. A more ‘film-like’ road is probably this - hasn’t yet been made into a two-lane highway. This was taken after crossing Ramdevra, however, so this road probably did not feature in the film.

Road to Jaisalmer - Take 2

Also on the way, we encountered Ramdevra station - and the stationmaster’s office therein where the film has a ‘detective-moment’ that I will not spoil for those who haven’t seen the film. The office features next…

Ramdevra

We also encountered these dudes on the way - they were accompanied by people, so will have to suffice for the camel riders who gave Feluda and co. a ride.

Camel Dudes

We finally made our way to Jaisalmer, the city with the Golden Fortress, the ‘Sonar Kella’ that gave the film its name. The fort is made out of yellow sandstone, and in the sunlight really does look golden!

One of the not-that-golden views of the fort…

Jaisalmer

The next photo shows one of the shooting locations and the location of the climax - the house of Mukul. The house itself is the bare bricked structure to the right.

Mukul

Our guide can be seen sitting regally on the bench. According to the guide, in the early 1970s, the town of Jaisalmer was almost deserted and half-dead. People did come to see the Jain temples inside the fort, however it was too far off the main tourist routes to attract much attention. But then two things happened - India’s first nuclear test happened near Pokharan which is close-by, and Satyajit Ray made ‘Sonar Kella’. Within 10-15 years, Jaisalmer was on the tourist map - such is the power of a film!

I guess the fort appears most golden in the following pic, taken just before sunset.

Golden Fortress