Shantiniketan Trip – Exploring the villages nearby

farmer going to field, bolpur, shantiniketan, rural life,

This is the concluding part of my travelogue on Shantiniketan trip in January, 2015. If you missed the earlier posts here are the links Weekend Trip to Shantiniketan: Day-1 and Day-2: Exploring Visva Bharati and Tagore’s abode in Shantiniketan

Day 3 – Exploring the locality and the villages nearby

I got up early that morning and set out to explore the village nearby. I wandered along the village road to feel the essence of the place. It’s been a long time I have been to a village. Here are some moments of a morning spent in rural Bengal. Hope you like them.

When I started the sky was pale blue.

rice field, paddy field, shantiniketan, rural life, bengal

I passed the green rice fields

greenery, rice fields, Shantiniketan, paddy field, village,

and followed the village road

mud cottages, village, shantiniketan, bolpur, rural life in bengal

to find haystacks on both sides, a common thing to see in rural areas.

haystacks, village road, shantiniketan, bolpur

The village was waking up slowly. Women were already at the pond, doing dishes and washing

pond, women at pond, shantiniketan, bolpur, rural bengal

while these ducklings kept vigil on them. 🙂

duck, ducks, ducklings, rural bengal, bolpur shantiniketan

The stray dogs seemed tired and busy in resting after nightlong watch.

stray dogs, banyan, rural bengal, shantiniketan, bolpur

The farmer sets out for the fields.

farmer going to field, bolpur, shantiniketan, rural life,

The sun was already above the horizon and it reminded me that I had to go back to hotel.

sun, sunrise, shantiniketan, bolpur, west bengal, village

While returning I stood by this fishpond to see nice reflections of palm trees in the water.

pond, reflection, rural bengal, shantiniketan, village

With the sun shining bright the rice fields looked greener and lovelier to me.

rice field, greenery, shantiniketan, bolpur

And I collected a souvenir from the groves beside it.

china rose, hibiscus, red, flower

Beautiful! Isn’t it? 🙂

P.S: We boarded Howrah Express from Bolpur-Shantiniketan at 1:10 pm and reach Howrah comfortably at around 3:30 pm. Cost of the trip was Rs 2300 per head. It includes train fare, accommodation, food, sightseeing and pick and drop – all of which I mentioned in detail in my previous two posts – Weekend Trip to Shantiniketan: Day-1 and Day-2: Exploring Visva Bharati and Tagore’s abode in Shantiniketan.

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A refreshing Weekend Trip to Shantiniketan

way to prakriti bhavan, shantiniketan, country road

“Nearest to the church is farthest from god’ – this old adage is so true, at least in my case. Shantiniketan is only 164 km from Kolkata, nearly 4 hours’ drive, and it is even closer to every bong’s heart, still it took us so long to visit the place. Established by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore Visva Bharati University in Shantiniketan has played a vital role in Bengal’s modern art and cultural history. And I always wished to see the houses where the great poet lived and where he studied and taught his students. Every time we planned, every time it was postponed and the jinx continued for the past 5 years. However, we finally made it this year in January (23-25). It was a refreshing family trip which was decided overnight. Planning doesn’t always work! 😛 But, it’s better late than never… 🙂

way to prakriti bhavan, shantiniketan, country road

How to go:

We boarded Santiniketan Express that departs from Howrah at 10:05 am everyday. The train reached Bolpur-Shantiniketan around 12:35 pm. There is a train from Sealdah – Sealdah-Rampurhat Passenger, which can also reach you comfortably to Bolpur, but it takes longer than the Howrah-Santiniketan Express dedicated for tourists only. The car from Baul Monn Resort was waiting outside the station.

Where to stay:

Baul Monn Holiday Resort is a nice and quiet stay away from the hustles and bustles of Bolpur Township. They provide pick up and drop service on request. You can read my review of the hotel on TripAdvisor.

Baul Monn resort in Shantiniketan, hotel in Shantiniketan

When to go:

In late January the nights were cold and days were pleasant in Shantiniketan. So, I think this is the best time to visit the place if you want a quiet holiday or relaxing weekend trip. Poushmela was just over and there were fewer crowds. If the festivals are main attraction for you then you should visit Shantiniketanin December during Poush Mela or in March to get the flavor of Holi in the form of Vasanta Utsab celebrated in the Visva Bharati university ground.

