There are quite a few places in Bengal where you can still experience and enjoy the cultural riches of the region. A prominent one amongst them is Shantiniketan, a quaint neighborhood of the Bolpur town. The very mention of Shantiniketan automatically conjures up images of everything Tagore in the minds of all those who have even the slightest interest in the fine arts and literature. As such, even on your day trip to Shantiniketan you can expect to see and learn a lot about the places where Tagore had penned his timeless classics and even enjoy great food and shopping.
Shantiniketan is very well connected to the other parts of Bengal and you can either come here by train or just drive down. If you are travelling from Kolkata, it would be best to start early so you can reach Bolpur early and start exploring Shantiniketan straight away. You can always book a room in Panthshala which is a wonderful guest house near Visva Bharati, the neighborhood’s key attraction, so you can freshen up and grab a quick bite before getting on with the sightseeing.
You can either drive around the neighborhood in your own vehicle or hire a battery operated rickshaw (locally known as Toto) to explore the different places. The Toto drivers are also great tour guides so you may want to book one for the whole duration of your trip; just remember to negotiate and finalize the fare before boarding the vehicle.
Overview on some of the key attractions of Shantiniketan:
Visva Bharati: Initially established by Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore in the ancient Gurukul system, Visva Bharati is now one of the country’s most prestigious universities whose alumni includes notable personalities like Smt. Indira Gandhi, Sri. Satyajit Ray and many other internationally acclaimed personalities. The university is not a closed campus and you can visit its different factions at your own pace. The Chhatimtala, Kala Bhavan, Rabindra Bharati Museum, Amra Kunja, Bakul Bithi and the Upasana Griha are the key attractions of Visva Bharati and the campus is only open to visitors till 5 pm.
The Sonajhuri Haat or Khoai Mela: This magnificent open air market place is one of the key attractions of Shantiniketan. Held every Saturday on the banks of the Kopai River, this weekly marketplace is a shopper’s haven. Here people can find an eclectic variety of handicrafts, hand-woven garments, musical instruments and more. Folk music and dance performances put up by the locals and Baul singers strumming on their instruments and singing lilting melodies enliven the whole atmosphere. If you want to spend ample time here checking out all that the market has to offer, you may have to rush up with your Visva Bharati tour a bit.
The Srijani Shilpagram: The Srijani Shilpagram is another popular tourist attraction where tourists can see and experience the cultural riches of states like Bihar, Assam, Odisha, Manipur and more. This 26 acre museum complex is beautifully designed to look like an Indian village. Here you can not only see beautiful artifacts but also buy souvenirs and textiles from rural craftsmen.
All of the above mentioned places in Shantiniketan are quite exciting and enchanting and in my honest opinion you may not be able to visit all these places in one day. However, if you decide to stay overnight at Panthashala, which is one of the best guest houses near Visva Bharati and leave only the next afternoon, you will be able to enjoy the best of these places and more of Tagore’s haven, Shantiniketan.