Shantiniketan- through the eye of photo lenses

Shantiniketan, literally meaning ‘the abode of peace’ has it’s own unique atmosphere of culture and at the same time, an understated serenity. It’s tranquil charm never fails to mesmerise me!

Here are some glimpses from one of my trips..

Bauls or the wandering minstrels..
Chhatimtala – This is the place where Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath, meditated daily and devoted himself towards attaining world peace.
Kalabhavan – Literally the residence of art and culture. Viswabharati University
Music floats in the air of Shantiniketan. An early morning at Goalpara. A man sits alone and strums at the chord of his instrument…
Almost an iconic sweet shop, Nabadweep is a must visit.
Kankalitola…one of the most revered Shaktipeeths in West Bengal
Boys bathing in the Kopai river – Almost looks like an evolution of mankind!
Devotee beseeching the greater God at Kankalitola
Bohurupi dressed as Gods and Goddesses

About the author:

Kounteya Sinha

Journalist, photographer, explorer, globe trotter, public speaker, communications specialist and brand guru Kounteya Sinha is a multiple award-winning journalist and one of India’s most respected and followed names in the world of reportage. Kounteya was the UK correspondent of the world’s largest English newspaper – The Times of India based out of London .Kounteya is a regular contributor to the world’s greatest magazine – the National Geographic and has travelled to over 70 countries – and intends to traverse the whole planet by 2024. He recently became the world’s first European Union Fellow on diaspora given to him by the European Union under which he travelled to 11 European countries of his choice over three months discovering and documenting the unknown lives of Indians who have made EU their home.

Kounteya has earlier received the world’s most prestigious Bill Gates fellowship to work in Mexico. He has interviewed dozens of presidents and prime ministers, over 25 Nobel laureates, tech giants like Bill Gates, whistle blowers like Julian Assange and the who’s who of the world. He was the first journalist to be invited to report on the Nobel Prize from Stockholm three years in a row. He is also the first Indian journalist to cover the recent Russian war in Ukraine and several other important conflicts around the world. Kounteya who is now an international sensation as a photographer has done five seminal shows in the past two years. He is presently on a year-long sabbatical finishing six books.


Tinchuley- in the lap of nature

Traditionally, travelling to North Bengal for a vacation was almost synonymous to visiting Darjeeling, maybe with stopovers to Kalimpong or Curseong. However, the beautiful North Bengal is slowly unveiling some hidden gems. There are amazing and quaint destinations tucked away in North Bengal that are becoming popular now- quiet little villages with their stunning scenic beauty and simple hospitality.

One such fantastic destination is Tinchuley– a tiny mountain village/ hamlet in the Darjeeling district.

If you enjoy unwinding amidst quietude and spectacular natural beauty of tea gardens, orange groves, fantastic views of snow peaks and the lazy Teesta meandering surrounded by lofty mountains- then Tinchuley is the place for you. The word ‘Tinchuley’ literally means three ovens- the village is surrounded by three hills that look like ovens or ‘chullah’s from afar, hence earning this name.

tin5Getting there:

Tinchuley is 32kms from Darjeeling, 73kms from NJP, 77kms from Bagdogra and 35 kms from Kalimpong.

There are reserved taxis available from NJP, Bagdogra, Siliguri, Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Shared taxis are also available from Siliguri up to Takdah. From Takdah, one can hire a private taxi for a short drive up to Tinchuley.

Places to see:

tin6Tinchuley is home to a small, but beautiful monastery with a long row of prayer wheels leading the way to it. A short drive will take you to the monastery in nearby Takdah called the ‘Dechhen Pema Tshoiling’ monastery. One has to negotiate several flights of stairs to reach up to the monastery, but the fantastic views from top panning the Rungli Rungliot and Teesta Valley tea gardens, Durpin Dara and Kalimpong, are well worth the climb.

