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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Poush Mela - Shantiniketan

Shantiniketan, meaning the home of peace resonates its meaning in full. Going there from the chaos of the city rejenuvates one’s being. Shantiniketan has been made famous for Rabindranath Tagore, as this was his abode for literary pursuits. His home has been converted into a museum and the Vishwa Bharti vishwavidyala where he used to teach the tribal children under the mango trees has now become a huge complex.

I have been there before and to the surrounding areas, but this time I was there for the Pous Mela. This is a festive time for the people at Shantiniketan and the tribes in that area. Poush Mela brings alive the traditional folk culture of Birbhum. Talented bauls from the nearby villages sing the popular religious and folk numbers and strum the melodious tunes on their ektaras. Lively folk songs, dances, drama and other soirees keep the large crowds glued to the fairgrounds until the wee hours of the morning. Visitors from all over the country and abroad, flock to Shantiniketan to participate in the annual festival. 

Though we didn’t stay there for long, the trip was amusing and enchanting as ever. It was the month of December. We had booked our train tickets in the ... express for reaching Bardhaman, and from there we had arranged a paid taxi to stay with us for two days. 

We woke up early in the morning to catch the train from Howrah station at 8:00 A.M. On a cold winter morning when the city was still trying to wake up, we were out on the roads of Kolkata. The cold air hitting our faces though the car window. There was not much traffic on the road and we reached the station just on time to catch the train. Our train no. was blinking on the board happily but Lo! Behold!!!!!!!  . It was cancelled!!! EARLY IN THE COLD MOIRNING WE WERE STANDING AT THE STATION LOOKING AT THE RED LETTERS ON THE ELECTRONIC BOARD TELLING US OUR TRAIN WAS CANCELLED??!! . NOW WHAT WOULD WE DO?!? We asked around to people, the station master, the ticket checker for any other way as to what could be done and so got an alternative. The famous LOCAL trains of West Bengal - to Bardhaman. So, there we went. we took the ticket for the local trains which cost us only Rs 20.00 per head compared to the Rs 400+ of the express train that was cancelled. (What a Difference!!) and boarded the Bardhaman local, which was standing (as if for us). Luckily it was a weekend and there was not much rush in the train, which is usually present on regular days, people clambering over each other jostling for space. Although we were four people sitting on a three seater, it was comfortable enough. We spent the 5 hours sitting like that (it hurts sitting so long like that) and ultimately we reached Bardhaman by 1:00 PM. The car was waiting for us outside the station. We packed our things in the car and there we go!!!!!. towards the Abode of peace. 

The scenery around from Bardhaman to Shantiniketan was fabulous in the winter sun. Fields and trees meet the eyes, with the winter sun trying to warm the earth as much as it could. The small rice mills stand like gaurds in the middle of the fields. Crossing the fields, meadows and small towns in between, we reached Shantiniketan after an hour and half. 

Chuti Resort in day time
We had booked our rooms at "Chuti Resort" at Jamboni area of Shantiniketan. The resort is built up like small cottages for rooms and each cottage has its own name, dedicated to the poems of Rabindranath Tagore. This area is on the outskirt of the town and therefore provides the ambience of a peaceful village. We freshened ourselves and went for lunch. Food at the resort is good and is a remix of Bengali and other Indian cuisine. 

After lunch we went to "Kankali tala" 9 km from Shantiniketan. The area has changed a bit from what I had visited previously. The temple has been barricaded now and the pond is being cleared of the mud and grime and is being dug out to remake it. It is believed that when the furious lord Shiva was dancing with goddess sati's charred body on his shoulder, lord Vishnu with his chakra had to piece goddess sati's body. The skeleton or the rib cage of goddess sati fell in this place.
Ma Kankali Debi
From there we went for a long ride through Prantik, looking for an old Neel bari, which is supposed to be haunted, but we couldn’t find it, so we returned back as it was getting dark and we were quite tired also. After reaching the resort, I remembered that we have missed the Khowai Haat, when we came by the Sonar Jhuri (golden basket) forest. The Khowai haat (market) is held every Saturday from 3:00 Pm till dusk and it was already 5:30 p.m nearing darkness, so we decided to take off for the day and rest at the resort. 

