Nestled between fluorescent green trees, crimson earth and clear azure sky, Chotta Kothi, located in the heart of West Bengal, is an inviting, warm, and charming place. Surrounded by an expansive thicket, inhabited by birds, bees, and fireflies, the cottage is perfect for a quiet weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city life. That it sits hardly 3 hrs away from Calcutta is an added benefit.
About the Homestay
Located in the tiny town of Prantik, adjacent to Rabindranath Tagore’s abode, Shantiniketan, Nayana’s Homestay or Chotta Kothi, as it is known locally, is an art aficionado’s paradise. The humble cottage with superlative design sensibilities is done up in family pictures, terracotta artifacts, dokra art, paintings, heirloom furniture, and souvenirs from across the world.
Located across two floors, the place comprises of three bedrooms, a living room, a dining area, and lots of open spaces. The rooftop is open to guests as is the verandah, and we reckon they are the best spots in the whole house, after the living room that is.
The bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms are done up tastefully using local art and textiles, the winding staircase that opens into the living room is a treasure trove of many a bric-a-brac; the dining space, complete with a terracotta lamp, Pondicherry pottery, and crystal ware is charming, and the living room with sink in sofas perfect for long evenings and longer conversations.
“Chotta Kothi is a very personal and intimate space. Says Nayana describing her place. “We have no TVs or gadgets; we want our guests to make personal connections. We also have a large outdoors space, which the kids and pets love, and we make great conversations which the elderly cherish,” she goes on to add. The attention to detail, personal touches, and warmth indeed makes the homestay personal, intimate, and well, homely.
About the Owner
Nayana Gangooly, the owner of Chotta Kothi, wears many hats with great élan. She is an entrepreneur working towards promoting local textiles internationally; a traveller conducting high end tours of Calcutta, a wine connoisseur and a member of the Calcutta Wine Club, and above all a gracious host behind this delightful off-beat homestay.
Thanks to her upbringing in Calcutta, her travels around the world, and being part of the Tagore clan (Rabindranath Tagore’s family), Nayana is much more than just an interesting host – she is an expert of the region, culture and everything you need to know about Bengal, especially Shantiniketan. Resourceful and well connected, Nayana makes herself available to answer questions, provide cultural and historical contexts, and guide the guests around. The idea, she says, is to ensure each guest makes beautiful memories and goes back with wonderful experiences.
To ensure there is no expectation mismatch, Nayana insists on speaking with every guest before making the booking. “I do not want them to come here and be disappointed. Chotta Kothi is not a hotel, and it is important for my guests to know that.” But people adapt well, she adds, “most are happy to make their own tea and fetch their own water, and that is what a homestay really means, doesn’t it?” She quips. We cannot but agree.
Nayana’s Homestay offers complimentary breakfast to all guests. The fully equipped kitchen is available to guests should they want to cook, and with the housekeeper, Maku, being there to assist, cooking can be much fun here. Their in-house pantry is always stocked with Darjeeling tea, Coorgi coffee, and loads of cookies to munch along. Choicest wines from Nayana’s personal bar come as an added incentive. The highlight however is the pakodas at a nearby shack where Nayana personally takes all her guests.
While Nayana herself cooks on special occasions, Bengali, Santhali, and regular Indian meals are ordered in from homecooks around the homestay and are high on local flavours and regional ingredients. The specialties include Bengali fish and mutton preparations, Santhali pork & beef curry and lots and lots of Bengali Mishti, especially Rosogulla. The meals including meat cost a humble Rs.200; the vegetarian meals come at Rs. 110.
How to Spend 48 Hrs at Chotta Kothi
There is a lot to do in and around Shantiniketan. A leisurely walk will take you to Rabidranath Tagore’s residence, the Uttarayan Complex. Made up of five houses built during different phases of his life, it is one of the most popular destinations in town. The houses serve as museums and showcase Tagore’s love for art, architecture, design, and of course literature.
The Viswabharati University, adjacent to Uttarayan, makes for a beautiful destination in itself. Chhatimtala, the birthplace of Shantiniketan, Upasanagriha, a prayer house made with Belgium glass, and Amrakunja, open air class rooms under large trees, are some interesting places within the campus. The arts department, Kala Bhavan, is also a must visit: you can witness works of some of India’s most renowned artists here.
The Saturday market by the river in Sonajhuri Forest, Khoai Boner Annya Haat, is at a stone’s throw from Chotta Kothi. Held every Saturday by the local craftsmen and women of the area, it is a great place to shop directly from artisans at throwaway prices, sample Santhali food, and experience Baul music.
If you want to travel outstation, Bishnupur, the home of Bengal Terracotta, is about 130 kilometers and can be done as a day trip by road. The three-hour drive is picturesque and green, and cuts through the heart of rural Bengal. The tiny town treats you with exquisite temples, exceptional crafts, Balucheri saris, and plenty of rural folklore. It is best to carry your own food like luchis or sandwiches for the journey. At Bisnupur, you could eat at the bus stop or at the only restaurant in town, Monalisa.
If, like us, you want to do nothing at Chotta Kothi, you can just chill in the quaint verandah overlooking the lush front yard with a glass of wine, or relax on the rooftop modhas with a cup of Darjeeling tea soaking in the peace and quiet of the surroundings. Peace, in any case, is at the heart of Chotta Kothi.
How To Reach:
Shantiniketan is well connected by rail and road from Kolkata. The train journey is short and scenic. It is best to reserve your seats a few weeks in advance. Best trains: Ganadevta Express –13017, Kavi Guru Express – 13016. A Toto, or e-rickshaw will take you to Chotta Kothi from Prantik or Bolpur station in less than 20 minutes and will cost about Rs. 200.
The road from Kolkata to Shantiniketan is well laid and it takes about three hours to get here should you decide to drive. Once in town, Nayana can guide you to the homestay.
This story first appeared in CondeNast Traveller.