Got a day off in Kolkata? Need an escape from the honking taxis, the high rises, and the hulla bulla of the streets? Then Shantiniketan is where you should head for. Had been to this serene town last year with family, but that being a properly planned trip my ‘nomadic’ instincts longed to be back there in a more ‘spontaneous’ way.
And I did fulfill that wish soon, by boarding a train to Bolpur on a recent weekend. A confirmed ticket for a train was close to winning a lottery (Shantiniketan as a weekend destination is a huge hit with tourists and shopping enthusiasts…the reasons I shall be sharing in a while). I had booked a seat on an A/C chair car which left Howrah station around 8.30 am. Within half an hour I got the flavor of travelling to Tagore’s famous place with bauls (folk singers) boarding our coach and captivating us with their melodious rhythms. Their soulful voices, sound of the ektara and ghungaroo combined with the lush green landscape outside held a magic which could only be felt, not expressed.
For the ‘need popcorn during the movie’ addicts, snacks are never far away with offerings from various vendors ranging from coffee, tea, the popular jhaalmuri and ghoti-gorom, to a proper breakfast of bread omlettes and puri sabji. So don’t you worry if you happen to miss your breakfast to catch the train!
Three hours later, we arrived at Bolpur. Once out of the station gate (or even at the platform) be cautious about the toto walas, who if given the opportunity would literally pull you to their vehicles. My experience this time was rather gloomy and shocking when two drivers standing outside the station slapped and pushed the driver of my vehicle because I accepted his ride offer and he wasn’t in the ‘queue’. He finally asked me to get down from his vehicle and I chose not to take a ride with any of those involved in the scuffle. I walked some distance away from the station and boarded another toto.
For those who enjoy a hike, if the weather is comfy, every location is manageable on foot. I had decided to stay a bit away from the town, at a village resort (in Khoai, Sonajhuri forest area) where we had had our lunch during my last visit. 15 minutes later, I was at the resort (as I told, every place is nearby- even the outskirts!). No room being available, the guy at the reception managed to provide me with a room in a neighboring hotel. The catch of staying in the Khoai village area? – you would stay amidst farmlands and woods, get to enjoy the delicious traditional Bengali thalis the resort serves, the famous ‘khoai haat’ (local market) just a stone’s throw away and a few friendly canines to give you company.