27 September 2010

trip to santiniketan

place: santiniketan
district: birbhum
state: west bengal
location: some 180 km from kolkata via NH 2 and NH 2B
average cost per head: rs 1000 (in a group of two)
mode of transportation: train (general)
stay: hotel santiniketan lodge (non ac room, rs 300 for double bed occupancy)
food: local bengali cuisine at a restaurant
fame: tagore, rural bengal, viswa bharati university, khoai, santhals

route map
“Mighty heavens! It’s already 1 am and within four hours I will have to leave for Howrah station” saying this I switched off my computer after having posted a competition blog and went off to sleep. It was a Friday and sleeping late was usual but today was different. My namesake and friend Vivek and I had planned to visit Santiniketan. We had to take the Gandevta Express at 6.05 hrs from Howrah station so we had to leave for Howrah (some 5 km from my home in Liluah) at around 5.30 hrs.

village at santiniketan
I woke up at 4 hrs and after packing my bag and refreshing got ready by 5 hrs and gave Vivek a call. It was still dark outside on the road and a little cold. Huge trucks passed by and some stars still twinkled and after a wait of a while I finally got hold of a rickshaw which I hired till Vivek’s place because he was still bathing and would take time. I reached his place, had a warm cup of tea (bliss) and left for the Liluah station in the same rickshaw whom I had told to wait. It was 5.35 hrs by the time we reached Liluah station and bought tickets for Santiniketan via Howrah (94 bucks). We reached Howrah at the nick of time and our scheduled train was thankfully on the next platform and about to leave in a while. The ignorant we scanned the entire length of the train for the general bogie not knowing that almost the whole of it was general. We thankfully got one seat which we shared. The train journey was great fun. The green paddy fields with the blue sky above gave a pleasant feel and before it was 9 hrs we reached Bolpur station in Birbhum district, a few minutes after having crossed the demarcating river of Ajay on a bridge. A baul singer had just mesmerized us with his songs.

what was the train's name?
The station looked great and much like my earlier visit to unknown and faraway places this one too gripped me with a passion so deep that a smile came on my face. I have always imagined and painted places in my mind and the fun of seeing them in real and comparing the two pictures is so much great fun. We got a rickshaw and told him to take us to a hotel. We booked one on the main road and coincidentally the road was named Santiniketan main road and the hotel, Santiniketan lodge.

taking notes
The hotel was cheap (300 bucks) but very clean and comfortable. We rested for a while and off for sightseeing. We walked for a while in search of a good restaurant but seeing none finally took a rickshaw and off to Viswa Bharati University. The road that took to our right from the rickshaw stand went to the famed poush mela ground but we didn’t go there, albeit straight to the university. We reached there and got down at the museum which was closed. A guide confronted us but being poorly paid IT professionals we obviously couldn’t afford one. We again booked a rickshaw which would take us around the university town and double up as a guide too. But before anything else, we told him to take us to a place where we could eat something. The dhaba where he took us was pretty much good. We had luchi and cholar dal besides tea and off to the university ground.

bolpur station
hindi bhavana
I was amazed at the calmness and serenity of the place. The university is world famous for its model of classes which are mostly open air and its long association with Asia’s first Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. He founded the world famous university with various departments in arts which attracts students from across the world. They had the Hindi Bhawan, the Chinese Bhawan, Kala Niketan, Sangeet Mandir etc and every department was nestled amongst the lap of nature. There were ponds, trees, beautiful hostels and structures of modern art spread throughout. The university was a tourist place in itself. Since it was around 10 hrs and classes go on till 13 hrs it wasn’t wise to go around clicking pictures of students, teachers and the classes and disturb them. At least I saw the classes under progress and it was an amazing feeling. Every corner, every bench, every building had stories related to the mahaguru and I couldn’t possibly miss out on anything. I was feeling good.

inside the campus
a buddha statue
kala bhavana
We also decided to go to the nearby Ballavpur wildlife sanctuary housing some 275 spotted deer besides a host of local water birds and insects. It was an amazing place and since it wasn’t a big one we could go around on foot just following the fencing. It was a good place for photography and I loved it. We did see a herd of deer from close but it was sweating hot inside. The entry price was 4 bucks for adults and 5 bucks extra for still photography and I had to go around the place asking people for a hundred rupee change because the ticket collector didn’t have that but he was good and answered every question I asked him, including the area, the animal count, the species I could see, when the blackbucks got relocated, the time I could spend inside et al without the slightest of a fuss.

