As the last few weeks of rain shower down, hundreds of visitors each week make their way to Shantiniketan, a neighbourhood in north-central West Bengal that is acclaimed as the former home of world-famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. In recent days, a new wave of celebration is sweeping through, following Santiniketan’s recognition by UNESCO as India’s 41st World Heritage Site. The announcement was made by UNESCO on ‘X’, during the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee in Saudi Arabia.
The origin of this cultural institution can be traced back to 1883 when Debendranath Tagore, Rabindranath’s father, constructed a spiritual retreat known as Santiniketan, meaning ‘abode of peace’. Rabindranath Tagore went on to live here and produce Nobel Prize-winning literature and art that brought acclaim to the town of Bolpur. Today, their home and the Visva-Bharati University—the public central institution established by Tagore in 1921—is commonly referred to as Santiniketan.
Tagore Memorial Museum (Rabindra Bhavana)
Also known as Tagore Memorial Museum, Rabindra Bhavan building was established in 1942 at Santiniketan. Located in the Uttarayan complex at Visva-Bharati, this museum showcases the personal collections of Tagore, housing his famed personal library and a general section where you can find a collection of his artwork, photographs and letters depicting his earlier lifestyle and work. Entry to the establishment is free.
In 1919 artists like Nandalal Bose, Suren Kar, and Asit Halder joined and started the Department of Fine Arts. In the indoor gallery as well as outdoor spaces, there survive numerous specimens of the masters of the past. The space around Kala-Bhavana boasts some of the most famous landscape sculptures of Ramkinkar including “The Santal Family”. A large-sized work on the theme of Gandhi’s ‘Dandi March’ is also there.
Sonajhuri is a small patch of forest in the Khoai region of Shantiniketan in Bolpur and is considered to be one of the cleanest forests in India. Surrounded by the Kopai River, its distinctive eroded terrain features red laterite soil and abundant Sonajhuri trees. The forest’s name, meaning ‘droplets of gold’ in English, stems from these trees. In winter, the ground transforms into a golden carpet, strewn with Sonajhuri flowers. From spotted deer to foxes and wild jackals, you can also spot avian species like parrots, kingfishers, and woodpeckers on a stroll. One thing you can’t skip here is the Saturday Haat, a cultural affair involving local artisans and folk artists where you can shop for popular handicrafts.
Srijani Shilpagram Cultural Centre
Srijani Shilpgram in Birbhum is an expansive cultural village under the Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre. It encompasses nine traditional huts representing member states of EZCC. These huts feature authentic architectural elements and house a collection of over 1000 artefacts, each over 25 years old. Additionally, the site includes ‘Adi Bimb’, an art gallery of folk paintings, and ‘Adi Kranti’, a pavilion honouring eastern India’s tribal heroes.
Ballavpur Wildlife Sanctuary
Ballavpur Wildlife Sanctuary (popularly known as Deer Park) is located around 3 km from Santiniketan and around 172 km from Kolkata. This Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1977, in Rabindranath’s Place, Santiniketan in the Bolpur subdivision of Birbhum district in the Indian state of West Bengal. Birdwatching and wildlife tours dominate the itinerary of those who visit the protected forest with a mandatory jaunt to the Deer Park.
Inputs by Ujjal Biswas (Destination expert; Shantiniketan and Bolpur), West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation