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Planning trips with your friends and actually executing those plans are two different things. Thankfully I was lucky enough to make one such trip during my college days to Sonajhuri where I got to experience rural Bengal and Baul culture.
To put things simply, Bauls are a group based in West Bengal and Bangladesh. They are a religious sect and have a musical tradition that has elements of Sufism and Vaishnavism.
Getting to interact with this culture and community in such a setting was truly a transcendental experience.
After months of planning, our group of 8 friends set off on our trip to Sonajhuri. Sonajhuri is a small village close to Shantinekatan, which is a small town in the Birbhum district of West Bengal.
We decided to stay at Sonajhuri as we were looking to stay away from the crowd and tourists that Shantinektan attracts.
We travelled from Sealdah to Prantik by train.
After reaching Prantik station, it took us around 20 mins to reach our hotel by a toto.
As we travelled through the red dirt roads, we were all excited as we started to get the feel of rural Bengal.
On reaching our hotel, we freshened up and rushed off to have our lunch. 4-5 hours of a train journey and a toto ride was enough to make everyone hungry, I guess!
After lunch, we decided to walk around the hotel.
It was our first trip as a group and we all intended to make the most of it.
Our hotel was close to Sonajhuri forest and Kopai River. In the evening we took a stroll in the forest and walked down the banks of the river.
It was a beautiful experience as we got to see a few Bauls singing at the banks of Kopai.
The second day was a Saturday. Every Saturday, near the Sonajhuri forest, hundreds of artisans gather to sell handicrafts and unique items. It is a unique sight.
It is a weekly mela or flea market where local craftsmen gather and people from all over the world pour in to buy home decors, jewellery, handicrafts, souvenirs and so on.
Local artists and tribes gather here from the morning hours and start performing.
You can see tribal groups singing and dancing and people often end up joining them. It was a unique experience to see all of that from up close.
Being a weekly flea market, these artisans and performers gather every Saturday. They set up their stalls at the forest ground from early morning. But as soon as the sun goes down, they wrap things up and head home.
The mela grounds were full of energy as there were lots of people buying and selling things. Our trip to Soanjhuri was just a two-day trip.
After sunset, reality set in and we realized we had to get back to our home the very next day.
At night while we were packing our bags and getting ourselves mentally ready for the journey back home, we could hear a group of bauls singing outside, somewhere far off in the distance. It felt nice the way it broke the silence of the night and concluded our trip.
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