Dispatch from #100DaysInHimalayas: The Village that Inspired Tagore

Mongpu draws orchid-lovers and literary pilgrims.  
Tagore Museum Rabindra Bhavan Mongpu
The Tagore museum, Rabindra Bhavan, is full of memorabilia that draws in literary pilgrims. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Rabindranath Tagore often holidayed in Mongpu, a quiet Himalayan village about 1.5hr from Darjeeling, during the last three years of his life. So it was only natural that photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee and Bollywood music director Shantanu Moitra visited Mongpu—and their Bengali heritage—when they were on the West Bengal leg of their #100DaysInHimalayas project. Between February and December 2016, the duo will make a series of trips in the Himalayas covering reaches running from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, and into the neighbouring foothills of Nepal and Bhutan—and they’re taking National Geographic Traveller India along for the ride.

Mongpu Orchid Cinchona

Mongpu is most famous for its cultivation of orchid blooms and the medicinal herb cinchona. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

On a day trip to Mongpu, they visited the bungalow where Tagore stayed at the invitation of his protégée, the author Maitreyi Devi. The house overlooks a cinchona plantation and quinine factory, once managed by Devi’s husband. On his last visit in 1940, Tagore fell very ill and had to be shifted to Kolkata. He passed away the next year, leaving behind several possessions at the Mongpu residence, which was later turned into a museum by the government, and named Rabindra Bhavan.

Mongpu Bungalow Tagore

Tagore’s letters, documents, photographs, even paint supplies, can be viewed at the Mongpu bungalow. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Among Rabindra Bhavan’s display are artworks, handwritten documents, and most interestingly, furniture designed by Tagore and carved by his son, Rathindranath Tagore. Moitra and Mukherjee saw Tagore’s bed, which has an inclined headrest said to have tackled his respiratory problem. His mahogany writing desk and chair, said to be designed to support his back, faces a window with a tranquil view of the lush, hilly landscape that the nature-loving writer treasured. For Mukherjee, the window by which Tagore wrote provided the biggest emotional connection. “He had a vast view in front, and that landscape is intact,” the photographer said, “It’s very green, there are lots of trees; it’s at the edge of the snow.”

Tagore Museum Rabindra Bhavan Mongpu

Tagore collaborated with his son to create ergonomic furniture such as this mahogany writing desk and chair. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Like many visitors at this memorial to a literary giant, Moitra was dismayed by the broken windowpanes, cracked walls, dented doors and inadequate security. “We could have walked out with any of Tagore’s belongings,” he said. And yet, much of it remains. The place may be unkempt but the legacy of Tagore’s visits is still strong in the village.

Keep posted for updates from Mukherjee and Moitra, as this mountain bromance yields stunning photos of the Himalayas’ stark beauty, and stories of its charming people. Missed the previous dispatches? Read more on #100DaysInHimalayas.

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    Saumya Ancheri is Assistant Web Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She loves places by the sea, and travels to shift her own boundaries. She tweets as @Saumya_Ancheri.

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    Dhritiman Mukherjee is as elusive as the animals he photographs. His photographs have appeared in National Geographic Traveller, The New York Times, Lonely Planet, WWF, UNESCO, Birdlife.

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