Mystic Kushtia: A pilgrimage in poetry and music
Standing on the balcony, Rabindranath must have watched when clouds broke into rains and washed away the shrouds of dust from the earth and weaved his creations about the monsoon
Kushtia has been the centre of mysticism and literary movement in the history of Bengal. A lot of people in Bangladesh dream of visiting the place at least once in their lifetime to enjoy the Lalon Mela that takes place at the tomb and shrine of the legendary Lalon Shah.
Rabindranath Tagore's Shilaidaha Kuthibari and more than a century old Hardinge Bridge are also among the places of attraction. You can go for a few days or take a a one-day short trip from Dhaka.
We went to visit Kushtia in a small group, on a private vehicle, to see places in a day. There is, however, the option of a bus or train ride to Kushtia city and then cheap local modes of transport to wander around and explore the place.
First, we stopped at Shilaidaha Kuthibari by the Padma river, one of the most important historical places in Bangladesh, due to its ties with Rabindranath Tagore.
He had stayed here for almost 12 years and had written a few of his most famous verses and songs. Most of his well-known short stories were written here mainly based upon the lives of local people. This is the place where he had started translating Gitanjali in English, which later earned him the Nobel prize.
It is a beautiful building, surrounded by gardens. The very moment we first glanced at Kuthibari we could feel the presence of Rabindranath around us, just like when we feel him as we recite his poems or sing his songs.
In our imagination, we saw Rabindranath in black and white, walking around, riding a boat in the river. This building is right now a historical place and a museum.
People, especially from the adjacent districts, come to visit Kuthibari, to feel the literary journey of Rabindranath, who spent a significant part of his life here.
There is furniture from his era, a lot of photographs, and copies of his writings and paintings. Unfortunately, none of his real work has been kept here. Standing on the balcony, Rabindranath must have watched when clouds broke into rains and washed away the shrouds of dust from the earth and weaved his creations about the monsoon.
We went to the pond to spend a few moments under the shade of Tagore's favourite "Bakultala". The tree is still alive. Baul singers were singing, taking us on a mystical journey beyond the universe. As if we travelled back to the time of Tagore listening to a rendition of his song.
Just in front of the Kuthibari, we tried Kulfi, a locally produced ice-cream considered a delicacy of Kushtia.
From there, we took a rickshaw to visit the Kachharibari, the ancestral home of the Tagore family, by the bank of the river. The building is not protected as a historical site but it still can be an attraction for tourists if maintained properly.
We then went to the city centre, mainly to visit Tagore lodge, a place that the poet had visited sometimes. It is a century-old colonial red building where rooms are well decorated and a metal bust of Tagore stands in front of the building.
Nearby is the old railway station of Kushtia, where the poet arrived by train from Kolkata or left by train. We took a careful look at the old notice board and searched for the Kurchi tree known for the poet's admiration for its white flowers, though we knew it was long gone.
After a quick lunch, we went to the place where Bauls find and nurture their inner sense of spirituality, which is the shrine of Lalon fakir.
Lalon is one of the most prominent figures in folk music and Sufi philosophy of Bengal though his life story remains a mystery and there are so many versions of it.
Alongside Lalon's grave are graves of some other Bauls. There is a research centre nearby where you can see countless books published about his life and works. Bauls gather here and sing, inducing the essence of mysticism all around.
Each year a big fair takes place here, which is known as Lalon Mela, where millions of people come in search of music and to experience spirituality.
From there, we went to visit a village in Kumarkhali where MN Press is situated, where Kangal Harinath started his own newspaper "Grambarta Prokashika" in 1873.
As rebellious as one could be at the time, Harinath published stories of the brutal torture of local landlords and the British. His newspaper also spoke of literature, philosophy, science etc.
The press, which was made in 1867 in London, is still here, weighing over a tonne. This is a very important historical relic but sadly is left uncared for.
The descendants of Harinath want to handover the press to the government or turn this place into a museum, which would be more appropriate to protect the legacy of Kangali Harinath for generations to come.
The next stop was the remnants of the house of legendary writer Mir Mosharraf Hossain at Lahinipara of Kumarkhali, whose finest literary achievement was Bengali novel Bishad Shindhu.
His play about indigo cultivation became very popular among locals back then. The house, which has been turned into a museum, preserves some of the objects used by Mir, who was born here in 1847. His play Jamindar Dorpon became an inspiration in Sirajganj in 1872.
The place where we concluded the tour was Hardinge Bridge, just 25 kilometers away from the city. It was an architectural wonder over the Padma river back in 1912. Sitting on the bridge, we watched the sun going down behind the river and reflected on the journey that we would carry on with us in our memories.
How to go to Kushtia
From Dhaka, you can go to Kushtia by train or by bus. Chitra Express and Sundarban Express will take you to Poradah station, from where Kushtia is a 10km ride on local transport. There are several bus services that operate from Gabtoli or Kolyanpur in Dhaka. Ticket prices range from Tk500 to Tk1200. It is a five- to six-hour journey.
Where to stay
There are many hotels in the town. Decent ones will cost Tk1,000 to Tk6,000 per night. There are also some government guest houses, if you have the right connections.
Where to eat
Restaurants are available around the centre of the town. Disha and Kheya Hotel and Restaurants are prominent, providing both bed and breakfast.
What to buy from Kushtia
Kustia's Cotton Gamchha, made in traditional handlooms, are renowned. Buying it directly from the weavers will benefit them the most.
Top tourist attractions in Kushtia
Shilaidaha Kuthibari - Rabindranath Tagore's residence where he spent a part of his life
Kachharibari, country house of Tagore family, by the bank of the Padma river
Lalon Shah's Mazar at Chheuria
MN press, 150-year-old printing press
Residence of the legendary writer Mir Mosharraf Hossain at Lahinipara in Kumarkhali
Hardinge Bridge, located 25 km away from the city