About 8 kms away from Tinchuley lies a quaint orange orchard and an adjacent factory from where one can also buy fresh juice, marmalades and squash. The village is also surrounded by quite a few tea gardens like Peshoke Tea Estate and Rungli Rungliot where one can experience how tea plucking and processing is done.

tin2The ‘Tinchuley view point’ offers magnificent views of snow peaks including Kanchenjunga at sunrise. A short trek amidst forested walks will lead to ‘Gumbadara’- another view point offering views of Sikkim and the river Rangeet.

Where to stay:

There are no hotels in Tinchuley. However there are lovely homestays offering clean accommodation, homely food and warm hospitality. You may not get luxurious facilities, but the warmth of the locals and genuine hospitality will definitely not leave you complaining.


‘Patha Sathi’- your journey companion

Do you like taking road trips? I do.

I am never in a hurry to arrive anywhere, and would rather soak in my journey and marvel at life passing by, than quickly reach my destination. I like to make frequent stops, drink the occasional chai from roadside shacks and pause to capture anything that pique my fancy in my camera or my heart.

However, there’s one aspect of a road trip that I absolutely dread.

Let me explain this…say you’re going to Darjeeling…You get down at New Jalpaiguri if you’re travelling by train, or Bagdogra if you prefer to fly, hire a car and settle down comfortably for an approximately three hours journey that’s breathtakingly beautiful, and…if you’re like me, you stop drinking water!

Call me picky, but I really want my toilets to be clean and the ones in the roadside eateries or (gasp!) petrol pumps can’t exactly be called immaculate, can they? So I prefer to dessicate myself for as long as it takes to reach my hotel, and by the time I use the requisite facility, the title ‘Toilet- Ek Prem Kathha’, takes a whole new meaning!

So I was very pleasantly surprised when I came to know of the ‘Patha Sathi’ initiative by the Government of West Bengal. It is really an answer to prayers of all travellers like me, specially women for whom a long journey without any toilets become even more difficult. The Patha Sathis are like rest areas that one finds in any highways abroad- facilities comprising of toilet, lodging, a restaurant or cafeteria and car parking area.

You can find information of all the Patha Sathis here- Check these out in your next road trip and you don’t have to give your water bottles a miss!

Here’s a district wise list of Patha Sathis-


At Birpara, Chowpathi, Madarihat, Birpara Block. Beside NH-31D along the way to Holong, Jaldapara, South Khairbari, Jayanti, Hatipota, Bhutanghat, Phuentsholing


at Salgara, Barjora, Bankura-722202. Beside State Highway 9 along the way to Susunia, Bankura Town, Bikna (Dokra), Chhatna, Bishnupur, Susunia, Mukutmonipur and Ayodhya Hill


at Khayrabuni, Illambazar-I. Beside State Highway-14 along the way to Khyarbuni, Bolpur, Panagarh, Burdwan Jaydev, Durgapur, Suri.


at Jamaldah. Beside State High Way 12A, Jamaldah, P.S – Mekhgliganj, Pin 735303


at Hilli. Beside National Highway 512, Pathasathi : Hili, Panjul GP, Hili


at Bagdogra. Beside State High Way in Siliguri


at Kodalia, Chinsurah. Beside G.T. Road between Kolkata and Bardhaman


at Munsirhat. Beside Howrah Amta Road between Amta & Udaynarayanpur


at Chalsa. Matiali Road 1.5 Km from NH-31 C along the way to Malbazar, Rocky Island


at Lodhasuli, Jhargram. Beside NH-6 ( Howrah to Mumbai) in between KGP Chak to Chichra


at Old Malda. Narayanpur (Beside-BSF Camp) on NH-34 along the way to Raiganj, Dalkhola, Islampur, Siliguri (North) and Farakka, Baharampur, Krishnanagar, Kolkata (South)


at Andi, Barwan Block (Kandi Sub division). Sainthia Road near Andi Bustand


at Haringhata. 500 Mts from NH-34, From Jaguli More towards Kampa More


at Berachampa. Beside State Highway along the way to Chandraketugarh


at Barakar Ins Bungalow. PWD Inspection Bungalow Campus on Asansol – Barakar Road


