Monday, 29 April 2019

Y is for...Yatri... Yen... n... Yonder

Here's a track from a band called Yonsample. They are one of the most prominent metal bands out of East India/Bengal. Have a listen - a very different sound -

The next two tracks are from multi-award winning playback singers Sabina Yasmin (Bangladesh) and Alka Yagnik (India). Sabina has been singing for more than 50 years and has been awarded the highest civilian honours of Bangladesh. Alka Yagnik is a Bengali by domicile, also an award-winner and a very highly regarded singer from the films, mostly of Bollywood. Here she is singing Bengali Adhunik (modern). Two different voices from two parts of Bengal.

Yen...n...Yonder, preferably blue...

The Bengali is an indefatigable traveller (=yatri). According to a BBC estimate in the late noughties, more than 50% of Indian domestic tourists were made up of Bengalis. Though the percentage might have moved as incomes and standards of living improve in India, I don’t think the essential conclusion of that exercise has changed majorly in ten years. Travelling, like politics and poetry, is a Bengali passion. 

Famous poem by Tagore on mindfulness and nature
(translation by yours truly). But why I am putting it 

up here are the opening lines - that even a hundred
years ago there was much travel and much money 
spent on it by Bengalis. Needless to mention,Tagore
here is assuming a persona, that of the ordinary,  
middle-class Bengali, an inveterate leisure traveller. 
I have elsewhere in this A-Z series mentioned about Atish Dipankar travelling to Sumatra and Tibet and Sri Chaitanya travelling all over India with their respective spiritual messages and missions. Similarly, a 19th century monk, Vivekananda, took the message of the Vedanta as far as America. Travel in Medieval and Ancient Bengal was primarily religious tourism – the few who could afford to do so, went on pilgrimages to the Himalayas, or to Varanasi. Majority of the people who travelled were religious scholars or monks – both Buddhists and Hindus. Muslims were obliged to go to Mecca once in their lifetime as a religious duty and some surely did, but many did not - both the Emperor and the pauper for obvious reasons. The sea route to Mecca was pirate-infested and dangerous, so much so that the Haj pilgrimage was declared non-mandatory at some point by the Mughal court. But apart from that deviation, it was common for affluent Muslim men, noblewomen and royal consorts to go to Mecca. 

Leisure travel, like many other things, arrived with the foreigners. The Anglicised Bengalis would travel by horse carriage for a ‘change of air’ to the ‘dak bunglows’ even before the railways started. Others took more conventional routes. In 1850, Ishwar Chandra Gupta recorded his journey by boat to the Sunderbans and published it in his newspaper Sambad Prabhakar - this was the first travelogue in Bengali. Incidentally, he was primarily a poet and used the penname ‘Bhromonkari Bondhu’ which translated means Travelling Friend.

Once the railways were introduced, travel got a major fillip. And Bengali literature, where the first slew of super-creative, innovative Bengal Renaissance writers were beginning to pen the first Bengali novels, magnified the effect through heroes who took the train ‘West’ at the drop of a hat. As the century turned, this trend of traveller-heroes continued. From Ghona-da to Teni-da to Felu-da the fictional characters were always going off on adventures  - to Dooars, to Lucknow, to Gangtok, to Rajasthan, to Mars even! And of course their fans had to check out for themselves what the forts and forests and the general terrain looked like. The tradition of travel writing and essays continued too, to motivate Bengalis to pack their bags and hop onto the nearest train.

The long summer vacation for schools and the court got institutionalized, and the fortnight’s break during Durga Puja. In 1864, the British formally moved their summer capital to Shimla, a thousand miles away from Calcutta, to escape the relentless heat of the plains. This break was another opportunity for the Bengalis to travel -  more ‘hawa bodol’ (change of air) at places with restorative properties. Many of the more affluent Bengalis acquired vacation homes in Darjeeling, in Puri, in Giridih, even as far as Benares. The landowning families such as the Tagore’s acquired or built properties up in the hills and/or at the waterfront.  In time, the lower income classes joined the wanderlust club. Both the mountains and the seaside started offering less exclusive accommodations for the Bengali tourists.

By 1933, one of the oldest Indian tour operators had started up in Calcutta – Kundu Special. They have been organising package tours for over 80 years now. Particularly popular because they cater to all the food quirks and culture-specific requirements that middle-class Bengalis have.

Outside the five-star luxury orbit, Bengalis remain the most well-travelled community in India. Wherever one might look - from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Ajanta to Kamakshya, there will be  Bengali travellers out to improve their health and broaden their horizons. With rising incomes and better air connections, Bengalis have now started venturing out of India as well. The Bengali travel-maniac has crossed the seven oceans. Read more here and here.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2019


  1. Hooray for the brave travellers - who have brought us so much.

    1. Travelling/armchair travelling is soul food.

  2. traveling broadens the soul

    1. That's what I'd like to think, but of late I'm having doubts. Several very well-travelled people who are narrow minded bigots/misogynists/racists and in general show no signs of anything being broadened by travel except their waistlines. Maybe the ones whose minds are broadened by travel were going to be broadened anyways?

  3. Thanks for visiting my blog . I have not written a post for just about two years now, partly because I was crazy busy and partly because of having to catch up with taking rest and taking care of daily routine.
    Your post today have sent me back to India. I miss India a lot but due to certain circumstances I cannot go to India right now. May be one day.
    Wow A to Z challenge is now ten years old. I remember when it first started. It seems like I have been out of the circle of my blogger friends for a long long time.
    It has been a pleasure meeting you. Hopefully I shall get back to writing pretty soon.
    Have a great week.

    1. A-Z is a great way of getting back into blogging. All the very best.

  4. I confess I'm going to miss the daily exposure to fabulous mostly-new-to-me music you've been providing every day once this challenge ends. I'm considering it all part of my armchair traveling.

  5. feel like i've been on a great adventure traveling through your posts this year. Thanks!

    Joy at The Joyous Living