A wanderer by heart, working at a stretch under tight schedule didn’t allow much to fan the deep-seated penchant in me for exploring places in all these years. It’s been a month that I’ve quite my job to start my own creative content studio in Kolkata, to try something independently. Shantiniketan, as we all know, the key cultural and art hub of Bengal was in my purview for long but couldn’t visit this amazing place because of various reasons. This time when I got this wonderful opportunity of exploring Shantiniketan, the ‘abode of peace’ built by the World Poet, I didn’t think twice!
I started my journey in Shantiniketan Express from Howrah station. It took approximately two and half hours to reach Bolpur station. The entire train trip was full of zeal as we could enjoy lot of baul songs while travelling. As baul had tremendous influence on the poetry and musical creations of Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore, listening to these melodious numbers were added attractions of this trip!
From Bolpur station we took a TOTO ride to reach the hotel which we had booked earlier. TOTOs are a specialty of this place. Besides providing you with an enchanting breezy ride, these local transports have become a major source of income for unemployed local youths in Shantiniketan. These colorful transports are available in plenty and the best mode to explore the town!
The TOTO guy who I had booked to provide me with a nice day trip deserves a mention over here. Named Raju, this young guy had good knowledge of various landmarks and their history which he patiently narrated and explained to us all day.
My first stop the next morning I landed in this charming place was Kankalitala. Also known as ‘Kanchi Desh’, this place has a rich history to showcase! One of the holy places among 51 Shakti Peeths in India, this place is known for its formidable past as it’s believed that human sacrifices were a common practice of this place long time back. As per Hindu mythology, skeleton of Mata Parvati fell here from which the temple derived its original name. Here Devi Durga is known as ‘Devi Devgarbha’. In the current context, one will find a beautiful temple across Kopai River with a sprawling area around where devotees can sit and sip tea with light snacks after offering their prayers to the Goddess, and makes this mystical place a must-visit! Also, one may find a crematorium, traditional slot for sacrifice and that age-old wishing tree (Banyan) where hundreds of wish fulfilling threads are found tied by their devotees adjoining the temple premises. There is also a ‘Kund’ or holy water reservoir inside the temple premises where devotees offer their prayers.
After a brief halt, we proceeded our journey toward the Kopai River. Though pretty dried up as we found, this is that nostalgic place where Kabiguru had composed many beautiful hymns and novels which later became world acclaimed. Divided by a narrow bridge, we found many young enthusiasts with Baul singers spending some great moments by humming those tunes.
We next stopped for a while at Santhali Village as Rabindranath Tagore had special affection for the people of this tribe who were mentioned in his famous poem ‘Saontal Meye’. Today Shantiniketan has the largest number of educated Santhalis in West Bengal. Their lifestyle still remains simple but their specially designed colorful mud houses drew my attention over anything else! These houses rightly signify their rich history along with artistic blend of colors! These days, many Bengali television serials are hiring this location for shooting purposes. By crossing the Sonajhuri area, the place famous for its virgin forests, winding roads and Khoai gorges, we stopped at Ram-Shyam village resort to enjoy a relishing Bengali lunch.
When we talk about Bengali lunch, it truly does the justice! Delicious and authentic, this place is a not to miss opportunity for any Bengali who love to eat. Starting right from the brass utensils, first servings, condiments to the fare – everything was just appropriate at Ram-Shyam village resort!
After having a satiating and scrumptious lunch, we were headed toward the ‘Khoai-Sonajhuri haat’ – a fair that starts early morning every Saturday, lasting till the day light. A wonderful display of traditional items of this region, this fair is a must-visit if you’re a lover of handicrafts, artifacts, traditional clothes, home décor, trinkets and few leather items. Also, one can witness live Baul song and different puppet shows in this one-of-a-kind fair.
Our next stop was the beautiful Deer Park. Full of Spotted Deer, this park is also known as Ballavpur Wildlife Sanctuary. Spread across a huge area, this place is an ideal retreat for nature lovers! The high rising watch towers give visitors a 360 degree view of the entire park along with adjoining swamps and wastelands. This place is an equally captivating spot for the bird lovers!
After covering the deer park, we went to the legendary Rabindrabhavan Museum. In addition to the striking displays of what the world poet used in his daily life, snapshots of his eminent creations, eye-catching paintings, family albums and photographs at the museum, one can also take a look at the famous Kala Bhavan, Tagore Ashram and Uttarayan complex in and around.
On your way back, few landmarks like ‘Pratichi’, the house of the Nobel Laureate Dr. Amartya Sen, celebrated ‘Santhal-Family’ sculpture by Ram Kinkar Baij, Teen Pahar (An ancient banyan tree planted by Maharishi Devenedranath Tagore), Mrinalini Devi Ashram and the famous palm tree which was featured in Tagore’s poem can be explored as added attractions! There is also the ‘Upasana Ghar’ of ‘Brahmo Samaj’ or Prayer Hall, which is worth seeing due to its all-glass exteriors and intricate design.
Shantiniketan is a sojourn which is close to the heart of every true-blue Bengali. ‘Poush Mela’, an annual fair and festival taking place in Shantiniketan in December every year to mark the harvest season is an event of great importance, where you will get to see local artisans and tourists from all over India.
Surrounded by glorious reminiscence of that spectacular poetic era, Shantiniketan is a place which in its each foot step speaks of the true memoirs of Rabindranath Tagore and his unforgettable literary creations. Have you visited this place yet?