Santiniketan Travel Guide

Santiniketan is a small town near Bolpur in the Birbhum district of West Bengal, India, approximately 180 kilometres north of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). It was made famous by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, whose vision became what is now a university town (Visva-Bharati University) that attracts thousands of visitors each year. Santiniketan is also a tourist attraction because Rabindranath wrote many of his literary classics here, and his house is a place of historical importance.

Santiniketan was previously called Bhubandanga (named after Bhuban Dakat, a local dacoit), and owned by the Tagore family. Rabindranath’s father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, found it very peaceful and renamed it Santiniketan, which means abode (niketan) of peace (shanti). It was here that Rabindranath Tagore started Patha Bhavana, the school of his ideals, whose central premise was that learning in a natural environment would be more enjoyable and fruitful. After he received the Nobel Prize(1913), the school was expanded into a university. Many world famous teachers have become associated with it. Indira Gandhi, Satyajit Ray, and Amartya Sen are among its more illustrious students.

TOURIST ATTRACTIONS:
There are several institutions under the Visva Bharati-Patha Bhavan, Uttar Shiksha Sadana, Siksha Bhavan, Vidya Bhavan, Vinay Bhavan, Kala Bhavan, Sangeet Bhavan, and Rabindra Bhavan, China Bhavan, Hindi Bhavan, etc. There is a museum called Vichittra and art gallery by the name of Nandan. Within the Uttarayana complex, there are five abodes of Tagore-Udayana, Konarka, Shamali, Punassha, and Udichi. Besides, Chhatimala, Upasana Mandir, and Santiniketan Bari are some of the oldest sanctums. In the year 1922, Rabindranath started a rural reconstruction center at Sriniketan, 3 km from Santiniketan. Later, some other institutions have come up here-Siksha Satra, Silpa Sadana, Palli Siksha Bhavana, and Santosh Pathshala, etc.

PLACES AROUND SANTINIKETAN:
Just 9 km away from Santiniketan, on the bank of the river Kopai is Kankalitala considered one of the sacred Saktipithas. In the Ballavpur Forest, 4 km away from Santiniketan, is the Deer Park. Nearby is Nonoor famous for its Bakranath Shiva Temple and the sulfurous hot springs. Other places nearby are Tarapith, Lavpur-Fullara, Saintha-Nandesawari, Nalhati, and Massanjore.

FAIRS & FESTIVALS:
Rabindra Janmotsav is celebrated in mid-April to mark the Bengali New Year and as well Tagore’s anniversary. Briksharopan, the festival of planting saplings, and Halakarshan, the festival of plowing the fields, are celebrated on 22nd and 23rd day of Sravana (August). Varshamangal, the festival of rains, is celebrated during August/September. Poush Utsav, a fair held at Santiniketan and Visva Bharati from 7th to 9th Poush (December), is observed to mark its foundation day. Tribal sports, dances, and folk songs, including songs by Bauls-the wandering minstrels of Bengal-are a part of the fair and festivities. Maghotsav is celebrated on the 11th of Magha (January) to mark the anniversary of Brahmo Samaj. Vasanta Utsav is held to mark Holi. The students dance and sing their ways through Amrakunja, followed by open-air variety programs.

HOW TO REACH:

BY ROAD – Regular buses ply regularly on the Calcutta-Santiniketan route covering a distance of 211 km.

BY RAIL – The nearest railway station to Santiniketan is Bolpur, which is connected to Calcutta. From Bolpur, one can simply take a cycle rickshaw to cover the 2 km distance to Santiniketan.

BY AIR – The nearest airport is at Calcutta.

WHERE TO STAY:
There are tourist lodges and tourist cottages run by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation. Visva Bharati runs a guesthouse. There are youth hostels at Bolpur and Bakeswar. There are also private hotels at Bolpur.

Top 7 Books to Read Before Traveling to Turkey

I like to read several books before each trip to have a better understanding of the culture and the local life of my next destination. Of course there are the travel guides I read before leaving or even before choosing my next destination, but my favourites are fiction novels. I like to read stories that take place in that country or whose authors are from that country.

