Shantiniketan ‘Abode of Peace’

Shantiniketan meaning ‘Abode of Peace’ was originally the name of Nobel Laureate Guru Rabindranath Tagore’s house at Bolpur, Birbhum district of West Bengal. In 1901, Kaviguru  shifted here with his family and was so much impressed by the natural beauty of the place that he decided to establish an international Center of learning here with his own unique concept of teacher- student relationship and the natural open air classrooms. Vishwa Bharti University was later conceptualized on his ideas.

Presently being in Kolkata, I was very curious to visit the place and feel its tranquility.

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Open air classroom at Shantiniketan

On the Saturday morning I boarded the train to Shantiniketan from Howrah Station, Kolkata, one of largest and busiest railway stations in India.

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Howrah Railway Station, with Howrah bridge in the background, Kolkata

It was 10:10 in the morning when the train left the station for a two hour 15 minutes journey to Bolpur. The journey was quite comfortable as it was Air conditioned chair car bogie and all kinds of snacks were being sold by the local outside vendors. Quite cheap and tastes good too. The best part of the journey was yet to come. As I finished my coffee, a man in his fifties entered the coach and he was wearing saffron color long dress which usually Sanyasis and Mystics wear in India and he was carrying one traditional musical instrument Ektara (one stringed).  He started with his folk song in Bengali which was hardly understandable to me but the music was so mesmerizing that I just got lost until he stopped after few pf his own compositions. After collecting tips from the passengers he moved to the next coach for his next performance.

After few minutes of break there was another performance by a Baul Singer. Bauls are the singing mystics. A Baul sings and dances at the same time with the music as if they are together one entity. Their instrument is also unique and they are common in Bengal.

The train reached Bolpur around 12:30 noon and I took a shared Tutu (electric rickshaw) to Shantiniketan Campus for mere Thirty rupees for three kilometers.

There are many different schools within the campus, Kala Bhawan, Pathabhawan etc. which can be visited by hiring a Tutu. The students move around in the campus by bicycles from one school to another and back to their hostels. That is the reason that the whole campus is pollution free.

There is Museum (entry fee Rs. 40/), formerly the residence of Guru Rabidranath Tagore.  

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In fact,there are several buildings which Guru Rabindranath Tagore used at different point of time, all have been converted into museum and displays Guru’s creativity and other old photographs of Guru’s life in India and abroad.

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The car used by Guru is also  on display in one of the enclosures.

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Car used by Guru Rabindranath Tagore
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The house where Guru Rabindranath Tagore first came with his father and stayed in 1901.

After watching all the buildings and the surrounding lawns I headed towards much talked about Saturday flea market which starts around 3:00pm and ends with the sunset as there are no arrangements for lights there. About 2 kilometers from the museum, a tutu will  drop you to the local market at the outskirts.

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Saturday Flea market at Shantiniketan

Local artisans and artists gather here to sell their homemade handicrafts and clothes. Local musicians play folk songs without any fee. Tourists pay them in kind. They actually play very melodious music and together with the scene of the market place, the whole ambiance of the place is quite interesting and people come here and shop for the handicrafts and all such products at very cheap prices.

Finally after sunset, the Tutu dropped me at the railway station, few kilometers away and I boarded the evening train back to Kolkata. I enjoyed the weekend and was very happy to visit such an important place with memories of such an important person, Kaviguru Rabindranath Tagore.

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The National Museum, Kolkata

Yet another Sunday and the heat and humidity of Kolkata deter most of all to stay away from outdoors. Still people like me can never miss a chance to travel again to a new place no matter how bad the weather is.

On the lazy Sunday morning ,after having my breakfast, took Metro from Kalighat metro station to reach Park Street. Just outside the Park Street metro station is located The National Museum.

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Established in 1814, considered to be the largest and oldest in India. The Museum is maintained and managed by Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

The building itself is testimony to the period during which it was built and the patronage it attracted at that time. The Museum is divided into different sections like Archaeology Section, Art Section, Botany Section, Zoology Section, Geological Section and Anthropological Section. There are various interesting galleries within each of the sections.

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As you enter the building there is ticket counter on the left hand side and there is a ramp towards the main entrance of the museum. After taking ticket for Rupees 20/ from the counter, I headed towards the main  gate to enter where the gate keeper tore away his copy of the ticket and showed me the way. There was green courtyard in between the square structure of the building.

Just upon entry  there are two galleries one on each side. I entered towards the left hand side and found the Zoological Gallery. It was a huge hall with hundreds of specimen but the attraction of this gallery was the middle row where they have recreated the structures of couple of large animals of the period.

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Display in The Zoological Section

  It was amazing to see the recreated elephant and the extent of his tusk.

