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
Did I mention how all this time nowhere was water
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
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|
|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.
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Labels: fellowship, female solo traveller, festivals, Holi, homestay, India, Santiniketan, solo travel, trains, travel, West Bengal