inside ballavpur wildlife sanctuary
More than wild animals the sanctuary had many a couples gone wild. After all where else would you get to spend cozy moments under the darkness of the jungle for as less as 4 bucks an hour? Couples could be seen kissing, hugging and doing what not and not even minding wildlife enthusiasts (yeah! I am talking about myself) pass by. I went and sat on a concrete bench beside a couple deeply lost in making love and more than them I was feeling weird so I got up and got going. We almost totally explored the sanctuary and got some classic macro shots of insects. I couldn’t thank my stars. My camera was perhaps eight months old and not even one butterfly shot but the day was luck. Guess the wild couples blessed me for moving out from the “core” area of the sanctuary. I took shots of pollen grains, dragonflies, a butterfly and a spider besides many a thing else. It was already 13:20 hrs by the time we came out, after having spent a wholesome 80 mins inside the sanctuary. The rickshawala was tired but still showed us more around the university.

road sign
pose! pose!
We asked him if there was anything else to see. He told us about river Kopai and the khoai geology unique to the area. It was already time for lunch and the best restaurant we could get there was just about ok. The food was good (130 bucks) and we even invited the rickshawala to eat with us. It was quite hot by the time we set off for river Kopai where Tagore had written a famous poem. It’s a seasonal river and the area around it was very beautiful. We also saw a Santhal village while going to an area of khoai formation where Bengali movies are also shot. It was an amazing rickshaw ride and he took 250 bucks for the entire stay. The red soil looked picturesque and the sal and eucalyptus trees gave the area a surreal look. A canal ran nearby and the water looked inviting in the sweltering heat. We returned to our hotel at around 16 hours and since we were very tired we thought of resting for a while. We hadn’t rested for some 12 hours at a stretch and the body ached like hell. We had bought some sweets from a local shop but it tasted bad.

We decided to go for a stroll in the evening at around 19 hrs and hired a rickshaw from our hotel to the station. Since we had an extend weekend we had made plans to go to Bakreshwar or Tarapeeth the next day but considering the odd train timing plus our tiredness we changed our mind and decided to leave for Kolkata the very next morning. We went around Bolpur, eating anything and everything and spoiling our stomach. It’s a cheap city compared to Kolkata but quite bustling with activity. I was in no condition to eat a morsel but my namesake, the super glutton wanted to eat more.

fencing inside the sanctuary
creepy crunchies
We had a hard time looking for an air conditioned restaurant. We asked a rickshawala, “Yahan koi air conditioned restaurant hai?”

“Kya? SBI bank? Haan, wo hara light hai na, usi ke bagal mein.”
“Arrey nahi, air conditioned restaurant, bank nahi, restaurant.”
“Oh! Acchca! ICICI bank. Wo to ye samne hai, par raat me to ye bank bandh rehta hai.”
“Arrey nahi chacha, restaurant.”
“Ye naam ka koi building yahan nahi hai!”
“Restaurant chacha, jahan khana milta hai.”
“Oo, to aisa bolo na.. mere ko nahi pata.”

beautiful bengal
Considering an old man gone bonkers we left him in his fantasy world and got ahead to find a gang of boys under a street lamp. We asked them about an air conditioned restaurant. They did direct us to a dark alley where when we went we didn’t see any “Green Chili” restaurant as said by them but bumped instead into the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC) building. We hadn’t booked our rooms here, they are expensive plus booked well in advance but there was no reason we couldn’t have dinner at their restaurant. We got inside, inquired about the rates and got straight to the dining hall. After spending the whole day under the nude sun, this was such a respite. We ordered chicken, rice, roti and egg curry and some coke. We had our fill, sat for a while and left for our room and had a good sleep. We got up early the next morning and took the 8.30 hrs train to Howrah.

the lush and green fields
they are birds!
I for the first time tried to get down a running train at Liluah when it had slowed down a while but it gave my legs a strong jolt, and then when I remembered my namesake was still on the train and couldn’t get down because of his luggage and I had both our return tickets (92 bucks) I ran and got into the train yet again with a heart beat exceeding a thousand beats per second. It was dangerous and I am never going to do it again. We reached Howrah safely, had vada paw and off for our homes where we had a sound sleep for the rest of the day.


  1. love this post!!!
    bole to ek dum jhakaas :)
    and vo "AC Rest." wala story gajab tha :P

  2. excellent pics !!!
    ek do jo tumhari hain vo bhi acchi hain :P