About 165 kilometres away from Bengal’s capital is the dusty and crowded town of Bolpur. As I alighted from the train on Bolpur Railway Station, I was taken aback by the crowd. I was even more shocked with the chaos and noise outside on the main street. This was not how I had imagined Shantiniketan to be. As someone who has read Rabindranath Tagore’s surreal words, I was dismayed by the scenes of Bolpur. It was sharp in contrast to the peaceful town I had in mind. Fortunately, the chaos died down no sooner I exited the main Bolpur-Shantiniketan Road towards my B&B.
Last year, I visited Shantiniketan twice. Though the trips did not differ much, this guide is a combination of both.
What I did
Shantiniketan is best explored on two-wheels. The streets and the pathways are cycle-friendly. And bicycles are readily available.
I hired my bicycle through my B&B and it costed me ₹100 a day. There are a number of shops renting out cycles at ₹40-50 a day. One of the best things about the town is that there are cycling repair shops on every street. You can hire or repair your cycle while on the move.
Visited the Viswa Bharati
Viswa Bharati or the global university is a the main attraction of the town. Within the campus, Uttarayan Complex is where most travellers flock. This houses the Rabindra Bhavana Museum and other houses of Tagore, which are ornamented by large gardens and a few artsy sculptures.
Bichitra is the building which houses the Rabindra Bhavana Museum. It sees a big influx of tourists all through the year. This museum displays the chronological events of Tagore’s life. These are depicted by old photographs, original manuscripts and artefacts used by the Poet.
Walk around the Uttarayan complex and visit Udayan—the house made by the Poet’s son, Rathindranath, Konark—the red verandah where poetry reading sessions were held, Punascha—the beautiful house where Tagore moved in 1936 and Udichi—the last house where he lived.
The other must visit part of the campus is the Kala Bhawan or the Arts Department. The murals and the art installations around this space are quite unique and very interesting. A walk around the department means soaking in the vibe of the place, under the grand trees.
Literally translating to Saturday market, this is a flea market of sorts. The weekly Khoai Mela or haat takes place in Sonajhuri every Saturday. Vendors and craftsmen come from neighbouring hamlets and villages and trade their creations to travellers.
Soon after lunch, the vendors start to display their products on discoloured sheets, on the Santiniketan’s red soil. Walk around and explore the creative things. From stylish sarees, patchwork bed covers, kalamkari apparels, jute bags, Baul musical instruments, Dhokra jewellery, and slate, wooden and Dhokra artworks, everything is up for purchase here. Don’t forget to bargain.
Where I shopped
Studio Boner Pukur
Near Sonajhuri (or the open space of Shonibarer Haat) is a small tribal village called Boner Pukur Danga. Lipi Biswas, a pottery artiste, runs a small store here. She and her team make and sell all types of earthen glazed creations—from all types of kitchen crockery to home decor products. Shop from here exquisite earthenware and soak in the vibe of the place.
This is probably the best known shop in the town. No sooner you enter the store, than the left counter with Dhokra work attracts you. Expect to find everything authentically Shantiniketan here, from jackets to stoles to bedsheets to bags.
This flea market of sorts brings to you the latest trends in Shantiniketan. Apart from a great shopping experience, this place is perfect to witness all the local art and crafts from here.
Where I stayed
A quiet room in the terrace made my first stay in Shantiniketan complete. Located in Sriniketan road, I found Parimal Ne’er on AirBnB. I booked it immediately because it looked just enough for me, safe and affordable. The added benefit was the available bicycle on hire.
The room was clean and basic and so was the attached bathroom. My first visit was in March and after pedalling though the day, the air-conditioned room was a blessing. The wi-fi was also fast and kept me well-connected. The food was homely and wholesome. All-in-all I couldn’t think of anything that I didn’t like here.
I paid a comfortable ₹1421 for the room and all meals were charged extra.
In my recent trip, I stayed in this exquisite done up house. I’ll refrain from calling it a homestay (since the owners are from Kolkata) and refer to it as my B&B (though it was certainly more personalised).
We (I had company) got the entire top floor of the house which had two rooms and two bathrooms. It was done up with intricate artefacts from my hosts’ travels. The sprawling space was perfect for four adults. The floor opened up to a balcony which was a perfect spot in the evenings, after a tiring day. In the mornings, I woke up to the chirp of the birds. The food was more than enough and very well prepared. I wouldn’t say it was homely but it definitely came from the kitchen of someone who knew and understood food.
I paid an expensive ₹3000 for the top floor (most of which we didn’t use) and all meals were an additional ₹350 per head.
Where I ate
Santan shop in Prantik
While staying at Munia Prantik, my host took me to Santan’s shop for breakfast. Sitting in the tea stall-restaurant, we soaked up some early morning winter sun before our piping hot breakfast was served to us. The breakfast was a delicious plate of Bengali kachori with sabji. Direct from the chulah, Shibu da served it to us. The tea was brilliant that morning. From the colour to the aroma to the texture, I haven’t drank chai so perfect in Shantiniketan.
I chanced upon Kasahara Cafe on my first visit, pedalling aimlessly somewhere behind Kala Bhawan. It is a popular cafe, I understood on my second visit.
With mediocre food, this cafe was my only option to hydrate and revive myself. On my second visit, I hogged on an elaborate egg thali which came with two fries, dal, potato curry, egg curry, rice and chutney. For all this huge portion, a bottle of a cold beverage and a glass of fresh lime water I paid ₹310 for two.
How did I travel
I took the Shantiniketan Express from Howrah to Bolpur Station. There are plenty of trains plying between the stations. The journey is a short 2.5 hours. Shatabdi Express also runs on the same route and serves breakfast.
If you’re living in Prantik, taking the train to Prantik station is advisable. The journey is about three hours.
Good to know
-Uttarayan complex is open on all days except on Wednesday.
-Buy a ticket of ₹40 to enter Uttarayan Complex. The same ticket will allow you to the Ashram.
-The Ashram is open after 1PM every day, except on Wednesday.
-Kashahara Cafe is here. Else ask any student on the campus.
-Best time to go is November to February. Though I enjoyed my mildly humid visit in March.
Did I miss something? Ask in the comments below.