Things to do:

Visva Bharati University and Uttarayan Complex (where the poet and his family lived) are the main attractions. But there are much more to see and enjoy in Shantiniketan. In fact, the exotic rural landscape and the appeal of peaceful countryside has turned Shantiniketan from a cultural pilgrimage to a popular weekend getaway from Kolkata. I wanted to enjoy the natural charm of the place too. So, I planned my tour the following way.

Day 1 – Prakriti Bhavan – Amar Kutir – Srijani Shilpa Gram through Sriniketan Campus – Kopai River – Back to hotel

We reached the hotel by 1:30 and set out to explore the area by 2:30 pm after lunch. Our first stop was Prakriti Bhavan Nature Art Museum, India’s only nature art museum.

The museum houses impressive collections of naturally formed rock and driftwood sculptures. The sculptures, mostly collected from Deccan Plateau are placed in the outdoor garden while the wooden items are on display inside the museum building. These natural sculptures resemble animals, humans, gods and goddesses. A visit to Prakriti Bhavan will let loose your imagination for sure. Do you see Rabindranath Tagore in this natural rock sculpture? 🙂

Natural rock sculpture, Tagore, Prakriti bhavan, Shantiniketan

Amar Kutir

If you want to buy some local made handicrafts for souvenir Amar Kutir is a place to visit. We bought key rings, handmade diaries, typical Shantiniketan leather-worked purses; Kantha stitched jewellery box and junk jewellery for family and friends.

Srijani Shilpa Gram

After savoring some phuchka in front of Amar Kutir we made our way through Sriniketan Campus towards SRIJANI Shilpagram Complex.

srijani shipagram, cultural centre, shantiniketan, sriniketan, tribal art

The Shilpagram is a wonderful place to be with beautifully decorated tribal huts all around, depicting the lifestyle of various indigenous tribes from different parts of India. The place gives you quick insight of tribal life and their art and culture. This complex is developed and maintained by EZCC (Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre). They also organize cultural programmes and concerts in the outdoor arena in SRIJANI.

tribal cottages, Srijani Shilpagram, Shantiniketan

Kopai River

I had seen photos of Kopai River on the web and so I had doubt about it. The dusk was falling when we reached by the river. And as I expected it was sheer disappointment. There was no water, only grass and pebbles scattered along the riverbed. Our driver said that during monsoon the river overflows the bridge.

kopai river, shantiniketan, santiniketan

It was already dark as we returned to our resort. The manager informed us about the evening concert at the resort garden. Our first day ended with soul touching baul songs presented by local singers.

Day 2 – Exploring Visva Bharati University campus – Uttarayan Complex – Ballavpur Wildlife Sanctuary – Sonajhuri forest – Shanibarer Haat and Khoai

Day 3 – Exploring the locality and the villages nearby

 

Durga Puja 2010: Kolkata Dazzled in the Light of Festivity

durga puja 2010

It was almost a decade that I had kept myself away from the light of festivities during the Puja. I rather enjoyed spending the four days of the festival with my family and extended family at the quiet of home. But Durga Puja in 2010 has been different, perhaps 20 and 10 both are my favorite numbers and lucky for me too! 🙂

durga puja 2010
Amader parar thakur (Durga idol in our neighborhood)

This year I decided to get out and explore the Puja pandals, as many as possible. And what I found out is a dazzling Kolkata, all the more beautiful during the Puja days. The atmosphere has changed a lot. People are more mannered, crowd is more manageable, music is somber and tasteful and the designs and décor of puja pandals bear the mark of artistry and excellence with theme–based Pujas, far from the conventional decoration and mikes and sounds systems here and there blaring out cheap peppy songs all through the day in our childhood.

durga puja 2010

However, ‘puja’ today is not limited to its literal meaning, ‘worship’. It has expanded to include the idol of the goddess, the design and decoration of the pandals and the ambiance to win an award. Some Puja committees dedicated their pujas in the memory of Tagore, the great poet, whose 150th birth anniversary is being celebrated across the state this year.

durga puja 2010

I have perceived the prevalence of glitz and glamour in every nook and corner with the complete commercialization of one of the biggest festivals of India and the most coveted one in Bengal.