Sonar Jhuri forest
The cold night at the silent resort was a welcome change from the daily rush of the city and office life. I wandered in the garden of the resort at night. This was after a long long time that I could come in contact with such serene and calm environment. I was with nature. I felt free and serene .... to talk to myself, to think about things and to muse on life. The silence was beautiful. The sky was clear. The trees seemed to be singing their own song as the cold wind blew through them rustling their leaves. Even the insects seemed to have gone silent to listen to them. I spent a long time between nature, rejenuvating myself , drinking in the silence as much as I could. No doubt Guru Rabindranath Tagore could write such world acclaimed poetry. 

The night fell deeper and we had dinner at the resort restaurant. The good food made our moods better.
Chuti Resort at night
Ma Tara Debi
Next day morning we went out early for "Tarapeeth". Tarapeeth is 65 km from Shantiniketan. Lined with many shops for flowers, prasad and sweets we stopped at one of the shops and bought flowers, sweets, inscese sticks etc. and moved forward towards the temple. We paid our due respect to the goddess, prayed and conducted our puja as far as it could be conducted in that rush of people and then went on towards our next stop "Bakreshwar". The road towards Bakreshwar was sooooo pathetic and bumpy, it caused us to choke. We were not able to run the Ac of the car due to the pathetic dust on the road and the filthy smoke bellowing trucks and yet we were not able to sit with the windows closed and it was becoming stuffy. 

Queue to pay homage at Tarapeeth
In between the driver took us to a Mazar through a shortcut for Bakreshwar. I don’t remember the name of the Mazar. It seemed like a lonely planet, but the driver told us that during some festival hundreds and thousands of people visit the Mazar and there are fair and festivities around, and from there the road to Bakreshwar was far better.

"Bakreshwar" is devoted to Lord Shiva and also to Adi Shakti Sati. It is said that the forehead of the goddess fell here when her charred body was dismembered with Lord Vishnu's chakra. Bakreshwar is also famous for its hot water springs beside the temple area. People bath in these hot springs as they are known for their mineral water which is said to cure many skin aliments. 

Returning from Bakreshwar, we went for a search for the Kopai River. We went round and round in Shantiniketan asking directions from people, some of whom could direct us and some misdirected us till dusk, when ultimately an old man could tell us which way to go with a comment that reflected his surprise "Why you people want to go there at this time of the day?" 

Hmmm ... we mused on his comment on the way towards the rivers which was still 4 - 5 kms away (maybe more). And it was quite dark when we ultimately reached there. Thanks God!! But it was to see a stream but not a river any more now. The banks were full with people who were arranging their things to go back home from their winter picnic. Yups.. It is a picnic spot for the winters, with few trees and plain ground. Now that was why the old man was surprised. Maybe he thought we wanted to go for picnic in the dead of night, which we would never plan. It would be quite scary after all. 

Hot water pond at Bakreshwar
We returned back to the hotel to refresh and rest but I jumped up again to go to the "Pous Mela". That's what we have come here for. Isn't it ?!! 

We had released the car and so took a rickshaw from the gate of the resort. They ideally should take Rs 30 to take you to the fair grounds, though they may ask for more if you dont bargain well. It was biting cold outside at 8:00PM and the ground is at least 3 km from the resort, but its a ride worthwhile. The fair ground was full of people from so many places. It’s a BIG BIG fair and it reminded me of the "Ramlila Ground fair" of my childhood days. In that biting cold we took hot jalebis and filled them in our mouth. Mmmmmmm ....... We roamed around the grounds looking at wares and shops installed from different parts of India. On a stage few "Bauls" were singing local songs.We stayed there for nearly two hours going round and round and in the end losing out way out. We planned for second trip again .. in the morning the next day. 

We had to catch a train in the afternoon. We had to pack our bags. But I HAD to go to the fair grounds again. I became a pest till I was taken there. :-) So, in the cold and cloudy morning, at 8:00 AM after breakfast, we left for the grounds again. The ride towards the grounds was also very exciting. The rickshaw took us through lanes and short cuts, in between lanes of beautiful houses, through the university grounds and to the fair. Many stalls had opened, many were still arranging their wares, there was sound of songs of Guru Rabindranath Tagore and there were people idly roaming around enjoying the weather and the sound. We hopped and shopped for articles for family and friends in that cold weather enjoying our tea along with it. 

Alas !! We had to return. I didn’t want to go back. I wish we could have stayed one more day, but tickets were not available for the next many days. Ans So we had to leave....  but ..... 

this trip remains in my mind not only for the places we have visited, the resort and the Pous Mela but also because of the bone chilling weather we got to enjoy. 

Katha stitch shawl from Shantiniketan
Pous Mela