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Tagore’s abode of peace: A tourist’s delight

Travelling to Shantiniketan is not only about tourism but a sojourn that takes one deep into the world of culture.

Arundhati Banerjee
Thu, May 9 2013

Photo: Arundhati Banerjee

About Arundhati

A vagabond at heart, love of travel has taken me places and made me a wiser soul with an open mind to learn and respect the people and cultures that I have encountered along the way.
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Travelling to Shantiniketan by train from Howrah station in Kolkata can be a cultural sojourn. Strains of Rabindra Sangeet sung by the local singers and sometimes passengers transported me to the world of Tagore’s poetic and musical treasure. Local artisans and train hawkers of street food like ‘jhal muri’ and ‘singara’ revived my childhood memories. As I stepped on to the little station of Bolpur some 180kms from Kolkata, in the state of West Bengal, the spring sun warmed me with the thoughts of Tagore and his ‘abode of peace’.

This is the heritage town of Shantiniketan that was named by Debendranath Tagore and blossomed into a creative and cultural cradle where the East met the West under the guidance of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. It is here that Gurudev set up his visionary ‘gurukul’ to impart education in all its ingenious freedom in natural surroundings and today it attracts students, artists, writers, thinkers and philosophers from all over the world.

Vishwa Bharati University has perhaps been Gurudev’s most precious gift that will inspire and educate generations to come. Stalwarts who made a difference in various fields like Amartya Sen, Satyajit Ray, Kanika Bandyopadhyay, Maharani Gayatri Devi, Indira Gandhi, Nandalal Bose and Ramkinkar Baij have been associated with Shantiniketan at some point of their lives.

We were greeted by our friendly guide, Dharmendra, the rickshaw-puller, as we arrived at Shantiniketan. Rickshaw is the best way to explore this dusty little town of ‘ranga mati’ or red soil and lush greenery. The last time I had visited Shantiniketan some 18years back, it was a sleepy hamlet where life passed by. Today it is a bustling town on the verge of bursting at its seams while incorporating the areas of Sriniketan, Shantiniketan and Bolpur.

In the absence of organised tourism, the local rickshaw-pullers have become guides for the numerous tourists who descend on to this place every day. Be it the cacophony of rickshaw horns in the crowded bazaars, a silent red path lined with trees, the walks along the serene Kopai River, the encounters with sculptures scattered around the Kala Bhavan campus or the interesting conversation with the numerous artisans and craftsmen who display their immense artistic talent through their work, you will be involved in the spirit of this place.

Dharmendra guided us around Upasana Griha, Shantiniketan Griha, China Bhavan, Chhatimtala, Bichitra, Dehali and the whole of Uttrayan Complex. He also took us around Amartya Sen’s home and Srijani Shilpagram. ‘Poush Mela’ in December and ‘Basanta Utsav’ during Holi are ideal times to visit and feel the cultural and colourful vibrations of this place.

As we left Shantiniketan, beautiful melodies of Gurudev filled our souls and spirits all along our journey back to Kolkata. If you plan to be in eastern India soon, make Shantiniketan your favoured destination for a day or two and you will not be disappointed.

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