Looking to head out somewhere again, but not sure where to begin? Worry not, because we bring to you yet another less-explored travel destination this week — the beautiful and culturally rich town of Shantiniketan in West Bengal. And before you set sail, here is everything that you need to know.
About the place
Shantiniketan — also sometimes referred to as Santiniketan — literally means the ‘abode of peace’. Named after a local dacoit Bhuban, it was earlier called ‘Bhubandanga’.
Bordering Bolpur city in the Birbhum district of West Bengal, it was established by Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, father of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. But, not many people know that ‘Shantiniketan’ was actually the name of a guesthouse that Tagore senior had built when he founded the Brahmo Samaj circa 1863. It is believed that Debendranath Tagore was on a boat journey to Raipur in 1862, when he chanced upon a beautiful landscape comprising lush green paddy fields. That’s when he decided to plant more saplings and develop the area.
Later, his son Rabindranath Tagore envisioned it as a university town and established a school here. It was called Brahmachary Ashram, and was later expanded into the Visva-Bharati University.
How to reach
Shantiniketan is approximately 212 kms north of Kolkata. If you are flying in, the nearest airport would be Kolkata’s Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. Alternatively, you can take a train from either Howrah or Sealdah railway stations and disembark at Bolpur. If you are keen on a road trip, the rest assured the town is well connected with Kolkata and other major cities as well.
Best time to visit
It is ideal to visit the place in winters, when the weather is most conducive for exploring the rich culture and heritage of the town. As such, the months beginning October and leading up to February and March are perfect.
Places to explore
No trip to Shantiniketan is ever complete without a visit to the famous university. You can start with exploring the Visva-Bharati campus, which is divided into different independent schools and centres of learning — dedicated to visual and fine arts, folk and vocal music, and dance and drama.
Next, head to Tagore’s ashram, which is one of the most valued and revered places in town. Built in the year 1863 by Debendranath Tagore, the place has been maintained well by the local authorities. It was the abode of Rabindranath Tagore and houses many of his literary works, awards and accolades.
You must also visit the Rabindra Bhaban Museum which has some of Tagore’s original manuscripts, letters, paintings, certificates and photographs. The museum also has the original Nobel prize medallion that he had received — reason enough to visit it.
The Upasana Ghar or the prayer hall should be on every traveller’s list. One of the most gorgeous buildings in town, it is made up of Belgian glass and is also called ‘kaanch mandir’. Prayers are held here every Wednesday.