Below is a great list of non-travel books about Turkey, some from Turkish authors. If you are considering travelling to Turkey soon, create time to read at least few of them, perhaps they will make you realize your dream trip sooner than expected.

1) Yasar Kemal, The Birds Have Also Gone

A short novel from one of Turkey’s internationally recognised and widely read authors who has also been a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. In this book, author tells the story of three boys who are struggling to survive in the constantly changing environment of the big city: Istanbul.

2) John David Tumpane, Scotch and Holy Water

Entertaining book on Turkish people and life in Turkey written by American author who lived in Turkey for 10 years. From the view of a Turkish person you may find the author arrogant and the observations exaggerated but it will surely be helpful to Americans in understanding Turkish thinking. “We arrived in Istanbul via Pan Am after midnight. On the way into the city, all the neon signs looked so strange to me: Tuzcuoglu, Haci Bekir Lokumlari, Koc. I thought, I’ll never be able to learn this language. Then I saw a sign reading Is Bankasi and I was sure the word “bank” was lurking somewhere in there. Since I knew one word of Turkish already, I decided to stay”

3) Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul Memories and the City

The Nobel Prize winner recalls the Istanbul of his youth. Istanbul’s melancholy enriched his childhood and continues to inspire him. “… the melancholy of this dying culture was all around us. Great as the desire to westernise and modernise may have been, the more desperate wish, it seemed, was to be rid of all the bitter memories of the fallen empire: rather as a spurned lover throws away his lost beloved’s clothes, possessions and photographs”

4) Mustafa Ziyalan and Amy Spangler (editors), Istanbul Noir

Comprised of by 16 stories, all original, some of Turkey’s most exciting authors; the result is an underground portrait of the city and of Turkey, told in evocative, often poetic, and powerful language.

5) Louis de Bernières, Birds Without Wings

Birds Without Wings is a novel by Louis de Bernières, telling the tragic love story of Philothei, a Christian girl and Ibrahim her childhood friend and Muslim. The story is set in Eskibahçe, a small fictional village; although fiction, the setting of Eskibahçe is based upon Kayaköy village near Fethiye, the ruins of which still exist today; a beautiful historic romantic novel.

6) Elif Safak, The Flea Palace

Safak is a young Turkish novelist, writer of best-sellers in Turkey, France and Bulgaria. The Flea Palace is a novel about daily routines of the inhabitants of an apartment building in Istanbul named BonBon Palace, miniature representation of the city itself, the city of contrasts and contradictions, the city where East meets West. Here is an extract from The Flea Palace: “Istanbul was under a heavy fog that morning, and as all Istanbulites knew too well, during foggy days even the city herself could not tell what her colour was. However, Agripina Fyodorovna Antipova had always been pampered with great care since birth and had been subsequently led to presume that others were to blame whenever she could not obtain anything she desired…”

7) Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey

A nonfiction anthology created and edited by Anastasia M. Ashman & Jennifer Eaton Gokmen. The collection includes the life experiences of 32 expatriate women from seven nations and five continents, whose collective experience spans over the past four decades. These diverse women describe religion, culture, conflicts, traditions and customs with the perspective of foreign women living and working in Turkey. They will take you to Istanbul’s narrow streets, to warm homes, and to steamy Hamams. If you are planning to visit Turkey soon this book is a great read to warm your heart to Turkish people.

Solo Travel Destinations, New Places to Travel Alone, Part 5 Chile

Reading today that a 24-year old Chilean saxophonist just won the Monk International Jazz Competition took me back in time to my trip to Santiago and points south. While having only a small percentage of the world’s population, Chile has produced global figures in the arts, including two Nobel Prize winning poets: Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda.

Just getting to Chile was part of the adventure. When I arrived at the airport in Washington, there was a flight delay because of bad weather. After about 4 hours in the gate, we were allowed to board. Then it was announced the winds had shifted and the plane could not take off. I returned home for the night and started out again the next day. High over the Andes once again bad weather intervened requiring that we land in Argentina. At last, we arrived in Santiago!

Chile demonstrates the rich differences within the South American continent. Although much of the region shares a common language and a 16th century colonial history, after O’Higgins and San Martin led Chile to independence in the 19th century, it has created its own modern history.

