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Travel: Land of Legends

By Anshuman Sen Email By Anshuman Sen
March 2014
Travel: Land of Legends

 

 

Tripura's wealth of traditional art and culture, history, and biodiversity cast a magnetic spell on everyone.

 

Quietly nestled in lush green hills and blessed with beautiful valleys and waterscape, Tripura is a land of abundant myths and legends. The state resembles a tiny dot on peninsular India’s map, dangling between Northeast India and Bangladesh. Its handicrafts, traditional music, diversity of cultural streams and faiths add to its irresistible charm. This little and spectacularly picturesque northeastern state shares only 15 per cent of its borders with India. You’ll find Bangladeshi potato wafers, cigarettes, and biscuits everywhere in Agartala, the capital. And if you worship Hilsa fish, as I do, you’ll spend all your time salivating, drooling, and eating. But there is much more to Tripura than this. Magnificent lndo- Saracenic palaces, amazing tribes and their culture, orange festival, and spectacled monkeys are included among the many attractions of the state.

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The Ujjayanta Palace is Agartala’s most spectacular edifice. Built by Maharaja Radha Kishore Manikya in 1901, the huge whitewashed palace is built in the lndo-Saracenic style. Its highest dome is 86 feet high; the floor tiles are beautiful; and the wooden ceiling of the Chinese room is notable. A huge Mughal-style garden is in front of the palace with lovely pools, and the palace itself is situated on a lake. Since the state legislative assembly is housed in the Palace, entry of visitors is restricted till 5 pm. The building is floodlit at night. MBB College, set in a sprawling campus that includes a stadium, is another impressive building. There are some interesting markets within Agartala. There are two main travel circuits in Tripura, the south and the north. You can either hire a vehicle or depend on public transport, which is well organized. The Sepahijala Wildlife sanctuary is 25 km south of Agartala and the journey itself is quite enjoyable. You may also go to the nearby lake, which attracts migratory birds in winter.

Neer Mahal Palace is the next destination in the southern circuit. The views of Neer Mahal in the evening are spectacular, when the palace is floodlit. Situated in the middle of Rudrasagar Lake, it has a dreamlike quality about it. Built in 1930 as the summer residence of Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya, the palace was inspired by Mughal architecture. Five kilometers away from Udaipur, a small town south of Agartala, is the Tripura Sundari temple, or Matabari, one of the 51 shaktipeeths (seat of goddess Shakti or Sati) sacred to Hindus. Perched atop a low hill, the temple overlooks the Kalyan Sagar Pond, which has a large tortoise population. Tripura Sundari is also referred to as the Kurma (tortoise) Peeth. The Kamala Sagar Kali temple, on the India Bangladesh border, is another important shrine.

 

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A fisherman throws his net to catch fish.

A simple pier on a river in Tripura.

The Jampui Hills are the farthest from Agartala in the northern circuit. It takes unusually long to traverse the 250 km., but the long and tiresome journey has some rewards in store. The spectacular sunsets, orange gardens, cool breeze, and Eden Tourist Lodge at Vanghmun make the Jampui hills a must-visit destination. The Vanghmun lodge is beautifully located and surrounded by trees and gardens. The wide terrace is perfect for stargazing and evening tea. The Orange Festival, held every November, attracts the maximum number of tourists.

Unakoti is situated in the northernmost part of Tripura. The ninth-century massive rock-cut sculptures are located deep within a forest. There’s a 30-ft-high Shiva head that reaffirms the old tradition of Shiva-Shakti worship in Tripura. Unakoti also has one of the largest bas-relief sculptures in India. Unakoti literally means one less than a crore and there are some legends to the word’s origin and significance.

 

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Tribal girls, in traditional costume, perform the harvest dance.

A craftsperson making bamboo products.

The cultural diversity in Tripura is astounding. Bengalis constitute 65 per cent of the population. The rest is divided into tribes, the prominent ones being Reang, Chakma, Halam, and Lusai. Each tribe has its unique dance form. The Reang Hozagiri dance is perhaps the most visually striking. Young Reang girls stand on metal pots and balance bottles on their head. The Chakma Bizhu dance is a riot of colors and is performed at the time of harvest. The Bengali Dhamail is another colourful folk dance variant. Tripura is best known for its fine bamboo and cane craftsmanship.

With so much on offer, Tripura can make you stay longer than you planned. Small is beautiful after all.

 

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Getting There

By air: There are no direct flights to Agartala from any of the metros, except Kolkata.
The other alternative is to fly into Agartala from Guwahati, in Assam.
By train: The nearest railhead is Manu, 110 km from Agartala.
By road: You may take a 24-hour bus ride to Agartala from Guwahati.
Tourist helpline: 9 1-381 -2300332

(Above) a man fashions a boat from bamboo.

 

Reprinted with permission from India Perspectives.



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