at Debra. Beside NH-6 ( Howrah to Mumbai) near Debra Harimati Saraswati Vidyamandir


at Karjona. Beside Burdwan-Katwa road at 13 Km. Along the way to karjona Stack Yard


at Chasmore, Joypur. Beside State Highway-4H along the way to Purulia (17 KM)-Jhalda (27KM)- Ranchi (113KM)- Bokaro (31KM)- Dhanbad (60KM)- Ajodhya (40KM)- Joychandi Pahar (54KM) – Garh Panchakote (68KM)


at Nandakumar. at the Crossing Point of NH-41 & NH-116B along the way from Nandakumar towards Digha – Left Side


at Dalan Ghata, Diamond Harbour. On NH-117, Diamond Harbour Road along the way to Kakdwip (South bound) and Diamond Harbour (North bound)


at Islampur, Stackyard. Beside 31 National Highway along the way to Islampur

Darjeeling- a journey to the Queen of the Hills

darj3Travelling to Darjeeling in Winter has its own charm I guess. The Queen of Hills attracts tourists in great numbers during the hot and humid summer months, but winter is a different ballgame all together.

Since travelling by train doesn’t permit impromptu trips, flight it was till Bagdogra, from where we hired a car. The journey is 67 kms from Bagdogra to Darjeeling, via the Kurseong Road or the Rohini Road and takes about approximately 2.30 hours to 3 hours, depending on the traffic situation.

The road from Bagdogra to Darjeeling is smooth, I mean as smooth as the TV ad of a car gliding by on a smooth skin! In fact, the roads are so good, that even the faint-hearted, (like me) who feel squeamish at the turns and bends won’t feel discomfort.

We were staying near the Mall, and at 7.30 in the evening, some of the shops were still open and people were going about their ways in the road, though it was the fag end of the day. The plan was to be really touristy and see the sunrise from the Tiger Hill viewing point next morning.

Drink Hot Coffee Drink Hot Tea/ Burn your Lips and Remember Me

The travel from Mall to the Tiger Hills Sunrise Viewpoint  takes about 40 minutes and people start thronging the place from 3.30ish to have better vantage points.  There are beautiful young women selling piping hot tea or coffee, to keep you warm while you wait for the show to begin. Those who haven’t seen this magical sight, need to brave the chill once and see the spectacular sight of the pitch- dark horizon turning faintly crimson, and then the orangish-yellow sun emerging in all its  glory while the Kanchenjungha turns a majestic rose-gold in colour. I can assure you it is a sight which will stay with you- it is not only a visual splendour, but an emotion which simply cannot be caught in the camera!

Peace on Earth

peace-pagoda-darjeelingFrom the Tiger Hill one can go and see the Peace Pagoda, built to create an everlasting bond among all the races, castes and creeds. The prayers and the sombre chanting will instil a sense of peace in you. It is about 10 minutes away from the Ghoom Monastery. Apart from the feeling of peace permeating slowly, the 15ft high statue of the Maitreyaa Buddha is an added attraction.

The Choo Choo Traintoytrain

Take a ride in the legendary and heritage Toy Train, which the UNESCO has declared as a world heritage. You won’t be disappointed, with the meandering railway ride which will take you past tea-gardens, hamlets, cascading waterfalls and quaint houses.

My family and other animals

While in Darj, as it’s  fondly called, don’t miss the Zoo. Impeccably maintained, it houses red pandas, bears, snow leopards, black panthers, Himalayan Palm Civet, Himalayan Goral and various other interesting animals.

Shop shop shop till you drop

There are some amazing shopping destinations if you are so inclined. The local market, which goes down the mall, is a fantastic treasure trove. You can stock up on exclusive tea and handicraft items apart from fascinating woollen garments. Antiques,Tibetan and intricately designed silver jewellery , quaint and dainty tea sets, prayer wheels or japajantras, kukris are some of the must-check out items.