Two features immediately struck me: First was the strong and pervasive European influence. Rather than tapas, afternoon tea was widely featured along with ads for a French Impressionist art exhibit. There was no meringue, salsa or tango. In fact, the first dance performance was at a top restaurant with Pacific Islanders performing at dinner. I soon discovered that even newly arrived, jet-lagged diners had the “opportunity” to be led off to the stage for an introduction to Island dances. (One advantage if you travel solo, there is no one to send photos back home of your first awkward steps.)

Secondly, the geographic range of climate zones and topography was immediately apparent. Chile, 2,672 miles long, felt like many countries comprised within one national border. The north was very arid as it reached into the Atacama Desert while going southward to Puerto Montt was reminiscent of a Swiss Village. From the ski slopes moving on to Antarctica Chile, the landscape was suddenly filled with glaciers and snow-covered roads.

My view of Chile had 4 distant parts. The first was Santiago, Chile’s capital. With over 1 million inhabitants, it offers an array of choices.

Although many colonial buildings have been demolished, key remaining gems include the Basilica in La Merced. Moving on towards the Plaza de Armas, you will find the 18th century Casa Colorada. The past blends in with the present when you visit the Benedictine Chapel whose architect, Gabriel Guarda, created Barcelona’s most famous landmarks.

Another top sight is the Palacio de La Moneda or President’s Palace. It was first constructed in the 18th century but most recently largely reconstructed in the 1980’s. While you are there, you can check out the colorful Changing of the Guard accompanied by a brass band.

For a more detailed view of Chile’s diverse culture, Santiago has multiple museum options, including the popular National History and Pre-Columbian museums. You can also visit the home Neruda built for Matilde Urrutia, his third wife who inspired his greatest works. It is known, as she was as, by the name La Chascona and is located in the Bellavista district.

After a day steeped in history and culture, you will want to save time to take the gondola for a view of the city from Cerro San Cristobal.

My second distinct view of Chile came from a side trip to ski nearby at the local slope Colorado. Just an hour away, it lacked the steeper inclines of the more famous slopes of Portillo or Argentina’s Las Lineas and Bariloche. However, what it lacked in challenging my Intermediate ski prowess, it more than made up for in easy access as an unexpected add-on.

My third destination was Puerto Montt located in southern Chile’s Lake District. Founded in the 19th century by German settlers, the flavor was that of a European village albeit with the addition of the Pacific Ocean. Strolling past waterfalls, you could see llamas munching along the roadside and then visit the stunning Osorno Volcano. The outdoor options in the region are varied, from hiking through the national parks to boating and horseback riding.

My fourth and final view of Chile was in its most famous destination other than the capital, Santiago: the far south in Punta Arenas, Antarctica, Chile. Traveling by bus, I was pleasantly surprised at the first class service with videos and soft drinks’ being served.

On arrival, I hired a taxi for a day’s sightseeing moving at a rapid pace over sometime harrowing snow-covered roads. Working cowboys, i.e., vaqueros or gauchos, sped by on horseback alongside us. Their weathered faces reflected life in the harsh climate.

Although a small museum in Puntas Arenas told more of the history of this remote region, the real draw for tourists is outdoors even during the wintertime. I spent a full day exploring the key attraction, the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine with snow-capped mountains, waterfalls and a large clear blue lake. At the lower elevations, it was not too cold for hiking or just long walks through the Park.

To the south is Cape Horn and the Drake Passage, the latter the gateway to Antarctica, itself. Chile is well-positioned geographically to take that next step, to head westward for the remote Pacific/Easter Island or to combine with a business or leisure trip elsewhere in Latin America.

Chile was an ideal solo destination because of:

1. Its diversity of cultures and attractions

2. The range of terrain from desert to ski slopes to glaciers

3. Its vibrant role in Latin America’s dynamic growth

4. The numerous sporting and adventure options from skiing the Andes to hiking through the Lake District of Puerto Montt to boating in Punta Arenas and down to Cape Horn.

5. Its safety and availability of 4-5 star service and tours

6. The access to the Pacific and Easter Island or on to other parts of South America and Antarctica.

If you don’t want to see the summer end, book now for December in Chile and go boating and swimming instead of shoveling snow