durga puja 2010 lighting

From sponsored hoarding displaying puja greetings to contests for the best dressed or beauty to awards for the best pujas in the city the reflection of commercialization seen everywhere. What I did not like is that ice creams, drinks and bottles of mineral water were being sold at Rs. 2 to Rs. 3 higher than their MRPs at various stalls given by some of the leading brands. Also the over-enthusiasm regarding theme-orientation has played a spoil sport for some the pujas in Kolkata, especially when it comes to making idol of the goddess.

durga puja 2010 idols

Well… this is my personal opinion after visiting some of the well-known pujas across the city. There was also that perpetual, tiring and irritating traffic jam due to pandal constructions along the roadside.

dhak, durga puja 2010

Still, with all the negativities and flaws Durga Puja in Kolkata rocked again. Even heavy rain in the afternoons of Maha Saptami and Maha Ashtami couldn’t dampen the spirit of the metropolis, for we have waited for it one l-o-n-g year! Tonight is the last of the Durga Puja – the idol has been carried out of the pandal and ready to be taken to the Ganges for immersion.  Bijoya greetings have already started flowing into my message inbox, reminding me that festivity never ends, it just keeps us waiting for another year ahead. Shubho Bijoya!

A Day out in the Alley of Potters called Kumartuli

Idol making in Kumartuli, Kolkata

Narrow lanes, hand-pulled rickshaws, tram lines and red-brick houses with louvre windows – yes … I am talking about a typical North Kolkata neighborhood.

kolkata, north kolkata streets
North Kolkata Streets

It’s that time of the year again, with Durga puja round the corner, we (Deblina and I) planned to explore Kumartuli, one of the cultural precincts of Kolkata. It was a Friday morning that we headed towards Kumartuli. From Shobhabazar-Sutanati metro station we took a rickshaw to Kumartuli, where clay sculptors were busy in making idols. Bright sunshine on my shoulders and the deep blue sky above were telling that autumn is on the threshold and with only one month left for the Pujas idol making would be in full swing.

Autumn sky
Sunshine in my eyes…

It was my long cherished desire to visit Kumartuli, the alley of the potters, where gods and goddesses are born (read created) in the skilled hands of mud sculptors who are in the profession of clay idol making for several generations.

Idol making in Kumartuli, Kolkata
Idol making is in full swing.

Well, coming back to where we started our journey. We had to take a hand-pulled rickshaw. As soon as I boarded the rickshaw childhood memories thronged my mind. Such rickshaws were aplenty on the roads of Kolkata those days.  We used to ride rickshaws often, especially in the evenings while returning home after a shopping or a visit to some relative’s place. The rickshaw puller is almost running pulling the rickshaw, and the sound of the bells hanging in his hand … ting ling ting ling (this bell worked like horns) and a small lantern hanging at the back of the rickshaw, just like the rear light of a car – the images are still so vivid in my mind!

Hand-pulled rickshaw in Kolkata
Hand-pulled rickshaw in North Kolkata

However, with the comfort and ease I am trying to sketch the picture of hand-pulled rickshaws, right now, it was no that easy during the ride. I sat stiff and terrified, thinking all the time, what if the rickshaw puller loosens his grip and we’ll land up up-side down (LOL!). Finally, we reached our destination and I was relieved to get down from the rickshaw. 🙂

As we moved on down the lanes the brick walls and structures were like closing in on us. I have never seen such narrow lanes and by-lanes in my life. Much to my astonishment, artisans live in there, with their families and have set up their studios for pottery and idol making! Well… studio, not in its literal sense.

Studios at Kumartuli
Studios at Kumartuli

Their studios are far from what we think or have seen… with scarcity of space, no AC, no fans and small windows refusing the daylight to enter, artisans keep working all day and night during this season. As for equipment and materials, they have clay, straw, ropes (made from coconut fiber), bamboo sticks and two hands – two skillful hands that can transform the shapeless mound of clay into a beautiful and awe inspiring idol of goddess Durga.

clay sculpture
Transformation from mounds of clay to beautiful idol.
goddess Durga
Goddess Durga

Hats off to those artists whose talent will never be recognized… who will never get the chance to bathe in the light of success and recognition.