Food Glorious Food

darj2There are plenty of lip-smacking food available all over Darjeeling. The known names such as Keventers, Glenary’s etc along with numerous lesser known ones. One thing is assured, the food will be fresh and piping hot. There are vegetarian options galore too. ( my suggestion- Add more here – what is available and where )

Ready for the recovery

There are other places that I travelled to from Darjeeling, but that’s for another day. What has stirred me most is the warmth of the local people. Travelling with an aged mother and young kids is no mean task, and at  every step, it was the local driver or the hotel owners, or the chemists at the shop who had lent a helping hand. There is a palpable effort of wanting to welcome people back to what was once the preferred destination for millions. In fact, both of them fell sick and honestly yet, I had no problem travelling with them. The 105 days, as they call it have been a period of struggle and its clear that they want to come out of that stupor and become the buzzing tourist destination that it once was.

Amen to that thought. I, like many who have seen the Kanchenjungha in its glory and have felt the buzzing, pulsating excitement of the Mall, or the friendly smiles while one walks down the bazar, or felt the magic of the cold, fresh mountain breeze would want to keep coming back to Darjeeling.

Again and again.

What about you?

Day Trips from Darjeeling – 

  • Darjeeling to Mirik – Mirik is a small hill town set atop 500 sqft. It boasts of a picturesque lake and is a very popular tourist spot. Children can enjoy horse rides too and do boating.
  • Day tour of Takdah, Tinchuley & Lamahatta –  A fantastic and scenic day trip which touches upon scenic mountain villages such as Takdah, Tinchuley and Lamahatta. One can get to see the sprawling tea gardens, lofty snow-capped peaks etc.
  • Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary –  Approximately 2 ½ hours’ drive from Darjeeling, this sprawling sanctuary has various levels and boasts of Royal Bengal Tigers, Elephants, Himalayan Black Bear, rare mountain goats, porcupines and many other exotic animal life. The sanctuary is home to many resident and migratory birds.
  • Triveni – This is a confluence of River Teesta and Rangeet.  The white sandy delta sees a torrent being built at the meeting point. One can also see it from the Peshoke View Point. A round trip from Darjeeling takes about 3 ½ hours to 4 hours.

Apart from these there are numerous other attractive places to visit. The local people will be some of the best guides to those.

Some eateries that one can frequent–

  • Sonam’s Kitchen – One of the best places to drop in for breakfast. Quaint and beautiful, the place serves great food. 142 Dr Zakir Hussain Rd, Darjeeling 734101, India
  • Glenary’s – Fabulous views and great food. Possibly the oldest bakery. The outdoor seating with overhead heater is a must for visitors. Nehru Road, Darjeeling 734101, India
  • Keventers –  In love with English breakfast or feeling a little Porky? Try Keventers. You won’t be disappointed. Clubside| Nehru Road, Darjeeling, India
  • Kunga – Specialises in Tibetan food such as Shabali, Momos, wanton soup and many more. It’s a no-frills place which serves lip-smacking food. 51 Ghandi Road, Near City Centre, Darjeeling 734101, India
  • Lunar Restaurant – By far the best vegetarian restaurant. South Indian to Continental, the fare is diverse. 51 Gandhi Road | Near Club Side Taxi Stand, Darjeeling 734101, India

Apart from these there are numerous other amazing cafes and restaurants, which the local people with their graciousness will guide you to.


En Route

By Ashish Vidyarthi


There are places that we pass, we pass en route..

For each of us, there is a list of places that we can say that we have visited. Places that may be scenic, historically important or simply a place a friend has recommended…  while going towards such places, we have passed many a town, city and kasba.

Places we have seen, in passing, from our vehicle… places with names we check, to make sure we are taking the right route…. remembered as footnotes in the travel description as a place that you pass, en route… but interestingly these humble places are never in the list of must visits…… One such place for me was Siliguri.coronation_bridge

Siliguri had always been the town one passed when going from Bagdogra airport to Kalimgpong or Darjeeling. I remembered it also as the place where we brought the stump of a tea bush which now is a table in our home in Mumbai… So Siliguri existed as a bustling town, which was en route….


