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From Left: Kopai river, a canal of Mayurakshi, Canyon of Khoai
We reached University around 12:45 pm. We were not aware that the ticket counter and the museum remains close from 1-2 pm. So we planned to stroll around the university complex. Here you have to the option to ask for a guide.
Visva Bharati was founded by Tagore in 1921. It’s the only University where the Prime Minister of India is the Chancellor. Visva-Bharati was declared to be a central university and an institution of national importance by an Act of Parliament in 1951.
The things that are covered in the university tour are Chatimtala(meditation place of Maharshi Debendranath Tagore), Cheena Bhavan(Institute of Chinese Language and Culture), Sangeet Bhavan(Institute for promoting folk dance, arts, drama and music), Upasana Griha(Meditation Centre), Kala Bhavan(Institution of education and research in visual arts), Tal Kutir, Teenpahar(Banyan Tree, the place where Rabindranath's famous poem “Kumor parar garur gari” was written), library etc. All these are in the university complex. On the way to Kankalitala we saw the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s house.
Santiniketan is about 160 Km from Kolkata. From Kolkata one can reach there by car, by bus and by train. The nearest railway station to Santiniketan is Bolpur which is 2 KM away. If you want to avail train the best options available for tourists are NJP Shatabdi, Ganadevta and Shantiniketan Express. Apart from these two there are many express trains. This link might be helpful http://indiarailinfo.com/search/howrah-hwh-to-bolpur-shantiniketan-bhp/1/0/1008.
Santiniketan has good number of options for stay. One will get budget hotels, homestay, luxury cottages here. It’s a small place so you don’t have to think about the proximity of your stay from the tourist places.
The two main festivals which make this small place highly attractive to tourists are Holi (Vasanta Utsav) and Poush Mela. If you plan to experience the beauty of Santiniketan during this period, it’s better to plan the mode of conveyance and accommodation beforehand. But I always prefer to avoid crowd, so to me the best time is from August to Feb (though it will cover Poush Mela).
If you search for places of interest in Santiniketan on the net you will get Visva Bharati University, Kopai river mainly. But apart from these there are many more. To start with, you have Shilpa Gram, Amar Kuthir, Kopai River, Khoai Haat, Kankali Tala, Visva Bharati University complex, Rabindra Bhavan Museum and Gitanjali Museum. If you are not reaching Santiniketan by car, the best mode of commute for local sightseen, I feel, is ToTo. These are battery driven more airy version of autorickshaw. We booked a ToTo for whole day sightseen for Rs 1000. You can also rent a car for a 5 hours trip. It will cover all these places, but will charge much higher.We reached Santiniketan around 4 pm on Saturday, 15th August. We had around 2 hrs before sunset so after dropping our luggage in our hotel we left for Khoai Haat. From the local people we got to know that this is a weekly market and fortunately it is a Saturday market.
From Left: Santhal Family by Ramkinkar Baij
Santiniketan, the abode of peace, is a small town near Bolpur in the Birbhum district of West Bengal. It is the birth place of the literary classics of Rabindranath Tagore. Its red soil, meandering Kopai River, and lush of greeneries speaks the impeccable beauty of nature.
Our trip was not at all planned. We went to Santiniketan on this 15th August, which was Saturday. We took leave on Monday although we had no clue about where to go on this long weekend till 10 PM on 14th night. Finally we thought of going to Santiniketan. We were lucky enough to book the last two tickets of next day’s NJP Shatabdi from Kolkata!
Santiniketan: Tagore..Visva Bharati..Geetanjali..Indian Culture....
From Left: Visva Bharati premise, Rabindra Bhavan, Shilpagram
Chhatimtala is closely related to Vishva Bharati University as the students who are graduated from here are honored with a branch of Saptaparni tree seen in Chhatimtala. Cheena Bhavan was established by Rabindranath Tagore in 1937 with lofty ideals of strengthening the age old cultural ties between India and China.
After spending an hour there we went to Rabindra Bhavan. It is in the Uttrayan Complex. There are 5 buildings in this complex, all turned into museum, displaying the utensils, dresses, furniture, books used by Kabiguru. In this complex you will find replicas of some famous art work like The Sujata, The Santal Family of the famous artist Ramkinkar Baij.