As we made our way down the alley I was amazed to see half-done idols with a variety of size and features … large, small, medium; with traditional wide-eyed face revealing anger, or with a soft compassionate look more like a simple, native Bengali beauty; posing like warrior against the demons or blessing like mother.

idols of goddess Durga
idols of goddess Durga

We had only a few hours in hand with so much to see. We could only explore a part of the entire area in one hour. Since it was a working day we had pending jobs to do at the office. We set out from Kumartuli, reluctantly. Just as we were walking along the street we saw a tram approaching, much to our delight and we instantly got on it. Sitting inside the tram I felt nostalgic. It has been a long time since I last enjoyed a tram ride.

tram
enjoying tram ride

Trams are rare to see on the roads of Kolkata nowadays. The thought that Kolkata will be losing its heritage one day pains a lot. The metro has transformed a lot with a number of lavish shopping plazas, bustling multiplexes, flyovers and BMW, Skoda and Chevrolet plying the city roads.

Slowly the tram reached the terminal at Bagbazar. From there we caught the bus to Kalikapur, where our office is located. As the bus was passing through Shyambazar crossing I caught a glimpse of the statue of ‘Netaji’,

Kolkata
Kolkata has transformed but the spirit remains the same

basking in the sun, amidst a number of enormous hoardings and signboards trying to cover up the skyline, the bamboo structures for pandals on the roadside, posters of political rallies and the same zeal and enthusiasm for the Pujas reminded me, ‘Kolkata ache Kolkatatei” (The spirit of Kolkata still remains the same)!

The Money Plant on My Window

green leaves

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon. The sun was little mute outside because of the thick white clouds that were crossing its path often throughout the day. The sky was pale blue. The towering palms in our neighbor’s backyard were swaying there heads in cool breeze. The pussy cat was dozing on the window shade. My eyes were getting heavy and I thought of having a siesta. I went into my room and was about to close the window that this ‘money plant’ caught my eyes. It was looking beautiful green in faded sunlight. And I couldn’t but tried some shots with my digi-cam.

The lush green color of the leaves delighted me and also reminded me of how fast our city, Kolkata is losing its plantation. Perhaps, in future we’ll only have these indoor plants to turn to for green.

green money plant

green money plant

green money plant

money plant on the window

Tree Felling Spree in Kolkata Needs to be Stopped

Tree trunks lying beside VIP Road , kolkata, west bengal, tree felling

Everyday on my way to office I watch them.  They are lying dead.  It’s truly sad. They didn’t harm anyone neither they did cause any problem to anybody. If they were alive they could give us pure air to fill our lungs. They could give us cool shelter to rest in the scorching sun.  Yes… I am talking about those trees which are trees no more … just logs … lying here and there by the VIP Road – Kolkata’s once pride. I don’t know who to ‘thank’ for this – PWD (Roads) West Bengal or the Kolkata Municipal Corporation!

green kolkata, tree cutting
Tree trunks lying beside VIP Road Photo: Moon Roy

The flyover construction works by PWD end much before Shreebhumi-Golaghata area. So there was apparently no need to cut those trees that once graced the VIP Road (between Laketown and Golaghata, the stoppage right next to Ultadanga while you are heading towards Laketown). Just don’t understand how far this ‘tree felling spree’ in Kolkata will continue! And I wonder how the Forest Department can give nod to such irrational tree-cutting exercises!

Recently learnt from an online news portal about the “tree-felling drive” that is going on in Kolkata’s IT hub, Salt Lake Sector V (near Wipro).  What is astonishing is that the government is busy in implementing High Court’s order for replacing old 2-stroke autos with 4-stroke LPG autos and banning vehicles that are more than 15 year old. On the other hand, the same government is utterly indifferent when it comes to protecting the greeneries in the city! Why this duplicity?

So far I have not seen any tree-planting project taken up by the local administration or any authority to compensate the loss of green once such construction works are over (check out the entire Dum Dum area and you’ll see). VIP Road is the biggest example. Take VIP-Laketown junction for instance. There were big trees in the triangular divider one of which felled in the storm Ayla and the Municipality did not bother to plant a single sapling there. They are busy in concreting the place and widening the road rather!

