“Mitali” is a Bengali word, favoured by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in his writings, to signify friendship or friendly, the underlying sentiment that this Homestay seeks to uphold. Sushil and Indira Dey had come back to Bengal from a long period abroad in New York and Rome in order to enjoy the peaceful rural surroundings of their beloved Shantiniketan memories when Tagore was still alive and creative. They selected a location just 1.5 kilometres from the Ashram area of the Viswa Bharati campus, but which had an unending horizon of palm trees and paddy fields at that time, the distant lit carriages of the few trains passing through Prantik station the only human company visible from the house. In winter, the sight and sounds at sunset were those of migrating Siberian ducks and birds flapping their wings in low formation over the house before landing on warmer feeding grounds nearby. The nearby Santhal village of Phuldanga gave its name to the area, the villagers themselves the first to construct this strange white house that they called the “Girja Bari” as it reminded them of a church. Electricity and telephone lines had to be brought from over 2 kms distance, as there were no other brick-based habitations in the area. Today, so much construction has taken place in the vicinity that detailed directions have to be provided in order to locate the house!
The Deys’ vision for Mitali was to keep the house as a comfortable family home for their four children and their descendants, a place for reunions and where friends made across the globe would want to visit. That vision still guides the current Homestay arrangements, despite having to generate additional income in order to pay for the upkeep of the house and its grounds. Mitali has the distinctive architecture, looks and feel of a heritage home, despite having been built less than half a century ago. The ceilings are high, the walls thick, and there is a prevailing sense of space, light and natural breeze, with each window opening to a profusion of greenery and flowers. While retaining its original design structure, a thorough renovation has brought greater security, creature comforts and convenience such as air-conditioning, back-up electricity, infra-red water purification, audio-visual entertainment and wi-fi telecommunications. Mitali, through its architecture and room-designs, as well as its living environment and food, seeks to emphasize communion with Nature and a sense of tranquility. The verdant grounds have many fruit and flowering trees, there are vegetable and herb gardens, a greenhouse, and a mushroom-cultivation unit. All the cultivation is organic, and the produce imparts distinctive flavours to the food and refreshments served at Mitali. There are interesting collections of books, periodicals, films and recorded music to which the guests have access on a promise of treating them with care.
Today, then, Mitali remains a charming villa surrounded by spacious gardens, offering fully-modern accommodation and international cuisine in a rural environment. Part of the Shantiniketan area, (under consideration for being declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site) and a little beyond the University Campus, Mitali draws on the adjacent town of Bolpur for urban services, and is well-connected by train and smooth highway for the most part (about three hours’ journey either way) to India’s eastern metropolis of Kolkata (ex-Calcutta), as well as to the Himalayan hill-stations and the North-East. The Homestay is recommended as a restful respite from the tensions and pollution of the city, and a great way to experience the ‘soul’ of rural Bengal. Visits are easily arranged to the Viswa Bharati university campus and museum, with Mitali located conveniently in a neighbourhood of renowned Baul (folk) singers, local craft centres, and Birbhum villages undergoing a process of dynamic social change, still set among rice paddies and palm trees.
We can also help you to plan in advance a trip to Shantiniketan that is combined with guided tours to other areas in Eastern India such as medieval terracotta temples in villages, walking trips around Kolkata, boat explorations of the mangrove forests and waterways of the Sunderbans, or the jungle reserves of North Bengal, and travel to the hill-stations of Kalimpong and Darjeeling. These would be done in conjunction with travel partners who are specialized in those areas.