The extensive Archaeology Section has whole lot of attractive figurines from different parts of India and from different periods of time.

The Bharhut Gallery has magnificent display of the Railings and gateways of the Buddhist Stupa discovered in the year 1873 from Bharhut, Madhya Pradesh, India. Carved in red sandstone, depicting scenes from the Buddha’s pre-birth stories.

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Display at The Bhurhut Gallery
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Display at The Bhurhut Gallery
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Display at The Art Gallery

The Anthropology Section is also very interesting.

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The Anthropological Section

Similarly there are other sections like The Geological section, The Botany Section.

The most important attraction of The Indian Museum is the 3000 years old mummy kept here at the Egypt gallery on the first floor upstairs. Overall the Museum is worth visiting if you happen to be in Kolkata.

The day ended with  a hot cup of tea in typical Kullad (cup made up of mud)  outside the Museum.

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Churches of Goa

A day trip in Goa may take you to the Churches of Goa declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in India.

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Church at main market, Panjim

Goa being the most prominent tourist destination in India has some significant sites other than the Beaches for which it is famous for the world over. If you are in the main market area of Panjim, you will come across the magnificent white Church, Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church, built in 1541 and replaced by a larger one in 1600.

Though it is not in the UNESCO World Heritage List but it is a very prominent site in Goa.  Approximately 10 kilometers from this place are located the famous churches of Goa, in Old Goa.

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Se Catedral de Santa Catarina, Old Goa

The Old Goa was the capital of Goa in the early days of Portuguese rule. It has two large Churches facing each other. Saint Francis Assis and Basilica of Bom Jesus separated by a main passing road. Nearby there is Church of Saint Augustine, now in ruins though.

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Church of Saint Augustine (Ruins)

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Basilica do Bom Jesus, Old Goa

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The remains of St. Xaviers at Basilica do Bom Jesus

Basilica of Bom Jesus contains mortal remains of Saint Francis Xavier.

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Interior of  Iglesia de Sao Fransisco de Asis

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Inside the Church of St. Francis of  Assisi
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The Museum at St. Francis of Assisi

The List also contains Saint Anne’s Church, Chapel of Saint Catherine, Chapel of Saint Cajetao, Church of Lady of Rosary, Church of Our Lady of Mount, Church of Saint John of God, Royal Chapel of Antony. Though all these churches are not covered in the daily tours offered by the taxi operators, but they can be reached by hiring taxi for the whole day for the purpose.

A day Trip to old Goa is offered by various Travel and Tour Agencies in Goa which costs about Rupees 2000/ and covers old Goa Churches, some temples nearby and a short trip to Spice Gardens.

 

The Indian Coffee House, Kolkata

The Indian Coffee House, Kolkata is probably the oldest of all Coffee Houses in whole of India. I have visited the Indian Coffee House in Delhi, at Shimla in Himachal Pradesh, Alleppy in Kerela and Allahabad In Uttar Pradesh. All the coffee houses across India have same type of old world charm. They are all run by cooperative workers societies. The Furniture is same , the taste is same and people of all age group may be seen chatting in a noisy setting. The Coffee and other items are generally served in white ceramic crockery throughout India in all coffeee houses. The reason of the popularity of Indian Coffee House is its age old culture and also the price of items available here. The quality is also reasonably good.

The Narrow street will take you to an old building through a small gate just opposite The Sanskrit College on Bankim Chatterjee Street. Upstairs you will come across some book sellers on the way and up on the first floor and the second floor balcony, you can probably find sitting place in this coffee house. It has been documented in many books that the place was originally built in 1890 and was named the Albert Hall. At the time of freedom movement it was the place for meetings of the patriots. Later in 1944 it was converted into a coffee house. Even today it is the place for students, the academia, the artists etc. Notable personalities including Rabindra Nath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Subhash Chandra Bose were frequent to this coffee house.

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After having a hot cup of coffee i stepped out  and while wandering in and around the College Street area, near the Calcutta University, I  passed by The Presidency College, which is probably among the oldest colleges of India.

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Presidency College, Kolkata

It has a small beautiful campus but the most notable feature is the alumini who have passed out from this college. The most prominent being Guru Rabindra Nath Tagore himself. In 2010, it was upgraded to the status of a University. The University is among the finest academic institutions in India.

In the second half of the day I planned to visit the much renowned , The National Library in Alipore area, considered to be the largest library in India by volume.

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The National Library, Kolkata

In fact, the old building is very impressive which is actually not in public use but has offices only. One can still walk up to the stairs and have a feel of the Place and the building.

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The National Library, Kolkata

Took a Tram towards the Esplanade to have a walk in the New Market in the evening. Its generally very crowded and is very popular with the locals as well as the tourists who come here for all sorts of shopping needs.