Green Kolkata
Tree trunks lying beside VIP Road Photo: Moon Roy

Cutting down trees in the name of development and no planting of trees afterwards can only put the city life at stake. Flyovers and skyscrapers are much needed things in a booming metro like Kolkata. But what’s the point in living in a place where our children will were specs from their early childhood; will suffer from respiratory trouble and various skin problems; grow weak and unfit with ischemic heart in a polluted concrete jungle? Side-effects of environmental pollution and global warming are many.  It’s a different issue that we read about them in the news papers and magazines and then forget about it.

If the government and corporation act like deaf it’s time for us to wake up …to do something to bring back the greenery … to give our children a less polluted environment to live in. After all Kolkata is our city too. And we do have some responsibility towards it.

Kolkata Twitter Festival: Missed It This Time :(

kolkata twestival
Kolkata Twestival Poster Image courtesy: @Shilps31

Twestival… Twitter Festival … TwestivalKol (abbreviation for Kolkata Twestival) were the topics I was tweeting about (retweeted more…) for the last one week since I met some of the Kolkata Tweeps  who volunteered the entire event and who do tweet for a greater cause – @shilps31 (Shilpa Srivastava), @doubts (Kamanasish Roy), @saikatblogger (Saikat Sengupta), @subhojit_g (Subhojit Goswami), @shimulseo (Shimul Aich), @_samiran (Samiran Ghosh), @_anamus (Sumana Chakraborty), the cute and intelligent @princessmithai (Rajrupa Das) and @Shrabasti (Shrabasti Ghatak) and @DaMoViEmAnIaC (the movie maniac) in its true sense Aniruddha Chatterjee… :). Some of them I know personally and I felt honored when they asked me to join them in a pre-Twestival meeting and discussion (even though I was good for nothing… :)) on March 19, 2010.

I enjoyed watching them talking, joking, pulling each other’s leg while planning for the event at the same time. It’s truly inspiring how they managed time from their busy life to stand for what they believe… that is, “education for every child” … and they really worked hard to make Twestival Kolkata happen.

Twestival, since its birth in 2008 when a few London tweeple (people using Twitter) came up with an intention to “leverage the power of online networking” for social cause, has gone global with a total of 175 cities worldwide celebrating it simultaneously this year on March 25.

Twestival supports Concern Worldwide, an international charitable organization working to improve the living standard of people in some of world’s poorest nations. Some other cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi are already acquainted with Twestival in India. But it was relatively new to Kolkata as the city has its Twestival for the first time to bring twitter users living in this part of the world together for the cause of raising fund and supporting the education of under privileged children across the globe.

The mantra was “Tweet. Meet. Give”.

Tweet for a noble cause.

Meet offline to strengthen the support.

Give donation in the aid of world’s poorest.

kolkata twestival
Kolkata Twestival Collage Image courtsey @shilps31 & @sahaanirban

Therefore, in every reason I wanted to be there at Natya Bhavan, Salt Lake where the Kolkata Twestival was being held on 25th March. But alas!…the same old story again… I planned for Twestival and Destiny had planned something else for me. I was assigned an urgent work lately in the afternoon and had to complete it by that evening. So, when I got out from my office it was already 7:15. By the time I could reach the venue (from Kalikapur near Ruby Hospital) the program would be over. I rushed towards home hoping to catch up with some live tweets on the event and of course the snaps that people uploaded on @twitsnaps.

It was an enjoyable evening for everyone present there. Kolkata Twitter Festival was an assortment of painting exhibition by destitute children from SOS Village, a video show on the sufferings of the under privileged and deprived children; a musical performance by a local band and most interestingly a candid speech by the chief guest @greatbong aka Arnab Ray, the renowned blogger and writer whose blog I just love reading… and so much I wished to meet him in person and hear his speech. I also had one question for him – ‘why does he follow MrTweet only’? Doesn’t he find anyone else worthy of following (on Twitter of course …:P )!

A friend who attended the event told me that @greatbong talked about how to use twitter effectively for business promotion while sharing his views on blogging which I think I did miss greatly.

To end, I must mention that a sum of Rs. 17000, raised from Kolkata Twestival will go to the charity Concern. But I personally feel that had Twestival t-shirts (quite attractive!) been available at the venue (profits earned from the sale will be sent to charity), the amount could be higher. Well…. 17000 is not  bad at all for a debut performance! Hoping for more funds, more fun and stronger fraternity next year – a bigger Kolkata Twestival in every way …!