Exploring Visva Bharati and Tagore’s abode in Shantiniketan

tagore's statue, amar kutir, shantiniketan

This is the second part of my travelogue on Shantiniketan trip in January, 2015. If you missed the first part here is the link for you A refreshing Weekend Trip to Shantiniketan.

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

We booked rickshaws (Rs 300 per rickshaw for a tour of the university campus including Uttarayan Complex and Rabindra Bhavan Museum and a detour to the sanctuary.)

Visva Bharati University

Visva Bharati with a sprawling campus is famous for its excellence in the study of art and music. I was amazed by the awesome sculptures made with clay and pebbles by Ram Kinkar Baij, a pioneer of modern art and sculpture in India. His works are inspired by tribal lifestyle and it is expressed through his sculptures and murals that are on display at Kala Bhavan.

sculpture by Ram Kinkar Baij, kala bhavan, shantiniketan

“He integrated elements of Santhal tribal art and life into his own work and enhanced them by an understanding of Western expressionism that was gleaned from books at the library of the Kala Bhavan.”

You’ll see his life-size sculptures and murals including the statues of Buddha and Gandhiji are on display at Kala Bhavan (The Heritage Complex) in the university campus.

mural by ram kinkar baij, visva bharati, kala bhavan, shantiniketan,

buddha statue by ram kinkar baij, Visva Bharati, kala bhavan, shantiniketan

However, I found the works of new generations artists like these are no less attractive than those of the maestro.

murals by new artists

The famous kalobari or Black House is known for its unusual relief works designed by Nandalal Basu and his disciples like Ram Kinkar Baij. The house is built with mud and coal tar is used to design its black frescos.

kalobari, black house, kala bhavan, visva bharati, shantiniketan

Prayer Hall or Upasana Griha of the university is made with marble and stained Belgium glasses. It was built in 1863 by the poet’s father Debendranath Tagore. The prayer hall looks amazing in gleaming artificial light during the evening service.

prayer hall, visva bharati, shantiniketan

We stopped by the Chhatimtala, a beautifully landscaped garden area where Gurudev’s father Maharshi Devendranath used to meditate and pray. The place has a serene atmosphere where you’ll inevitably feel in harmony with nature.

chhatimtala, Visva bharati university, shantiniketan

Uttarayan Complex

This is the place where the great poet and his family lived. There are five residences of Tagore named as –  Udayan, Konarka, Shyamali, Punascha and Udichi and The Bichitra now turned to Rabindra Bhavan Museum which houses an impressive collection of Tagore’s belongings, especially his manuscripts, paintings and other documents.

shyamali, Uttarayan complex, shantiniketan, tagore's house

Ballavpur Wildlife Sanctuary

The wildlife sanctuary in Shantiniketan has now turned to a mere ‘deer park’ as the local people call it. As you go deeper into the jungle you will only find herds of deer. There was a time when the sanctuary was home to a variety of animals. But today only spotted deer are the only species left. We watched the deer playing and grazing all by themselves. Some were a bit curious and peeped from behind the bushes and observed us.

Deer, ballavpur wildlife sanctuary, shantiniketan

As long as we were inside the sanctuary it was very cool and comfortable under the canopy of towering trees. When we came out of the park the it felt hot in the early afternoon sun even in January. We were hungry and a bit tired. It was better to go back to the hotel for a refreshing shower and some tasty meal.

Khoai-Sonajhuri-Saturday Market

Reloaded and rejuvenated we set out towards Khoai at around 3 pm. The Khoai Mela or Shanibarer Haat or ‘Saturday Market’ which is a temporary, open-air market where locales sell various items starting from musical instruments to dokra handicrafts to ethnic jewellery and hand-loom sari and dress materials. Apart from Tagore and Visva Bharati this market was a chief attraction for me. Set beside Khoai, the deep dry riverbed, with Sonajhuri Forest in the backdrop, this Saturday Market is the place to feel the vibe of Shantiniketan.

shanibarer haat,  khoai, sonajhuri, shantiniketan

Although I did not find anything cheap (as we think about local markets) but there were plenty of things that ignited my interest.

ektara, flute, vendor at khoai mela, Shanibarer haat, shantiniketan

ethnic jewellery, khoai mela, shanibarer haat, shantiniketan

The baul singers in their dazzling robes sang soulful folklores while playing ektara (single-stringed instrument) or dotara (two-stringed instrument).

baul, folk singer, khoai, shantiniketan

We roamed around in Sonajhuri forest for some time and sat by the Khoai and took pictures.

khoai, sonajhuri, shantiniketan

After wandering about an hour I felt an urge of having tea. It’s a Bong habit of getting tea-thirsty as soon as the clock strikes five in the afternoon. But a tea stall was hard to find in a place like this. Suddenly I saw a small crowd at a distance. Approaching closer I discovered my saviour. Crowd gathered around this young girl selling tea/coffee. She carried a huge flask that contained hot water for making tea and it was finished in an hour.

tea stall at khoai mela, Shanibarer haat, santiniketan

The market dissolves at sunset. When I finished my tea it was almost 5:30. The shadows of lanky eucalyptus trees grew taller reminding us that it’s time to leave. Though I wanted to spend some more time there our rickshaw puller said it becomes too dark after sunset and there are no street lights. So we had no choice except to get on the rickshaw and return to the hotel.

sonajhuri forest, shantiniketan

That evening Baul Monn arranged a concert by local band who offered wonderful fusion of folk songs with electronic musical instruments which we enjoyed very much. I went to bed thinking about my ‘venture’ next morning and dreamt of Sonajhuri and the colorful Saturday Market that night… 🙂

Day 3 – Exploring the locality and the nearby village.

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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