The natural charm of Santiniketan perfectly epitomizes its Bengali name – meaning ‘abode of peace’. Shantiniketan has become a major tourist spot because of its association with Nobel laureate, poet and artist Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941), who founded a school here amid pastoral settings in 1901. The university town of Shantiniketan is a veritable nerve centre of Bengal’s art and culture.
It was established by Maharshi Devendranath Tagore and later expanded by his son Rabindranath Tagore whose vision became what is now a Central University, Visva-Bharati University with an emphasis on the study of liberal arts as well as humanity’s relationship in the lap of nature.
Kala Bhavana; the art college of Santiniketan, is still considered one of the best art colleges in the world.
Vidya Bhavana; the Institute of Humanities,
Shiksha Bhavana; the Institute of Science,
Sangit Bhavana; Institute of Dance, Drama and Music,
Vinaya Bhavana; Institute of Education,
Rabindra Bhavana; Institute of Tagore Studies and Research,
Palli-Samgathana Vibhaga; Institute of Rural Reconstruction, and
Palli Shiksha Bhavana; Institute of Agricultural Sciences.
HOW TO REACH:
The most preferred way to visit Shantiniketan is via Kolkata. There are many trains running from Howrah to Kolkata which takes only about 3 hours. The Ganadevta Express and the Shantiniketan Express (which starts and ends its journey from Shantiniketan itself) are the most suitable ones.
It is advisable to prebook the AC chair cars(at reasonable rates) which are well maintained as well as clean and comfortable. Before one ends up eating all those junks and street foods brought by the hawkers you will land in Bolpur station already. Shantiniketan is just 5 minutes/2 km away from the station in the TOTO (a battery rickshaw) available outside the station.
Alternatively, one can take buses from Howrah which takes about 5 hours and most probably should be avoided due to the bad patches of road on the way.
HOW TO ROAM AROUND
That’s probably the easiest question to answer as there are only two alternatives. Either you walk around the town or you hire a TOTO for the day.
Walking around is easy and soothing as the whole campus is full of greenery and shades. However given the extent of the same, hiring a TOTO seems to be the best option. They will offer you packages (haha that’s true TOTO packages) to take you around the campus only for Rs. 600 or the campus and nearby attractions as well for Rs.800. And yes, you can always bargain when in West Bengal.
Tip — Beware of the young TOTO drivers trying to woo you inside the station itself. Excuse yourself and get out of the station to the TOTO stand and catch someone older looking who will not only be a suitable guide but also charges the just price.
GUIDE OR NO GUIDE
Well if you are hiring a TOTO then the driver himself will serve as guide as well in most cases. If you plan to explore on your own then ride on a TOTO to the University gate for Rs.20 and definitely there are guides at the entrance who will be more than happy to show you around for about Rs.100/200.
Tip — Language might be problem out there as most of the TOTO drivers know only Bengali and a little Hindi but of course no English. Since, I can understand Bengali so it was not a problem for me but then again choose accordingly.
WHAT TO SEE
Shantiniketan is a small town and Viswa Bharati University itself is the major tourist attraction there. The places of interest inside the campus are :
- Cheena Bhavan: Santiniketan comprises of many academic blocks, each dedicated to a separate branch of study. The China Bhavan, as per its name, focuses on studying of Chinese Culture, traditions and language.
- Chhatimtala : It is the place where Maharshi Debendranath Tagore meditated daily and devoted himself to world peace. 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. Prayers are held usually at Convocation time.
- Kala Bhavan : The College of Fine Arts & Crafts has a museum exhibiting sculptures, frescoes & murals and a library of art books.
- Patha Bhavan : It is not only the oldest school of the university but also the oldest institution on which the university was subsequently built. Initially called Ashram Vidyalaya it was later called Santiniketan Vidyalaya. The distinctive features of this co-educational school include its open-air classrooms and emphasis upon oriental learning.
- Prayer Hall : Founded by the poet’s father in 1863, made from Belgian Glass, the prayer hall is also called Kanch Mandir. Prayers are held every Wednesday and the hall is lined with candles every evening, accentuating its beauty.
- Sangeet Bhavan : College of Dance and Music. The University is replete with works on Art, Music and the Humanities.
- Uttarayan Complex : This complex has archived his life in the form of Tagore’s literary works, his awards, and accolades, daily items used by him and his love for nature. One cannot help but feel his presence all over the area. This beautiful complex thrown around tree-lined avenues, gravelled courtyards and exotic gardens boasts several buildings built-in architectural styles varying from art deco to rural Bengal; Udayana, Konarka, Shyamali, Punascha and Udichi which takes you down Tagore’s memory lane.
The one particularly worth seeing is Udayan, where Tagore lived. Reproductions of his sketches and paintings are sold here from a publications sales counter by the main entrance. Remains closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
- Shoes are not allowed in most buildings.
2. Photography is strictly prohibited in the museum and a lot of the buildings.
This university is especially famous for its cultural festivals:
- Basanta Utsab (Spring Festival): This festival is identified with doljatra or holi, which is held on the grounds in front of Patha Bhavana.
2.Poush Mela (Winter Fair): It is the annual winter fair which is held every Poush . The fair is meant to encourage the local people of Birbhum and outlying districts to come and exhibit and sell their wares. Jatras, are staged and Bouls perform at the fair.
NEARBY ATTRACTIONS :
Dear park `
The Ballabhpur Wildlife sanctuary, popularly called the Deer Park is a serene forest home to a numerous deers and migratory birds. It is advisable to go there at around 10 to 11 am during which the deers comes out to have food. Don’t forget to walk to the watch tower to have a bird’s eye view of the sanctuary from the top.
Located in close vicinity of the University, Amar Kutir showcases a number of locally made handicrafts, including leather printed bags, printed clothes, leather sandals etc. at reasonable rates.
Located at a distance of about 5 km from shantiniketan is Srijangram which is famous for the preservation of the literature and cultural heritage of different states of India which are popularly called Rajbaris.
All in all, a day and a half is perfect to roam around the picturesque town of Shantiniketan which can be comfortably clubbed with a Kolkata vacation, which is what I did. Alternatively, if one is interested in The Great Poet’s work or the way of open learning in Shantiniketan or want to be engrossed in seeking solace then they might prefer longer stays. There is a government-run guest house as well as private hotels for overnight stay. The only disappointing thing was lack of a proper restaurant that haunted me.
The abode of Rabindranath Tagore will definitely left you feel content and the serenity encompassing the town is beyond explanation. It fills you with positive vibes and energy.
Did you go for a vacation this summer too? Was it an adventurous one or a soul-searching one like me? Do comment below.
You may also like my travelogue to The Iconic Taj Mahal here
or to the Blissful Kanyakumari here
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