One of my favourite long weekend destinations in West Bengal is #Shantiniketan. Thinking of the place I only visualize, bright sunshine everywhere. As if everything around me is freshly painted, there’s so much stooping greenery around, even the arid summer afternoon looks gold paved, everything is just picture perfect here. The roads here are only meant to walk as long as my curiosity lasts, the hushed air is so inquisitive, scanning the surrounding as if this is the first time I see so much of flora, and then I find a teeny weeny squirrel running here and there, fighting with it’s siblings on the dried leaves scattered on the ground; or may be they are busy playing hide and seek under the shade of the mammoth trees; and the sun, still smart enough to peek through the gaps among the branches; the whistling of the birds hidden in their nests, small craftsman houses everywhere, everything is so simple yet creative and seems to be a story teller’s land..
Every house here has His memory; every house celebrates him everyday. Of course it is.. as this place is His creation. The greatest poet, the visionary artist, Rabindranath Thakur’s brainchild the Visva Bharati University is still living its glory here in #Shantiniketan.
In this supersonic dramatically changing world this town is still proud to represent it’s vintage individuality. Here time prefers its slow pace, which is the best part of spending a weekend here. Though 1 or 2 nights stay is quite possible and preferred by many, but such a small duration doesn’t make me happy, for me it’s better to make 3 nights.
#Shantiniketan has gained its popularity as a must visited destination for plenty of occasions celebrated here. Poush Mela is one of them, it’s a 3 days’ fair, and quite popular across the state and people across globe also takes part in it. Basanta Utsav (celebration of spring) or Dol Utsav (Holi) has altogether a different portrayal of this place, the students of Visva Bharati celebrate this festival to welcome not only spring but also celebrate spirit of Rabindrbath Thakur as he was the one who started this tradition in Bengal. But holi in Shantinikeatn is lot different and sophisticated than the very popular images we have across India (which is of loud coloured faces more suitable for a Halloween party!!).
Here Holi is celebrated the Thakur’s way, boys and girls dressed in bright red, yellow, orange; sing the great poet’s songs, dances on his lyrics, greets each other with bright powdered colour which is called Abir. As it is, mother- nature has all the liberty to dress up vivid enough here, on the day of Holi, the place goes crimson with pops of colours and all faces shine with smiles.
Though every weekend throughout the year is pretty much filled with tourists here, specifically Saturday (if you are planning to go to Shatiniketan, you got to have a Saturday in hand, it’s like you MUST have one Saturday in hand); I have always been to #Shantiniketan just after Durga Puja (the biggest festival of Bengalis).
During this time, the place is quieter in comparison to ‘other than Puja vacation’ time. Because Visva Bharatai is closed, most of the students go to their home towns on vacations. Yes, so I haven’t seen the usual scene of Visva Bharati packed with creative minds, giving shape to their imagination, neither I have been to the museums which otherwise people will visit when they are opened. I like that deserted campus area look, with handful of people taking a round of the place, sipping in the seclusion, looking at the leisurely evening.. it’s my comfort zone you see!
Coming to Planning a trip to #Shantiniketan can be as below:
Stay at #Shantiniketan:
There are number of good hotels available, but I feel it’s best to try home stays or small resorts which has the local flavour. A lot of home stay options are available to pre-book on the internet. I have always stayed at a small home stay closest to the Poush mela ground, 10 minutes from Central library, it’s called Country roads. The location is really great, just steps away from the Poush mela ground, and also if you walk till the Central library, the market area on the main road is 5 minutes walk away.
THINGS TO DO IN #SHANTINIKETAN:
Let’s talk a bit of shopping & munching at Shantiniketan:
Talking about the area close to Central Library, you can have lunch at the local restaurant (here local means local, no luxury of A/c, dim light, waiter with bow tie etc. But yes fresh food good for the taste buds can be assured), then walk a little further and the shops are there to welcome you with variety of things; From Khesh Saree (a special cotton saree quite famous here and not very expansive from 500-1500 range depending on the design, bargaining applies) to home decor, souvenirs to gift friends and family, handmade bags, show piece etc. you can actually lose a lot of money buying so many things as everything is reasonable and can be easily carried back to home!!! I know that’s funny but shopping is no joke ladies, isn’t it?!
***And of course, when the evening hunger is not letting you concentrate on shopping, find a road side tea stall (you will find them very easily, and yes I’m talking about “Roadside tea stall”) and have just fried, crispy alur chop, beguni with some muri and dudh Chai (Potato Crockets, eggplant crockets, puffed rice and milk tea/ Masala Chai). Oh that’s the best part of the evening!!
Also, you can find few people carrying a big white thermocol box on their cycle carrier and selling something, No No don’t ignore them, they are selling Dahi and/or Rabdi (sweet meet), Dahi is the yummy dessert you can’t miss. Do have them; it’s better than ice cream!!
