What is so special about Shantiniketan? Is it the love for the Bard that lures people into the land of rangamati (red soil) and Palash ful (flame of the forest flower)? Or is it the serenity and simple beauty of the place that attracts travellers like us to go back there time and again? I had wanted to visit Bolpur – Shantiniketan since the time I started understanding Sahaj Path and could recite “Pujarini” and “Karna-Kunti Sangbad” at one go. For the uninitiated, Pujarini and Karna-Kunti Sangbad are two very famous Bengali poem pieces written by Rabindra Nath Tagore. But I could only visit Shantiniketan for the first time during one Basanta Utsav (Holi) two years back.
Visiting Shantiniketan during the Basanta Utsav is no doubt a great experience. But that was a rushed visit. Our heart longed for another trip to Shantiniketan. And this time we decided to explore the place during the monsoon. We heard Shantiniketan is absolutely mesmerizing when it rains. Well, rains do have that nature to make a place look gorgeous. Only when you have to go for work while it is raining, it does become a bit of a headache!
If you arrive at Shantiniketan on a Saturday, then the only thing you should do that day is to go and explore the Khoai Shanibarer Haat (the local Saturday market) at Sonajhuri. As it is the forest of Saal (Shorea robusta) looks and feels incredibly romantic, the colourful market is set amidst the forest making it even more attractive. Occasionally, we could hear the soulful Baul songs or see the tribals dancing to the beating of drums. There is nothing to not like here.
And then there were the numerous makeshift shops. The locals from the surrounding villages as well as Ahmadpur, Sainthia and other places bring their merchandise to sell. Sarees, Kurtas, dresses, skirts, jewelleries and other trinkets – there were so many things on display; and so were local handicrafts and handlooms. Roaming around the local market and admiring everything on display took most of our time. We returned to our hotels after dusk.
Day 2 and this day we decided to explore Shantiniketan a bit better. Our first stop for the day was the Kopai River. And it was then when the rains came pouring. Well, as I said before, rains have the power to make a place looks breathtaking. And the place too became extraordinary! Next, our Toto driver took us to the Baha’s village. A Bengali daily soap was being shot at this location and now it has become a tourist spot. We were not quite interested in visiting it, but our Toto driver anyhow took us there. Imagine the reach of television!
Next, we went to see the Buddha Vihar. This is something which I did not expect at all. A giant white Buddha statue stood in a small surrounded area. The place is not much old. And then we visited Amar Kutir, a co-operative society for the rural development of the surrounding areas.
Amar Kutir is a fascinating place. We saw how they make those famous Shantiniketan handbags. So much labour and precision go into making such designer leather crafts. We visited the Batik factory to see the process of colouring and printing batik. It was great to see how a white cloth was finally transformed into a colourful dress material. There is a shop and showroom at Amar Kutir complex where you can buy souvenirs.
Our next stop was Srijani Shilpa Gram Complex. It is a huge complex beautifully decorated with replicas of houses of the eastern and northeastern states of India. This complex is developed and maintained by EZCC (Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre) and various cultural programmes and concerts are held here. You can spend some time here at the Srijani Complex. There is no dearth of greenery here.
This concluded our trip of Bolpur – Shantiniketan. We had visited the Vishwa Bharati University before and so did not go there again. We still had time and so we went to Surul, a small village. The main attraction of Surul is the SarkarBari also known as the Surul Rajbari. The history of Surul Sarkar family can be traced back to 300 years. The Sarkar Rajbari was built by Srinivas Sarkar in 1750. The Sarkar Bari is known for their 250 years old Durga Puja celebrations. Beside the Sarkar mansion, there is a temple complex. The temple has some fine terracotta works, though they are all dilapidated now.
It was afternoon and also the time for our return journey. We were back at Bolpur Railway station ready to return to our homes and get back to our daily routine. It was a short trip to the heart of Bengal, but it did give our hearts immense pleasure.
Some tips for a perfect weekend at Shantiniketan
If you are coming from Kolkata (which is most probable) either reach on Friday night or Saturday morning. We are giving a tentative itinerary that might help you.
Day 1: If you are visiting Shantiniketan for the first time, visit Viswa Bharati University in the morning. Have a tryst with Tagore and his abode. Visit the Uttarayan Complex, Rabindra Bhavan Museum, Upasana Griha, Chhatimtala. You can also walk around the various departments of Viswa Bharati University.
Assuming it is Saturday, in the afternoon visit the Khoai Saturday local market. Otherwise, you can just visit the Sonajhuri forest.
Day 2: Start with a visit to the Kopai River followed by Kankalitala Temple, one of the 51 Shakti-Peeths of Hindus. If you visit the Kankalitala temple, then do stop at Adityapur village. Then visit Amar Kuthi and finally Srijani Shilpa Gram Complex. If you are interested in the heritage of Bengal, then do give a visit to Surul as well. You will finish the entire tour by afternoon, so you can return by any evening train from Bolpur-Shantiniketan.
How to reach Shantiniketan
Shantiniketan is nearly 200 km from Kolkata. The nearest railway head is Bolpur-Shantiniketan. You will get many trains from Howrah to Bolpur. You can also come by road from Kolkata.
Where to stay at Shantiniketan
Shantiniketan has many hotels, resorts and homestays. You can stay near the main town. But we would recommend you to stay near Prantik or Sonajhuri. The place is close to nature and is blissful.
Shantiniketan is a popular weekend destination from Kolkata. It is better to book your accommodation from before. Please be aware that during the season time like Basanta Utsav and Poush Mela, Shantiniketan gets very crowded and it finding a proper accommodation becomes difficult. Hotels get booked from quite early and prices are also quite high during these time.
Some other tips
If you have not brought your own car, then you can roam around all the places in and around Shantiniketan in a Toto (e-rickshaw).
Hire a guide for seeing around Viswa Bharati.
Try to stay near Sonajhuri or Prantik.
Eat at Ram-Shyam Hotel at Sonajhuri. It has delectable Bengali cuisines on offer.
Pick up some souvenirs from Khoai Haat.
Here are some other pictures to fuel your wanderlust!
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