iDiscern | Holi at Santiniketan

Travel reveals to you how little you know about the world around you. And it’s something I’m guilty of as well.

Where to after Bihar?
Having experienced Bihar over a five week period through my Fellowship, I was ready to hit the next state – West Bengal. The traveller in me got down to the basics – what should I be looking out for? 

 It was by chance, then, that I read a post about Holi celebrations around India. Now I’ve successfully avoided Holi all my life. I’ve known of Holi celebrations in Vrindavan and Pushkar as being something one must definitely experience. But there was no way I was now suddenly going to embrace it with open arms. When a friend recently mentioned that he was specifically traveling to Lucknow to experience Holi, I had a thought bubble above my head that said ‘Wow! That’s brave’. I had to find cover while I would be in West Bengal. Or so I thought.

But the post I was reading changed it all for me. I was introduced to the world of Holi at Tagore’s Santiniketan. Tagore had initiated Basant Utsav (AKA Holi) within the massively sprawling campus of the Vishwabharati University as an annual event for the students. Quite obviously my interest was piqued. This seemed like a celebration – not a rowdy riot – of colour! I looked up Dol/Basant Utsav and suddenly I was itching to celebrate Holi. My first.

With the default setting in my brain, I looked up homestays as an option and they existed. I was even more ecstatic. And here begins the painful part – figuring out stay and travel. Naïve as I was I hadn’t realised how big the Holi celebrations were. Every homestay host I reached out was booked. This was season. And I’d woken up just five days prior to the festival to make reservations. Thankfully after relentlessly knocking more than a couple of doors, one opened. But I’d have to get there the morning of the 5th of March. Unlike most other parts, the celebration in Santiniketan begins and ends of the first day of Holi.

And trains were another challenge. But there’s a cheat-code that bails me out quite often. And it’s not tatkal. If the train you’re looking up has a sleeper (SL) coach and you’re a woman you could book under the ladies quota. It’s the most un-used quota (mostly because women seldom travel alone or if they do then book through the general quota). Sure, it isn’t the AC coach – but if I had to choose between no ticket and no AC you know what I’d pick!

(More info at the end of this post)

Impromptu plans (with a twist)
I hobo’d my way through the night at Sealdah station just for kicks. I had a 6 AM train to catch for Bolpur (Santiniketan) and took up this wondrous challenge - which besides leaving me sleep deprived had me aching and paining albeit a bad posture.

Celebrations commence around 7 AM and I reached Bolpur around 9:30 AM. So I decided I may as well soak in the environment than merely rushing towards the site of the festivities. It was quite something riding along on the cycle-rickshaw as people walked by smeared with every possible colour on their faces. There was nothing of the sort of force I’ve seen others exert over each other just to dunk them in colour. This felt different from everything I’d known about Holi. Women were mostly dressed in yellow saris.

Them yellow sarees

Once at the University, I just walked. Almost directionless.  I’d also want to add that I was lugging my backpack along with me through and through. But I felt happy wading through the crowd. I could see people reaching out to each other with a pinch (and sometimes more) of colour and applying it on each other’s cheeks.
May be I was also secretly happy because I went by unnoticed. Or so I thought… but then a girl walked up to me and I was smeared in green.
Not feeling grinch-like!

The laptop in my backpack didn’t permit to continue wandering aimlessly. But while I could, I did. I was greeted by my hosts once I reached my homestay. By now I was looking forward to colouring and being coloured!
Did I mention how all this time nowhere was water ever used?

The charm about homestays besides the warmth and hospitality (and of course, food) is that chance encounter with other fellow travellers. There was a trio who were leaving back for Kolkata soon after lunch and there was a duo who’d stay on for another day and a half (just like me).

Room sweet room :)

In the evening the local artisans and crafts(wo)men come together and display their products at the haat. It’s another melee of colours with jewellery, artefacts, textiles among others being rummaged through by tourists.

Santiniketan Haat

Day two was spent aimlessly meandering through the Vishwabharati campus (which is massive and therefore leaves you hungry quite soon). But the walk isn’t just another walk – you find yourself walking through the mind of its initiator. Tagore. 

Walking through the campus

At Kala Bhavan, Vishwabharati

Shantiniketan Griha

Source: The Internet


Nayana's Homestay is located very close to Prantik (the station right after Bolpur). There are two rooms that can accomodate 2-3 persons each. It's nestled away from the main road. The hosts make for excellent company and ensure your every need is taken care of.

Train tickets from Kolkata cost around INR 120 - 150 for a single journey. Travel time between Sealdah/Kolkata and Bolpur or Prantik is approximately 4 hours.

More from the West Bengal diaries:

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,