Kolkata is not your quintessential spring break destination. But the prospect of a sibling reunion, good food, and experiencing Bengal landed me in the City of Joy. I stepped out of the airport on a sultry March evening and for the next couple of days, undertook a guided exploration of the city – walking from Kumartuli to Marble Palace, savouring chelokebabs to rolls.
But there was an experience unparalleled waiting for me away from the hub-hub of Park Street, from the yellow taxis or the aloo-biryanis– tucked away in Santiniketan.
The journey to Santiniketan plays an essential role in creating its experience. As our train left Howrah at the break of dawn, the sun seemed to follow us, rising over the horizon as we travelled farther and farther away from Kolkata. The transition from urbane speed to provincial slumber was gradual, but stark.
We passed one too many a bridge with a river flowing beneath, and mustard fields that seemed like DDLJmight as well have been shot here. Getting down at Bolpur railway station, it seemed like we had reached the threshold of a space that existed in no time – a space that neither engaged with, nor cared about the ramblings of urban life.
A tuk-tuk was our ride from Bolpur to Santiniketan. It left us at parallel bridges over a canal that was home to a massive art installation of a shark. It stood there as nonchalantly as the people who walked past it. Right opposite to the shark was a middle-aged man wearing bright red sunglasses from whom we each rented out a cycle for the rest of the day.
We rode first to Santiniketan Residency to have breakfast. We were given limited options, and told that lemon water was unavailable, but we could be given sweet water with lemon wedges that could be squeezed into it. Taking leave from our disinterested hosts, we rode past a quaint post office and rows of street vendors to Rabindranath Tagore’s office and house(s), now turned into a museum in his honour.
The Uttarayan Rabindra Museum enshrines the life and works of the Nobel Laureate. A whole room is dedicated to manuscripts and translations of the Geetanjali. Tagore’s glasses, stationary, cutlery – all preserved like the any harm to them would harm his pristine existence.
A few steps from this building stand Rabindranath Tagore’s multiple residences across his time. We chuckled at his need to shift houses every few years and were stared down by the people around us. It was interesting to see Tagore’s post-humous treatment. People took off their footwear before entering any of the buildings in that complex; they knelt before a recreated version of his room; viewed every aspect of his being that even religion fails to conjure in the modern day. “Would the self-questioning writer of Char Adhyay like this?” I questioned as I walked to my cycle and rode away.
We rode past artsy buildings, stopping beneath blossoming trees to take pictures. A line of street stores sells handmade artefacts, clothes, and bags. There are numerous picturesque spots by the stream, good for picnics if not for the blazing sun. If you’re one who loves cycling and enjoys letting the vibe of a place inspire you, Santiniketan is the perfect place for you. It is filled with nooks to curl up in with a good book, or places to facilitate engaging conversation.
As the train departed and we began our journey back into the hustle of the city, this time, the dusk seemed to follow us. Symbolic, I thought.
(Chandana Krishnegowda is a second-year English major at Ashoka University. When not catering to ever-growing academic demands, she finds solace in the kitchen, cooking up a storm. She is passionate about fighting the patriarchy, with poetry and prose as her weapons of choice.)
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s personal views.