Santiniketan: The Crucible of Bengali Culture

It had been Baba’s wish for years to visit Kolkata and Santiniketan. The wedding in the family gave us the perfect excuse to be there and do that.

En route to Shantiniketan, we took a little detour to visit Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramkrishna Mission, established by Swami Vivekanand, a disciple of Ramkrishna Paramahansa. The flowers were in full bloom everywhere, and some of them will make an appearance here. Photography isn’t allowed inside the temple complex, including the museum, which is probably a good thing. We could focus on the exhibits and feel the aura. You’re expected to take off your shoes and walk around, which is surprisingly not a big problem as the campus is very neat and clean.

On the way out, we stopped to sample some jhaalmudi, checking off one of Mom’s wishlist items. And admired the cool battery-powered e-rickshaws running around.

Weekend in Shantiniketan

Someone was drying their laundry on the sidewalk. All laid out in order.

Weekend in Shantiniketan

Santiniketan is what gives the Bengalis most of their bragging rights, thanks to the achievements of Rabindranath Tagore and his family. Artist, author, poet, composer, dramatist, and all-round renaissance man, Rabindranath Tagore set up the Viswa Bharti University, based on his principles of offering a natural, open environment for education to free minds from the confines of a classroom. The university was expanded with the help of his Nobel Prize money, and is considered one of the foremost institutions for the study of the arts.

We had a tour of the University campus to see the open classrooms. The government has taken over the university, and effectively negated most of Tagore’s concepts, by building uninspiring department blocks and compound walls. It’s a pity that past visitors to the site have not respected the sanctity of the campus, and created such a nuisance that most of the ‘classrooms’ are now cordoned off, to be viewed only from a distance.

We did get to see an exhibition of landscapes, by various noted artists, including Rabindranath and Gaganendranath Tagore.

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170px-Tagore_manuscript6_cA interesting bit of trivia that Souvik had told me was how he would doodle on paper while writing – crossing out a word or phrase could end up as a little piece of art around the text.

It’s hardly my place to write about Rabindranath Tagore, but there’s an excellent museum dedicated to him that showcases how talented and prolific an individual could be. His reputation is well-deserved. No photography allowed at the museum, and also around the houses of the Tagore family, just behind the museum. With the great weather we had, it was uplifting to walk and breathe the same air as many great folks have done before us.

We had a bit of insider advantage at Santiniketan, with Souvik’s mom being an alumnus of the university. She arranged for us to stay in a charming guest house, where we had some excellent meals, and enjoyed hot cups of tea in the wintery morning sun.

Weekend in Shantiniketan

Baba is keen on making some flower-inspired art, so here’s a gallery especially for him:

And some village life on our drive back to Kolkata:

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On the Streets of Kolkata – #2 (A Tale of 2 Bridges)

I had a great day, photo-walking in Kolkata on the last day of my trip. On the advice of some local photographers, I set off at sunrise to the Flower Market just below the Howrah Bridge.

While flowers never fail to excite me, the Howrah Bridge (officially “Rabindra Setu”) is actually the iconic structure in the city, and a pretty impressive one at that. I walked the span of the bridge and back – there’s a comfortable pedestrian walk way on both sides, and offers interesting sights of the river Hoogly. I imagine it gets busy and crowded later in the day, but an early morning walk is a pleasure.

Sightseeing in Kolkata

At one end of the bridge is Howrah railway station, and at the other, the flower market. Kii Sundor!

Sightseeing in Kolkata

Marigold season – all those unbelievable snake-like garlands of orange & yellow, dahlias so large that I thought they were fake, roses, chrysanthemums, and the people! I wasn’t the only person doing a photo walk here, I met at least 3-4 other people with the same idea. Some folks friendlier than others, some curiosity about why were they the subjects, some fairly mucky sections to walk through – oh! I was in travel-heaven!

Having had plenty of glimpses of Kolkata street life, I was not entirely satisfied by the flower market alone, and set off walking towards the other iconic bridge down the river – Vidyasagar Setu. On the walk I was treated to the sights of the city stirring to life, and some views of the river.

There’s a section of the path that has been beautified for walking, just before the Princep Ghat. It’s a great spot for photos of the suspension bridge.

Sightseeing in Kolkata

Sightseeing in Kolkata

By the time I got to the Princep Ghat Gardens, the day had truly well begun, and the city was up and about.

And I was hungry. Which meant the end of walking. So into a cab I hopped, straight off to Park Street. Bought a book and found a table at Flury’s, being in the mood to tick off all the checkboxes.

Sightseeing in Kolkata

Photo Walk Taman Situlembang

I had a rain-soaked photo walk in Menteng just before the Kolkata trip. A lovely lotus pond tucked away in the heart of downtown Jakarta, a short walk from Taman Suropati:

In spite of all the plastic bag covers, the camera got wet, and I had to cut short the walk to dry out the lenses. First, dehumidification in the car air-conditioning on the long drive home. After taking the camera out of the car it fogged up again, but the sun was shining at the perfect angle – all the better for round 2 of drying.

There were some butterflies in the garden, for some more photo ops.

I didn’t want to take a chance with the camera, and let it dry out in the fan for an hour more.

Day 7: Vancouver to Toronto

It’s leaving day after an action-packed week in Vancouver. We’ll spend most of the day on the flight to Toronto, plus the time difference, so day 7 probably won’t have much to be written about. But I’m on a (writing) roll here, and I didn’t want to stay away from blogging, so I’m posting pictures of the lovely flora that I captured all over town. Don’t ask me to name any of them, but feel free to add to my very limited knowledge!

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Shubh Vivah!

I’m back, after nearly a month of hectic activity – moving in, unpacking, packing, traveling, recovering, taking a break from the blog. And raring to start posting.

One of my closest friends got married recently, giving us an opportunity to meet good ol’ friends and celebrate. Not your usual Bollywood style 14-songs-and-dances-routine, but a very traditional South Indian wedding in the heartland of South India.

I was the pesky ‘unofficial’ photographer, butting into every opportunity, and ‘creating’ a few too. Since Suman hasn’t released the photos herself, I’m not going to post all the good pictures; just a few tantalizing ones that don’t tell the entire story.

 

 

What(s) the F!

So many takers for F (fruit, Facebook, fresh spring rolls, fishing, food), but the outright winner was flowers! Be it flower sellers, or the flower market, flower show, or just a humble bunch of chrysanthemums, flowers made their mark everywhere, and have to be one of the icons of Vietnam. Even after paying the ‘foreigner premium’, I got great value for money from my flower market excursions, never leaving the market without armfuls of exotic ones, and thousands of photographs too.