Day1: Santiniketan is such a place whose every nook and corner, every tree, every bird rejoices Tagore’s creations. The place has got a unique flavour of its own. ‘Sonibarer Sonajhuri’ is such a unique concept of Santiniketan. It is a typical village fair , i.e. ‘Haat’ which is organized by the local villagers every Saturday, i.e. ‘Sonibar’ near the Sonajhuri forest/Khowai area. We were lucky enough to reach Santiniketan on a Saturday afternoon. Post lunch we set out for ‘Sonibarer Sonajhuri Haat’. We started off from our hotel at 3 p.m. by car. It took us 15mins to reach this place. A typical village ‘Kachha Rasta’ off the clean and smooth roads of Santiniketan town leads to Sonajhuri Forest where the fair is held. Shortly after we left the ‘Pucca Rasta’ we were greeted by series of Sonajhuri Trees on both sides. The place is dotted with ‘santhali’ settlements. The forest lined with sky-high Sonajhuri trees is an excellent place to be. It was perhaps the cleanest forests I have seen till date. Had we knew before that how wonderful this place is, we would have carried straw mats with us to lay down on it and read books. Peace lovers can spend hours here. What fresh air and what greenery! I was mesmerized.
The forest is situated just beside the Khowai region where land erosion due to water and air have given rise to canyons. The hanging trees and the view of the roots holding on to the edges of the rifts is a sight worth watching.
Just beside the Khowai Region is held the ‘Sonajhuri Haat’. This market, although on a very small scale is built up on the ‘Swadeshi’ or local self sufficiency concept which Gandhiji had preached us. A group of benevolent people had helped the local villagers by teaching them various art and craft, which today is the only livelihood of the local people there.
The goods sold here are all homemade from local produce by the local people. The products range from various jewellery made from terracotta, dokra or seeds, ‘kantha’ embroidered sarees and artifacts to traditional food items.
There is no direct monetary help for these villagers. This once-a-week market is their lifeline. They sell all that they produced all week to survive the next week. This is how these people fight poverty with their only strength being their craftsmanship. The mood is set right by the ‘baul singers’ singing baul songs which have simple tunes yet soulful lyrics.
Dusk was setting in. Visibility was gradually reducing. With a heavy heart thinking about how these village people have to struggle for the basic amenities of living, we left for our hotel. We spent the evening playing some indoor games provided by the hotel. We sat in the hotel lawn for sometime. It was cold out there and we warmed ourselves with cups of coffee listening to ‘Rabindrasangeet’ tunes playing in the background.
Day2: Smell of fresh air, chirping of birds, dew droplets on grass and Tagore’s songs playing in the backdrop describes mornings in Santiniketan. sIt was the second and last day of our tour and so to get the most out of this place, we set off early in the morning. The hotel provided us with bicycles and we went cycling around the little town. The roads were lined with trees with most of their names mentioned on a board attached to their trunk. Winter sunrays filtering through the thick growth of greenery made our ride one to remember.
The residents of this little town are quite environment conscious, I suppose. Most of the people here commute from one place to another by bicycles. Not many cars or buses run through the roads of Santiniketan so cycling is quite enjoyable and relaxing as well. Within a few minutes we reached the world famous Viswa Bharti University campus.
As I saw little children studying beneath the trees I kept comparing it with the classes held in our city schools with air-conditioners and state-of-the-art technology. How claustrophobic the city children must be feeling, I wondered. For once, I imagined myself to be a child, sitting with those little kids beneath the shadowy mango trees reading Tagore’s verses or perhaps solving sums even. We also visited the various schools inside the campus like ‘Patha Bhavan, China Bhavan, Hindi Bhavan’ where various subjects are taught in foreign languages as well. With alumni list including Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and Satyajit Ray, nothing more is required to be said about this world class university. On our way back to hotel we took a glimpse of the prayer house.
We returned back to our hotel for lunch cycling through the village roads humming Tagore’s songs. After a quick lunch we set off for the Ballavpur Wildlife Sanctuary(commonly called the Deer Park) located just next to our hotel. Wild flowers stood at the entrance to greet us.
This place is an abode to more than 200 deer and numerous species of birds. It is completely off limits to carnivores and the joy of this fact is reflected in the eyes of the spotted deer. A walk through this forest is truly enchanting.
Although I skipped writing about few other places which we had visited there like the Museum, the Kopai river and the Chatim Tala (because I found that much has been written about them on Ghumakkar) they are surely worth visiting. It was a perfect holiday for me. For two full days I surrendered my thoughts and emotions to the verses of Tagore. It put me in a trance-like situation when sitting beneath the Sonajhuri trees my wanderer soul searched for the deeper meaning of life…and such other things which we rarely get to focus on.