Shantiniketan, near Kolkata in West Bengal, is a university town and home to Vishwa Bharti University that was established by Rabindranath Tagore – India’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature.
Today, thousands of young and old people throng to the little town to celebrate the fusion of contemporary thought alongside a legacy of the natives of the land.
It was the first solo trip for me.
Though it is not a distant place or popular among solo travellers , but for me, as a small town girl, most important was to make a move. To make a move towards fulfilling my dream to travel.
One day, mid of week I just decided to go solo. Without second thought I started my journey, with a small backpack and a huge suitcase of confusion, worry, uncertainty and most importantly the urge to go alone. And I am glad that I did. For this trip , I just hopped in local trains and tuktuk, as my favourite way of travelling is public transport.
Shantiniketan is still all about Rabindranath Tagore and a deep sense of peace. Tempered with lush greenery, the smell of trees, their decaying leaves turning to soil and the smell of soil, makes it a soothing experience for world-weary travellers.
I felt like a scared yet happy wanderer, I walked miles to see every tree, every path made of red soil, every last trace of Rabindranath Tagore which was beautifully mingled in the city.
The locals of the region, Santhals, are among India’s last nomadic tribes. Although the members of the community have now made Shantiniketan their home, just like many other members who taken roots across the eastern part of the country.
The Santhals belong to a larger group of ‘adivasis’ which literally translates to ‘ancient residents’. They are people of the land and worship nature. They retain a simple way of life which can surprisingly festive, when it is needed to be.
I walked with no specific destination in mind. After visiting Vishwa Bharati campus including the houses established by Rabindranath Tagore himself and his sons. You can sit for hours on the benches in the lush greenery doing absolutely nothing yet feel peaceful and every corner give you that nostalgia that’s attached with Rabindranath Tagore. I kept walking aimlessly and soon found myself at Khoai Haat – a small market where locals sell their handmade artworks, clothes, jewellery and interstingly, the Iktara. It is a one-string musical instrument that serves as a powerful, although melancholic, base for various folk music genres of the region – like Baul.
Everything seemed to draw me in. Everything captured my attention. Be it the colourful jewellery, saree, performance by Baul (folk singers) or a Santhali dance performance. I seemed to lose myself to a blissful trance encouraged by the mesmerising music of Dhamsha and Madal (local musical instruments) and smell of Haria (local alcohol) which the Santhali people consumed. It is addictive.
It was just a matter of time before my body started to move to their rhythm and I could not stop until the dance performance was over.
Although I returned from my first solo trip within hours, that moment in Shantiniketan remains etched deep in my soul.
– Text and Images by Kasturi Chanda