As a tourist if you are planning a visit to Bengal, then don't forget Shantiniketan. It is the place which Tagore built, where he has spend a big part of his life and till day the place can give you so much of Tagore that no other place can come close.
However for us it was more of soaking ourselves in the rich culture, in the vibrant markets selling handicrafts, listening to the bauls and indulging in some good food.
It is always good to visit Shantiniketan in the month of January when there is the "Poush Mela". At that time the otherwise sleepy town takes a complete makeover. Anyway we went in February end.
We started early from our house in Kolkata, and this time with the full family consisting of our parents and siblings. Shantiniketan is a small town near Bolpur and it is approximately 200 km from Kolkata. We started around 7 am and reached Bolpur at 12:30 pm.
The road was good and we reached Shantiniketan via Burdwan. I will not be able to tell the exact location but while you are in Burdwan keep your eyes open for the markers for the 108 Shiva Temples.
|108 Shiva temples|
|The pond inside the temple premise|
The Burdwan 108 Shiva Temples are more than 200 years old. As the name suggests there are 108 temples all dedicated to Shiva and they all look similar. There is a pond inside the temple premises and all the temples are built surrounding the pond. The temples are build in 1788 and they have the famous Bengal Terracotta style of architecture. The temples are still functional and are maintained by Trust. It will not take more than 30 minutes to see the Burdwan 108 Shiva Temples.
|The twin terracotta temples|
|Terracotta sculptures on the temple wall|
|A rare to find mud hut|
Before entering Bolpur, we chanced upon this pair of terracotta temples at Supur. Though they lie abandoned, uncared and unattended but still they are so beautiful. There are houses that have come along the vicinity of the temples but thankfully the temples are inside a quaint little park, so none really disturbs them. By the way terracotta is fire/sun baked clay.
Once we reached Bolpur, we went straight to Shantiniketan Tourist Lodge managed by the West Bengal government. They are duplex cottages but unfortunately for all all were booked for that day.
There are a lot of homestay and hotels in Shantiniketan, so getting one is not a major problem, but do not forget to prebook if you are planning to visit during the Poush Mela (in January) or Dol ( Holi, we Bengalis call it Dol). We stayed in Shakti hotel which is pretty good and decent.
The last time we came here we had already seen the Tagore Ashram. It is best to hire a guide who will be able to take you to all the places in this ashram and also tell the significance of each. in Bolpur or Shantiniketan if you are not having your own car then the best means of getting around is by cycle rickshaws. They are totally eco friendly and fun to travel in.
|The round the year bazaar|
|Baul with his instruments|
Just outside the Tagore Ashram there are stalls all round the year. It looks like there is a fair or mela all the year round. You will get beautiful acrylic painted clothes, block printed clothes, hand stitched bags, brass jewellery, wood sculptures, terracotta artifacts and a lot more. If you are lucky you can see "bauls" ( folklore singers) who sing soulful songs.
There is also a museum nearby called Rabindra Bhaban Museum which houses Tagore's original belongings, his manuscripts and things that are priceless.
The roadside no frills restaurants in Shantiniketan make amazing food. We were bowled over by their non veg meals at lunch.
|Deer at Deer Park|
The next day in the morning we went to the deer sanctuary which is quite nearby. Next we headed to Bishnupur the Terracotta Capital of India and also the only place in the world that has elaborate terracotta temples.