Places to visit/ see in #Shantiniketan :
Ok, back to being a little serious! I got to tell about sightseeing. So start a little early in the morning if any plan for temple visit. #Kankalitala is one of the 51 Sati peeth of Devi Sati. It is believed that her axial fell here. About 40 minutes by Toto, the driver will drop you about 10 minutes walking distance away at the parking area, from there you have to walk to the temple ground, a number of shops are on that roadside, selling sweets, flower if you wish to offer to the Goddess, also they let you keep your shoes for free in return as well. The temple is serene, not jostling with crowd but still locals, tourist are coming. In case anybody wish to have ‘Bhog’ (rice and curries offered to Goddess), please wait till 12 in the noon. You can pay for it if you want a good portion of it. Otherwise outside the temple once coming to the parking area, there are 1-2 small old mud house shops, who sell great Kachori in the morning, you can give it a try if you are not a fussy eater.
While coming back, there is a Biswa Bangla #haat, opens from 1 pm everyday; it’s a permanent shopping fair where locals can sell their hand work to the buyers. It’s a great platform for the local artists to showcase their work and earn a good livelihood.
There is another Eco park which can be visited, for the late afternoon or early evening relaxation. The entire park has more than sufficient natural shades to rest, and a lake for fishing, enjoying fresh air. Then walking past a village like experience (inside the park!), there are some mud houses for people/ staffs to live, then an area for kids to enjoy or for so called adults to enjoy funny photography. At the exit there is a multi cuisine restaurant as well in case the tummy calls for food.
If you come with some time (like 2 nights in hand), the above is enough for one day, otherwise you got to rush, after the temple visit come back to #Shantiniketan and finish the other attractions in there.
But if you have another day, then sit back we have loads of time in hand. Sightseeing in #Shantiniketan can be started a bit late, and if it’s on a Saturday (I repeat better make it Saturday), you can start by 10-11. We have always started with the Srijoni Shilpogram, where the art and culture of the state and the neighboring states are portrayed in one place. The entry ticket is 20 rs per person. (carry an umbrella if it’s other than winter morning, as you got to walk from one hut to the other) It looks like a small village with lines of small houses, all of different shapes, sizes and designs. Basically each house represents each state of the country; inside the houses it depict the culture/ tradition/ typical local decoration of that state. It takes about 30-40 minutes visiting the entire place.
The tour continues to #Visva Bharati Campus, starting from the Upsana Griha (prayer hall), Kalabhaban, Sangeet Bhaban, Black house (now the students hostel, only toppers get the first preference to stay here first and it’s kind of an achievement) etc.
Then the tour prolongs to #Chatim tala, the old Banyan tree under which Tagore wrote many poems, the famous was “Sohoj Path”, Amro Kunja, to #Amar Kutir (a popular shop here selling local handicrafts), Prakriti Bhavan (a museum of stone art, here imagination plays an important role), local tribes’ village (I never knew a tribal village can look like a perfect canvas, neat- clean & photogenic) etc.
Some shooting place (Santiniketan is a very preferred location for Film makers), hence many time one can come across ongoing film shoot.
By the time you finish all these, you need to head by the #Kopai River because you need to finish lunch first then you are given enough time to enjoy the #Saturday_haat (and that’s the reason you NEED to keep a Saturday in hand). A large variety of local handicrafts are sold by the locals and sometimes by students of Visva Bharati under the open sky. Starting from handmade jewelry to clothing, home essentials to home furnishing even musical instruments, what not you get in here. There are couple of restaurants serving good menus, and on Saturday, this has to be the place to have lunch, with the Bauls playing the aktara, singing in their compassionate earthy tone outside under the tree, at the other corner tribal beauties swaying themselves with the rhythmic beats of drums and a crowd admiring them, getting lost in the music. The #Saturtaday_haat is quite a delight, with a glass of fresh sugar cane juice. Roaming around the fair, listening to the different music being played at every corner, people bargaining with the sellers, someone checking the strings of the aktara before buying, the tribal ladies dancing with the rhythm of madol (folk instrument).. so much going on for some hours and it’s so much fun.
How to go to #Shantiniketan:
From Kolkata, a lot of express trains are going on daily basis (both from Sealdah & Howrah), for reserved seats better to do pre-reservation or during off season city express ticket for non reserved seats will be ok.
Of course #Shantiniketan is well connected by road as well by NH 19 & NH114 for a long drive.
Mode of transport in Shantiniketan:
Only the electronically run Totos can be the only mode of transport in #Shantiniketan, the roads are mighty fine for four wheelers, but fun lies at these airy medium of transport!!
Food in Shantiniketan:
Try Bengali food, because that is the best to expect with utter authentication and the real version recipes are tried only. Lunch/ dinner may cost from 100-150 per person per meal.
Safety in Shantiniketan:
The place is quite safe for travellers, even for solo lady travellers. Just keep a track of time, like after 7-8 pm roads are quite empty, so you can relax at the guest house, it is a very good option to take dinner service from the guest house, as the restaurants will not be very close to your stay and every guest house offers meals at night. You can even give your choice of menu to them to cook for you if that option is available (simple ones of course).
That’s from my end.. Do share your experience of travelling in Shantiniketan.. Happy weekend!!!
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