Kolkata itself is a paradise for travelers with its various offerings - from the fast moving metro-city vibes and five star joints to the traditional pockets which still hold the old world charm, from Yautcha and Oh Calcuatta to Mitra Cafe and Chitto Babur Dokan, from Hard Rock Cafe to Coffee House...the list goes on and on.
While Kolkata alone is enough to entice travelers, there are plenty of places that one can visit from the City of Joy that makes it an even better option to add as part of our itinerary when you are visiting this part of India. There are various places that you can visit from Kolkata for a day or two like Baharampur, Bakkhali, Darjeeling, Diamond Harbour, Hollong, Digha, Kurseong, Kalimpong, Malda, Gadiara and Sunderban, among a host of others. But, there is one particular place that you must add to your list if you are planning to go on a short trip from Kolkata for a weekend - Shantiniketan.
In this blog we will give an insight on how you can plan your trip to Shantiniketan.
How you can reach Shantiniketan from Kolkata: You can book your seats in the AC Chair Car of Shantiniketan Express which leaves Howrah Railway Station at 10:10 am. It is a 2.5 hours journey through picturesque small towns and villages. The train journey was amazing as the seats in an AC Chair Car are comfortable and the coach is clean as compared to other local trains. While there are nearly a dozen trains between the Railway Stations of Kolkata and the Bolpur Railway Station, we would suggest you take this train as it is the only one whose last destination is Bolpur Railway Station and it has the least number of stops making it the quickest journey available.
You will reach Bolpur Railway Station around 12.30pm. Once at the Bolpur Railway Station, you can hire a toto which will take you to your hotel in Shantiniketan.
On your way back from Shantiniketan, booking this same train, which leaves Bolpur Railway Station at 1:10pm, is an added benefit as this is the only train which halts for a long period, making it convenient for travelers to settle in.
Bonus Tip: If you want to make your trip more adventurous, drop into Babu Ghat in the morning and take a ferry from there to the Howrah Railway Station, sailing over the Hooghly looking at the picturesque Howrah Bridge. Keep in mind that it takes about 15 mins to reach from Babu Ghat to Howrah Railway Station.
Following are some of the prices that you might want to take note of:
- Ticket prices for an AC Chair Car in Shantiniketan Express is: INR 305 per person
- Price of reserving a toto from Bolpur Station to a hotel in Shantiniketan: INR 100
- Price of a shared toto from Bolpur Station to a hotel in Shantiniketan: INR 20 per person
- Price of Ferry from Babu Ghat to Howrah Station: INR 6 per person
Where you can stay in Shantiniketan: Shantiniketan is a traveler's delight - there are accommodations available for all budgets. When travelling within West Bengal, we mostly prefer staying in accommodation that is setup and maintained by the state government. Beyond being well maintained, as opposed to popular belief, the rates are also pretty nominal for the amenities on offer. The West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTCL) operates two accommodation options in Shanitiniketan - Shantiniketan Tourist Lodge and Rangabitan Tourist Complex.
Due to the availability of a room of choice, we stayed at Shantiniketan Tourist Lodge. We booked a Deluxe Double Room Cottage directly from the website of WBTDCL the day before the journey. We were lucky to get an accommodation in such a short time as this place stays booked most of the time. And, that is the only caveat of these properties - the demand is so high that you have to be in luck to get a hold of one of their better rooms.
The cottages at Shantiniketan Tourist Lodge are pretty decent with all basic amenities and overlooks a small garden full of flowers. This resort also has inside parking facilities for anyone bringing their own car, which is definitely a boon in case you want to drive into Shantiniketan from Kolkata instead of taking the train. The proximity of the resort to the Bolpur Railway Station is also a benefit - it is actually one of the first properties that you would see once you enter the main area that is designated as 'Shantiniketan'.
How you can travel around Shantiniketan: If you are driving into Shantiniketan you can use your car to go around the various places to visit. But, if you are going to take train to reach Shantiniketan and do not have a conveyance available, the best option to hire a toto. Your toto driver is also your tour guide and will take you around all the main attractions, providing you information about the history behind the places, and also recite Tagore's poetry or sing a line or two of Rabindra Sangeet while he is at - a complete entertainment package. We hired the same toto driver with whom we reached our resort from the railway station.
Price of hiring a toto that you might want to take note of:
- INR 1000 for a 4 hour tour
- INR 500 for a 2 hour tour
Where you can eat in Shantiniketan: Shantiniketan has a lot of places to eat traditional Bengali cuisine. If you’re coming in on a weekend and visiting Sonajhuri Shanibarer Haat, the best place to enjoy traditional Bengali cuisine is at Ram Shyam Village Resort. It is at the heart of Sonajhuri Haat and easy to locate. They have a basic vegetarian thali comprising rice topped with pure ghee, shak bhaja (fried spinach), dal, dhokar dalna (chickpea cakes cooked as a curry), aloo postor tarkari (potato and poppy seeds curry), begun bhaja (fried brinjal), papad and chutney. To this basic thali, you can add any non-vegetarian dish of your choice - multiple types of fish, prawns, chicken and mutton. We ordered parse maacher jhol. The food was simple and good, nothing fancy. What matters is the experience, especially because they serve your food on traditional brass utensils. Reach early or they run out of food, because of the sheer demand of it on a Saturday and be prepared to wait for your turn or share a table with other guests.
The other place where we ate and would definitely recommend is the Shantiniketan Tourist Lodge - they serve to both residents and walk-in guests. Shantiniketan Tourist Lodge surprisingly offers some great food options which taste delicious. We had evening snacks, dinner and breakfast with them as we were staying in their resort. We ordered chicken pakora and fish fry along with a pot of coffee for the evening - all of which were fresh and tasted really good after our 4 hour ride across the length and breadth of Shantiniketan.
As it was Saraswati Puja weekend when we visited, Shantiniketan Tourist Lodge was serving special khichudi and beguni for dinner and we opted for this along with their famous chicken roast. The khichudi and beguni combination is a favorite of Bangali and we loved their version here. The khichudi had the right amount of spices and was cooked to perfection. The beguni was served hot, right off the pan - crispy on the outside and moist and well cooked on the inside.
Now, coming to the chicken roast; the only way we can describe it is - it is different. What is served to you is not what you expect when you hear 'chicken roast', yet it was truly amazing. This is a dish where they serve a piece of cooked chicken topped with a spicy gravy and veggies on the side. If you are in Shatiniketan you must give this a try.
For breakfast, Shantiniketan Tourist Lodge has multiple set menu options and we went for luchi, aloo tarkari, roshogulla and a cup of tea set menu. The food is simple , nothing fancy but quantities are generous enough to fill you up till lunch.
Places you can visit in Shantiniketan: Shantiniketan has a lot of attractions to visit like Sonajhuri Shanibarer Haat, Visva-Bharati University, Rabindra Bhavana, among a host of others. You can read about them on our blog - Top Places To Visit In Shantiniketan.
If you are visiting Shantiniketan and need any help booking your train tickets to/from Shantiniketan and hotels to stay in or to get connected to a toto driver, you can get in touch with us and we will help you with the bookings.