Till we were invited to perform our play, ‘Dayashankar Ki Diary’ in Siliguri.

So for the first time, I did not pass Siliguri. I went there. And discovered an interesting set of people, living their passion- full of life, laughter and a zeal to do something beyond the everyday.

A few hours after landing and reaching the Atithi Lodge in the heart of the bustling town,the immaculately maintained ‘Deenabandhu Mancha’ was the venue for the performance of Tughlaq…And what a performance it was!

The 1.5 year old group “Passionate Performers”, led by Professor Amitabh Kanjilal, stunned the audience with the quality of their design, performance and the flawlessly rehearsed ensemble production.

Siliguri … ah! Siliguri, it had begun to remind me that far beyond the famous and the well-known, there are layers of rich life which wait to call on us.siliguri

Be it a deli named ‘Icchebari’ run by a CBSE board school principal, or the ‘Basundhara’- a garden space dedicated by a professional lawyer, who came out of his legal practice to sensitize people about the arts, poetry, theatre, flora and fauna; typical of that place and football. Here, I felt privileged to plant a mango sapling where once the theatre doyen Mr. Habib Tanveer (with whom I started my journey in theatre) had his own sapling in the crescent of the land.

This trip was bringing many colours into the life of this Avid Miner. A 6:30 a.m., 16 degree celsius morning, introduced me to the humble  Netaji Cabin, which was much like the Boshonto cabin and Radhu babu of Kolkata. Toast with morich (pepper) and cheeni (sugar) with Bengali “maamlet” and some kadak chai.

An interesting Chaa-er baari (not shop)  named ‘Moutat’…a Darjeeling tea bar boutique, run by tea aficionados for people to stop by and have breakfast or lunch, accompanied by a unique set of teas. The wine version was wow!! This is also a space where the youth jam and sing along over tea and not alcohol… Nazrul and poetry was in the air… all happening not in a metro, but a town which was “Just enroute..”

The jaunt through Siliguri brought joy, laughter and togetherness as we headed towards ‘Shebok’. We stood by the bridge to take photographs. The lens captured not only the beauty of the place but also the generosity of our hosts. This trip was moving beyond a purposeful exchange… but was turning out to be a free flowing exchange. That evening after the show of our play, on the terrace of the restaurant at Shebok, around a bonfire, Ekjute led by Nadira-ji and Passionate Performers did a jugalbandi of ‘chhora, abbriti’… there were ghost tales, recitation of poetry and humming of songs long into the dark mystical night.

Even if the river bed was dry, we imagined the ‘kul-kul’ of the stream which connected all of us with a unique bond of bondhutto.

Each place we visit, we leave a part of us behind…. and also we carry back with us, a part of that place.

Siliguri allowed me to actually notice the value and the gold which lies en route…  the khazana in life that we easily overlook. Just because we are interested in reaching somewhere else, which may not even be the destination we had set out for.

In search of diamonds we miss out on the life-enriching magical nuggets.

The uniqueness and magic rippled for each of us in Siliguri …  the Ekjute theatre group from Mumbai had their hearts filled. Each of us discovered the unique in the “not so famous”.

Thank you Siliguri. You gifted us enchantment that we would otherwise have missed, en route …

Alshukran Zindagi.

About the author:

ashAshish Vidyarthi, is a well-known and noted Indian film and theatre actor.  He has predominantly worked in Bollywood, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu and Bengali cinema.

Ashish Vidyarthi was born to Reba Vidyarthi, a Kathak dancer and Govind Vidyarthi a Malayali Theatre personality. He is married to Rajoshi Vidyarthi.

In his illustrious acting career, he has received numerous acclaim and received the National Film Award in 1995 for the Govind Nihalani directed film “Drohkaal”.

Ashish Vidyarthi is an avid traveller worldwide yet WB as a tourist spot has a special place in his heart!