“Gram chara oei ranga matir poth” the redsoil path of Khoai has inspired Tagore to pendown this famous song. This Khoai Haat is a market place where you will find some good local hand crafted showpieces, jewelries, bags, fabrics etc. Here you can bargain even! Shopping on day 1, seriously I haven’t expected! If you are fond of dokra, here you will get some good pieces of the same at a reasonable rate. In this haat we found goods of Rs 10 to 3000. There was a seller displaying some really good kantha stitched (Nakshi Kantha) scarfs, but those were a bit costly, around Rs. 2500.
The liveliness of the market, enthralling songs of Baul’s, mystic rays of the setting sun on the red-soil canyon of Khoai made us so rejuvenated that we didn’t realize that it’s already dark! On the way we realized that there is no provision of street lights. I am still wondering, in spite of being a place of tourist attraction why there is no street lights available. Anyway, there might be some reason….so my suggestion is it’s better to return to hotel before sunset.
A glimpse of Khoai Haat
If you are travelling by train, you will notice a building named Geetanjali just outside the Bolpur station. Even if you are travelling by bus or car, make sure you don’t miss this one.
Geetanjali is a museum which captures many unseen pictures of eminent personalities with Tagore, his family, his work, his inspirations of writings. The main attraction of this museum is the Train Coach in which Rabindranath travelled from Bolpur to Kolkata just before his death. The coach is a beautiful suit with all the basic amenities. Visitors are not allowed to carry cameras, mobiles as it might have camera, and bags inside the museum. In case you are carrying your luggage just like what we did, you have to keep it outside the museum.
Few things to keep in mind while planning your trip:
Carry cotton clothes if not travelling during winter, because due to hot and humid weather you may sweat like anything.
Carry mosquito repellants
If you are planning for boozing, and the hotel has not mentioned about in-house bar in their site, it’s better you carry your bottle.
As usual carry the basic medicines.
We didn’t realize when this trip ended. Hopefully will try to come here again but either during the Vasant Utsav, Kobi Pakkha(Tagore’s Birthday) or Poush Mela.
We booked the ToTo for our next day trip as well. Next day we planned a complete day tour; from 10-5. We started with Srijani Shilpagram Complex. It is a beautiful complex which showcases the art and handicrafts of different states of Eastern India. Here each state is represented by traditional houses which have good collection of traditional paintings, household goods.From Srijani we went to the banks of the Kopai. It is a narrow meandering river which has been an intricate part of Tagore’s writings. My Bong readers will be able to relate to “Amader Choto Nadi…” after seeing it.
The weather was sunny and too humid and we have so many things in our itinerary. So after spending a couple of minutes and taking a few snaps there we left for Kankalitala.
Kankalitala is a temple town about 10 Kms from Bolpur. It is situated on the bank of the Kopai River. As per Hindu mythology after Daksha Yagna when Shiva in his Runda forn carried his wife Sati Devi’s half burned corpse, parts of her body fell in 51 different places. These places came to be known as Shakti Peethas. Kankalitala is one of those 51 Shakti Peethas. As per mythology, here Devi Sati’s waist fell. Here the Shakti of the temple is addressed as "Devgarbha" and the Bhairava as "Ruru".
After devoting our prayers to Devi Ma, we left for Visva Bharati University. On the way to it there is a canal of Mayurakshi river. Since it was monsoon, the canal was no less than a river.
Some Collectibles for Home
The taste of Tradition
Shakti Peeth Kankali Tala
After spending an hour or so we were too hungry to carry on our sightseen. Our autowala was too kind to take us to a decent restaurant Kharimati. It was an open air restaurant, the food here was really good. They serve Bengali traditional foods on traditional Kasha(Bell metal) utensils. If you ask me to rate the restaurant I will give it 4 on 5, considering the ambience, food quality, quantity and price. The item which we liked the most was fried prawn. It was a plate full of delicious fried prawn(big sized shrimps) mixed with tomatoes, onion and capsicum at a price of Rs 150 !!
That food acted as a much needed energy booster. After lunch we thought of closing our day, our autowala insisted us to go to Amar Kuthir.
Amar Kutir is a cooperative society for the promotion of arts and crafts. This cooperative produces leather goods, kantha stiched sarees, dokra showpieces, batik etc. at reasonable price. There was not much difference in the price of batik, kantha stiched sarees and dokra between Amar Kutir and Khoai Haat. But leather goods were comparatively cheaper in the haat. If you are not much fond of shopping but like to collect some souvenir, you can go for leather bag/ small boxes, batik scarfs and traditional dokra items.