In the Sea of Sands Sail on Border Roads,’ read the sign post. What would my journey of discovery be without border roads?
My travel across Rajasthan and Kutch took me skirting the border on roads built by the Border Road Organization. They have single-handedly built some of the most amazing roads in places where one would never imagine. All along these super smooth roads which cut across uncharted areas of India, you come across signs which are funny and vaguely poetic reminders of the people who’ve built them in extreme temperatures which are never less than 45 degrees Celsius.
“If you are Married, Divorce speed.”
“I love you but no so fast.”
“Check your nerves on my curves.”
My big concern while making Road, Movie was that Rajasthan has been very well documented pictorially and visually in both books and films. But everyone I spoke to said that other than the cliché’s the area was largely unknown.
To begin with, this was a relief and at the same time, also a challenge — to go beyond the clichés and find something original and authentic which would resonate with the audience. To find the Rajasthan which would give life to my film and also surprise the people who know it well.
Several million years ago — some say 35, others 180 or even 225, Jaisalmer was a sea bed. Today one can see traces of this in the rock formations, the lava, the fossils and if one is lucky — sea shells too. This was the world I was looking for. The mythic landscape of India. The border roads took me there.
Amongst the most memorable roads was the The Tanot-Longowal road; a road with no sign of life. Only the eerie sound of wind. A straight road like an arrow pierced into the heartland. This is the road which takes you to where the battle of Longowal was fought.
The Longowal Ghotadu road — yet another stunning road. Stark and barren. The occasional mud hut and a few people living on a flat land where the earth heats to 50 degrees Celsius. Here, pots of water are buried in the sand to keep them cool and prevent water from evaporating.
Veering off the road, you follow the few camels to the abandoned fortress of Ghotadu. It’s a stunning fortress built from mud bricks. Walking inside it, you feel you are living in a world of dreams.
The Tanot Shiv road is one such road where you need special permission to travel. It takes you to the last outpost between India and Pakistan, with the ruined fort of Shiv being the only sign of life nearby.
The Khaba road takes you past the fossils, the lava formations and if you keep driving, it ends in the abandoned town of Kuldhara. Once inhabited by the Paliwal Brahmins, it was abandoned by them one night when the entire community left en masse and disappeared across India forever.
From Rajasthan, the road to Barmer and then into Kutch is an unforgettable journey. Once there, my favorite road was the road to India Bridge. You cross the Tropic of Cancer and arrive at the last outpost before the Rann of Kutch.
At the end of this road, you stand facing the vast expanse of the Rann. Twenty seven thousand square kilometers of white sand. It’s a moment that remains carved in your memory forever.
Where would I like to go next? Perhaps off the road, on a camel and cross those twenty seven thousand square kilometers of the Rann of Kutch.
On a full moon night it’s magical. You could be on another planet or a film set. It’s like magic and fantasy coming together.
Perhaps there’s a film in that.
(Dev Benegal is the director of Road, Movie)