Let no one tell you otherwise—it’s difficult to soak in all of Shantiniketan in one trip. Sure, you can pack in a tour of Tagore’s Viswa Bharati campus, pop in to one of the thakur baris—some with their feudal pomp intact—and maybe drive up to the vibrant Sonajhuri market. All of this is classic Shantiniketan, and well worth the three-hour drive from Kolkata. But to truly immerse yourself in this “abode of peace”, you must spend an afternoon by a pond, sway to baul folk, and sleep to the scent of jasmine.
The King’s Chamber, one of the four suites at the property.
There’s now a boutique hotel that helps you do much of this. Set in Bolpur, barely 10 min from Vishwa Bharati, The Garden Bungalow calls itself a “dynamic installation”, one that harmonises the aesthetics of rural Bengal with modern creature comforts. From furniture to staircases to garden benches—much of what you see is antique and curated exclusively for this residence. The property itself is styled along the lines of a traditional Bengali thakur bari, with trademark touches of flamboyance such as intricately carved doors and a beautiful garden, complete with a lotus pond.
The Garden Bungalow sits on three well-manicured acres of land, and yet has only four suites. This translates to fewer guests at any given time—and that is the whole point of it all. The Garden Bungalow wants to encourage meaningful interaction of the global with the local, exactly what Tagore set out to achieve with Vishwa Bharati. And so, the staff your hosts at the hotel include women from the Santhal tribe, who dress in their everyday and are impressive artists in their spare time.
(L) A view from the room; (R) A hand-carved installation.
To complete the cultural immersion, the property can arrange visits to local artists and craftsmen, baul and Santhal performances. For more contemporary pursuits, ask for a jeep ride across the ravines of Shantiniketan or spend an afternoon fishing by the lake. Back at the bungalow, you will be grateful for the impressive collection of books (and no TV), that let you pretend you were another person in another time.
An installation in the garden.
The Garden Bungalow, Sonajhuri Pally, Shantiniketan, Birbhum, West Bengal. (http://www.thegardenbungalow.com/; Single occupancy from Rs5,000)