It was in Shantiniketan that I found the perfect antidote to writer’s block—a slow-cooked khichuri that came in a kadhai deep enough to swim in. Daubs of homemade ghee, fresh khejur tomato chutney, fried baingan slices, and papads were accompaniments to the dish, prepared to perfection by Sukanya Roy, our host at Mitali Homestay. I tucked in, devouring the rice and lentils, feeling the will to write grow stronger as the khichuri on my plate diminished. By the time my friends and I had polished off the mishti doi, I was ready to return to my computer, sated and buzzing with ideas.
Mitali Homestay epitomizes peaceful and verdant Shantiniketan. Surrounded by fruit trees and organic vegetable patches, the Moroccan-influenced bungalow, with its white-washed walls and large windows, has been a family home to the Dey family for almost half a century. In 2011, our hosts Krishno Dey and Sukanya Roy converted it into a homestay, opening their doors to welcome friends and travellers. We spent many long evenings, sitting on their rooftop terrace, swapping stories in the crisp winter air, and mornings walking around the mango and champa trees. One day, Krishno invited Baul singers and we spent an evening rapt in music.
Sukanya meanwhile, introduced us to Bengal’s rich culinary culture, one homemade meal at a time. For breakfast, we had puffy luchis and aloo sabji; lunchtime meant steaming pots of Bengali food, like fish curry, eggplant slathered in kasundi, and dal cooked with kaffir leaves. At tea, we had kulhad chai and puchkas (the famous Bengali pani puri) and dinner was reserved for world fare such as Italian or Lebanese, but the Bangla khana is really the best. Better still, most of the produce that makes it to the kitchen is grown in Mitali’s garden, including the mushrooms.
When she wasn’t cooking, or clucking after us like a mother hen, Sukanya made batik prints and clothing. Her earthy apparel is available at her boutique, housed in an earth cottage adjacent to the main house called Bhab Kutir. Everything is crafted with attention to detail. And like the store, Mitali’s rooms too are lovingly maintained, with bookshelves on every other wall. Our “Honeymoon Suite” had hand-painted cupboards, a kitchenette, a terrace, and an additional room. It effortlessly embodies the “home away from home” that most places strive to achieve.
We didn’t spend much time outside Mitali, but I did visit the Visva Bharati school (1.5km away). The institution follows Rabindranath Tagore’s philosophy of education in harmony with nature and has several schools of learning, including music, fine arts, education, and rural reconstruction. Between bouts of writing, I discovered Shantiniketan’s other charms: steaming hot rosogollas made from palm jaggery, cotton saris at the Alcha Store in Ratan Pally Market, and Lipi Biswas’s studio for pottery in the Boner Pukur Danga village. Over the weekend, the Shanibarer Haat (Saturday Market) by the Khoai grounds in Shantiniketan is a must-visit. Stock up on cotton khes sarees, bedsheets, toys, and handicrafts, crafted by local artisans.
Mitali Homestay has six rooms, a mix of doubles and singles: three in the main house, and the others in the annex and Bhab Kutir. All rooms are air-conditioned, except Bhab Kutir. Standard tariff includes breakfast, but it’s best to book all meals here. (Doubles ₹3,000; +91-9433075853, +91-9433898067. More details here.)
Mitali Homestay is located in Phuldanga village in Shantiniketan. It is 167km/4hr by road from Kolkata, and 5.6km/20min from Bolpur and 2km/7min from Prantik, which are the closest railway stations. Toto (electronic autorickshaws) rides cost approximately ₹200 from the stations. Kolkata has the nearest airport. Taxis can be organised by Mitali Homestay on request.
Bijal Vachharajani , when not reading Harry Potter, can be found pottering about in the jungles of India. She is the author of two children's books, "So You Want to Know About the Environment" and "What's Neema Eating Today?"