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The Marble Palace

Ever since I came to Kolkata five months back,  I was keen of visiting The Marble Palace. I had read in some book on Kolkata about it. So one fine morning I started and took metro form Jatin Das Park and got down at Mahatma Gandhi Road station. Few minutes walk from the station is Mukhtaram Babu Street where this huge Mansion is located.

At first it doesn’t appear that there can be such a huge Mansion in so narrow lanes. The reason being that at the time when it was built it was the poshest location but now the encroachments have not spared the grandness  of the locality. You are walking and suddenly you come across such a grand mansion.

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Narrow alley near The Marble Palace

Although permission from West Bengal Tourism Department is necessary to visit the palace, but the gatekeeper was kind  enough to allow me expecting a tip when i come back. As I entered the main gate, I saw the palatial nineteenth century Grand mansion and on the right side was a large pond  and the family temple. In the middle of the pond is a statue and the fountain in the center. I entered the main building assisted by a guide who took me to the ground floor. The large halls on the ground floor had sculptors of high artistic caliber and the paintings were adorning the walls on all sides. The Guide told me that ninety different varieties marble was imported via the sea route for building the Marble palace.

The mansion was built in 1835 by Raja Rajendra Mullick, a wealthy Bangali merchant who had a passion for collecting art pieces from all over the world. The halls previously ball rooms have huge chandeliers, paintings by famous artists of the time and sculptures from all over the world. There are wall size Belgium Mirrors in the ball room and other halls. Interestingly there was a old piano in one corner of the ball room. The corridors around the varanda have huge cages of various kinds of small colorful birds.

I would say that if somebody visits Kolkata, a visit to The Marble Palace is a must. The Marble Palace is a private property and is maintained by a private trust. It also has a lush green garden and lawns. There is a small zoo which is believed to be the oldest zoo in India.

I paid the tip to the guide and the gatekeeper and asked the gatekeeper about other interesting place nearby. Surprisingly, just few minutes of walking distance was Jorasanko, Thakur Bari, The ancestral family residence of Thakur Rabindra Nath Tagore about which I posted a couple of months back. Guru was born and brought up here. The house was built by Rabindra Nath’s grandfather Dwarkanath Tagore in 1764.

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Rabindra Nath Tagore’s house in Jorasanko, Kolkata, India

Last time I visited this place was Thakur Rabindra Nath Tagore’s birthday. and the place was bustling with activities throughout the day. It is a three storied structure which has now been converted into a Museum. It contains the Guru’s personal belongings and the display of paintings, books and other art pieces created by the Guru himself.

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Guru Rabindra Nath Tagore’s room in Thakurbari, Jorasanko

Again a worth visit. Thakurbari now houses the Rabindra Bharti University established in 1961.  The University offers undergraduate and post graduate programs in Performing Arts and Visual Arts.

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The Great Banyan

 Last Sunday was yet another World Environment Day, I was having  a walk by the Hoogly after having a quick lunch. There was lot of activity as usual at the Babu Ghat. Some people were getting ready to have dip in the holy waters after worshipping, some women were walking upstairs after their Puja.  A barber was sitting below a shady tree and was trimming beard of an old man. By the side of the stairs people were relaxing and having body message by traditional masseurs.

The wind was  humid but it was pleasant in the shades of those old trees lining the old Strand Road. suddenly I saw a ferry coming near the ghat and I felt like crossing the river to reach the other side . Took a 5 rupee ticket and boarded the ferry. Instead of getting inside I stepped up to the upper deck to enjoy the cool breeze.

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The ferry was about to leave the ghat when an old man came running with his bicycle wearing umpire cap, thick black spectacles and quickly boarded the ferry along with his cycle.

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It was sailing smooth as river was calm and within few minutes we were at the ghat on the other side. This is Howrah and few kilometers from here is historic and very relevant place, The Royal Botanical Garden, Kolkata.

Officially it is Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose Indian Botanical Garden . Before it was renamed in the 2009 after a bengali naturalist, it was known as Royal Botanical Garden, Calcutta.

The Garden was founded by Robert Kyd, an army officer of the British East India Company. Later William Roxburgh became its superintendent in 1763, who developed extensive collection of dried plant specimens, technically known as  The Herbarium .

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Roxburgh Memorial

The Garden has a wide variety of plants and trees from more than five continents spread in over more than 100 hectares.

The most interesting thing which attracts thousands of visitors each year is ‘The Great Banyan Tree’ , a 250 years old banyan tree considered to be the largest tree spread in more than 1.5 hectares through more than 3500 aerial roots.

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The Great Banyan Tree with its boundary.

The tree is protected by  a boundary of 330 meters of circumference! The Garden also has separate extensive palm grooves, enormous collection of Bamboos and Orchids, Palms and what not.

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The road to Great Banyan Tree

 

There are few small lakes in the Garden which adds to the beauty of the whole place. The ambiance is perfect for quite pleasant walks in the woods with river Hoogly flowing besides the boundary of the rich Garden on one side.

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The Lake

The Garden can also be reached easily by Taxi from Kolkata main city. Local bus connectivity is also quite frequent.

Took a local bus from the main gate of the garden and reached Esplanade to catch a Tram for Ballygunj.

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Tram at Esplanade

The Day ended well with light rain and pleasant evening. It was a perfect setting to be at, on the World Environment Day and I enjoyed the scenery ,the walk and also the ferry ride across Hoogly.

 

 

 

WEEKEND GETAWAYS FROM DELHI         

dharamshala (32)Summer vacations have begun in and around Delhi. Scorching heat of 45 degrees Celsius is pushing everyone to head towards the hills.

Delhi is a base to visit hills and valleys whether the Himachal (Shimla, Dharamshala, or Manali etc.) or the Uttarakhand (Nainital, Kausani, Chardhams, Hemkund Sahib and more). There are a whole lot of options from Delhi.

The popular destinations include Shimla and Manali in Himachal Pradesh and Nainital in Uttarakhand. However, places like Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh are although not so popular but are beautiful and less crowded.

Dharamshala has recently been selected as one of the 100 cities to be developed as Smart Cities under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship Smart Cities Mission.

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Dharamshala is a peaceful hillstation and was once in the minds of the then Britishers as summer capital. Today it is home to Dalai Lama and his follower Tibetans. Local people who are originally from Tibet are now staying in Macloed Gunj a few kms uphill Dharamshala. The Stupas and the Monasteries built by them are major tourist attraction here in Mcloed Gunj.

On entering Macloed Gunj, there is a small Anglican Church St. John in the Wilderness where Lord Elgin, Viceroy of India was buried after his dealth in 1863.

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It is recommended to see Mcloed Gunj by walking since it is a small place. Bhagsunag temple with natural spring water swimming pond, the Monasteries and The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, considered as most important library for Tibetology are all within walking distance from main bus stand.

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Bhagsunag Temple Pond
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Monastery at Macleod Gunj

Macloed Gunj is a base for tracking tours to Triund above which is the highest point to have a view of the snowcapped Himalayas.

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A short visit to the local village named Naddi gives you an opportunity to feel the peace and beauty of village life of Himachal very much frequented by foreigners throughout the year.

A visit to Kangra Fort is another option to have a look into the history of this region. Although the fort was devastated badly in a massive earthquake, but still the remains are worth visiting.

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Kangra Fort
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Kangra Fort

For a more spiritual experience one can head for Jwalaji Temple, a very ancient temple which is at a distance of about 55 kms. from Dharamshala. Interestingly there is a natural flame burning all the time.

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Jwalaji Temple. Kangra

There are a whole lot of options for staying there in Mcloed Gunj including the Himachal Tourism Development Board guest house at the end of the market road.

Thanks to the presence of tourists from all part of the world, Mcleod Gunj has many types of small restaurants catering to the needs of varied tourists’ demands. Lot of eating options in the market and most importantly, the original Tibetan cuisine is available here.

For reaching Dharamshala, you can either drive from Delhi or Chandigarh or you can opt to book tickets in Volvo luxury buses of Himachal Tourism from Himachal Bhawan, Mandi House, Delhi or from Chandigarh.

By Train, Dharamshala is accessible from Delhi upto Pathankot from where you can taxi or local bus to reach Dharamshala which is at a distance of 94 kms from Pathankot.

Direct flights are also there from Delhi to Gaggal airport which is at a distance of 10-12 kms from Dharamshala.

Best season to visit is March to June and September to December.

 

Guru’s BirthDay

On 8th of May was Guru Rabindranath Tagore’s Birth Anniversary.

I started in the morning for Jorasanko or Thakur Bari as it is known in Kolkata. Built in 1784, the house is named after Rabindranath Tagore’s father Maharishi Debendranath Tagore.

Guru was born and brought up here in the Thakurbari and with the passage of time, became the nerve center of Bengal’s cultural life in the 19th century.

Gurudev was a man of letters, a thinker, a philosopher, a painter and a lot more. His Mansion at Jorasanko has now been converted into a museum and the Rabindra Bharti University also functions from here. Besides his personal belongings,  the mansion also has art gallery with Guru’s paintings as well as various souvenirs which he received throughout his life. There is also a huge collection of photographs displayed all over inside the building.

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