If you need a quick break from the tiresome humdrum of city life, Shantiniketan is the best option for you. Nestled quaintly in the Birbhum district of West Bengal, India, this place (true to its name which means “House/Abode of Peace”) provides one with the perfect calm needed to rejuvenate oneself. Here, one finds a balanced blend of history, education, culture, and nature.
History of Shantiniketan
Shantiniketan boasts of a very rich heritage. Established in 1863 by Maharishi Debendranath Tagore, it was later expanded by his son Rabindranath Tagore. This unique university town grew out of Tagore’s vision of creating a system of education beyond the confines of the classroom walls. Initially known as Patha Bhavan, Vishwa Bharati University is a one of a kind open campus where students gain knowledge while being in direct contact with nature. Classes are conducted amidst trees and students are free to interact with their surroundings. We couldn’t agree more with Tagore’s description of the town:
“She is our own, the darling of our hearts, Santiniketan.
In the shadows of her trees we meet
in the freedom of her open sky.
Our dreams are rocked in her arms.
Her face is a fresh wonder of love every time we see her,
for she is our own, the darling of our hearts”
How to get there?
The distance between Shantiniketan and Kolkata is about 160 Kilometers. Quite a number of trains are available from Howrah Station (Kolkata) to Bolpur Station (Shantiniketan). The other option is journeying there by road. It takes around 3 to 4 hours to reach the destination by both road and train.
Personally, I would recommend a road trip as it provides the leisure to enjoy the scenic beauty of rural Bengal to the fullest. The roads are quite good ensuring a smooth drive. It is best to start the journey early morning and grab some breakfast at one of the ‘dhabas’ by the highway.
Where to stay?
Shantiniketan offers a wide range of options to put up at, from budget hotels and homestays to luxurious resorts. It is best to choose one that suits you and make prior bookings, especially during the winter months which attract a large number of tourists.
We opted for a hotel called ‘Samriddhi Highway Inn.’ As the name suggests, the hotel is located by the highway, away from the main town. Though isolated, the place provides a sense of calm and quiet, which is exactly what we were looking for.
The hotel has a villa-like structure housing 6 double bedrooms (all on the ground floor). It is an ideal place to stay in if you are traveling in a large group. The compound is superbly decorated with various kinds of flowering plants. It is abundant in open space which is perfect for children to run around. They also organize parties on the lawns. The ambiance is dreamlike and serene.
They also have an in-house kitchen and restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a delectable menu of a wide range of items. They also take party orders. The food taste and quality are extremely good. Overall, Samriddhi Inn is the perfect option to stay in for a weekend.
Places to visit in Shantiniketan
As a tourist in Shantiniketan, there are lots of things to do and see. For that, a weekend is definitely not enough! Here are the places that we could visit in our short stay at this beautiful little town:
Sonajhuri Saturday Market
Popularly known as the ‘Sonajhuri Sanibarer Haat,’ this is an experience one cannot afford to miss. A one of kind weekly market, it takes place only on Saturdays, amidst the famous Sonajhuri tree forests of Shantiniketan.
The market is an absolute sensory treat which stimulates all the senses of a person witnessing it. The items on sale are bright and colorful, catching every eye. Most of these are hand-crafted by the sellers themselves and reflect the creative powers of the people of Shantiniketan.
Adding to this is the soul-stirring music of the native Baul musicians, something which is unique to Shantiniketan. Characterised by ‘Ektara’ and ‘Dhol’ the live music takes the ambiance to an entirely different level.
Along with this, there are stalls selling delicious items to satisfy the taste buds of the visitors.
The Sonajhuri Haat is unlike any other shopping experience. It is a glimpse into the lives of the people and the culture of the place and should definitely be on your bucket list!
This historic place is a must-visit if you happen to be in Shantiniketan. Consisting of five buildings, the Ashram also houses a museum dedicated to Rabindranath Tagore. Displaying various aspects of the Nobel Laureate’s life, this museum takes you back in time. Tagore’s Ashram is an important site to visit due to its sheer historic value.
Bonolokkhi Hotel houses a famous restaurant. But what many people don’t know is that they also have a shop selling souvenirs and organic food items which are prepared in-house. These include organic honey, pickles, mustard oil, and ghee. We bought some of the items and it is worth mentioning that the quality and taste is really good.
This restaurant is very famous for its Bengali ‘Thalis’ and attracts a large number of tourists. It was recommended to us and so we gave it a visit. We were excited to try out the thalis. However, even though the presentation was impressive with food served in copper utensils, we were quite disappointed with the taste. I would suggest it is always safer to check the quantity before placing the order as each thali was more than sufficient for two people. Being unaware of this, we ordered one thali per person and thus, a lot of the food went waste.
However, I would still recommend you to give this place a visit as the ambiance is brilliant. They have a unique outdoor seating arrangement with a beautifully decorated garden. It is a great place for photography.
The market area in Bolpur town consists of a large number of shops which mainly resell the items sold at the haats. Although the items are priced at slightly higher rates compared to the haats, the market offers a wider range of options as the items are curated from many artists and artisans. This is the ideal place for souvenir shopping. A walk down the market on a pleasant evening is a unique experience.
All in all, a weekend road trip to Shantiniketan is a one of a kind experience. What appealed to me the most was the abundance of nature in every nook and corner that we visited. The perfect balance of culture, creativity, and history is what makes this small town so different and so memorable for anyone traveling there.