Travel Bucket List: India – Tripura Part 3

Tripura’s fourth largest town, Kailashahar is located near the northwest Bangladesh border, about 155 km northeast of Agartala and is surrounded by the Unakoti hills Tripura’s longest river, River Manu flows through the town.

Kailashahar was the ancient capital of the Tripuri kingdom. Its history is associated with Unakoti, noted for its 7th to 9th-century stone and rock-cut images. A Shiva disciple who started the Tripurabda or the Tripuri calendar prayed to Lord Shiva in Chhambulnagar village on the banks of the Mau river. It is speculated that Chhambulnagar, which is mentioned in Rajmala, was situated near Unakoti Hill. The Prince prayed for Mahadeva in Unakoti. Kailashahar may be the legendary Chhambulnagar. Some believers thought that Har or Lord Shiva resides in Kailash. Therefore, the place was known as Kailash Har which was later on transformed into Kailashahar. Tripura King Adi-Dharmapha ruled there in the 7th century.

Today the town is famous for tea estates, with about 16 tea estates in Kailashahar dating back to the 16th century. The tea leaves grown here are entirely organic. Trekking options are also present here. This place is also known for the bamboo work done here, as well as handloom products made here.

Dedicated to Lord Krishna, the Lakhi Narayan Bari temple was installed by Krishnanada Sevayet and has monumental value today. The Chouddo Devotar Mandir or the 14 Deities Temple is dedicated to Ama or Tripuri, the mother of the people of Tripura. It is situated atop a tortoise-shaped hill with Lake Kalyansagar to its eastern side. Along with the several inscriptions of shlokas and ancient paintings found here, a structure looking like a Buddhist Stupa is seen on the roof of this temple. This place is located just 14km from the city of Agartala.

Lying 178 km to the northeast of Agartala, Unakoti is an ancient pilgrimage centre and hill. The Kokborok name of Unakoti is Subrai Khung as claimed by Jamatia Hoda. Unakoti hill means one less a koti or crore or ten million in Hindi and Bengali. The hill hosts an ancient Shaivite place of worship with huge rock reliefs celebrating Lord Shiva. The carvings are located in a beautifully landscaped forest area with green vegetation all around which adds to the beauty of the carvings.

Many of the rock carvings here depict the life of Lord Shiva as well as other deities from the Hindu pantheon. Sculptures of the Nandi Bull, Lord Ram, Lord Ganesha, and Lord Hanuman can also be seen here. The images found at Unakoti are of two types: namely rock-carved figures and stone images. Among the rock-cut carvings, the central Shiva head and gigantic Ganesha figures deserve special mention. The central Shiva head known as Unakotiswara Kal Bhairava is about 30 feet high including an embroidered head-dress which itself is 10 feet high. On each side of the head-dress of the central Shiva, there are two full-size female figures – one of Durga standing on a lion and another female figure on the other side. In addition, three enormous images of Nandi Bull are found half-buried in the ground. There are various other stone as well as rock-cut images at Unakoti.

The carvings are said to date to the 7th and 9th centuries if not earlier. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva once spent a night here en route to Kashi. 99,99,999 gods and goddesses followed him. He had asked his followers to wake up before sunrise and make their way towards Kashi. Unfortunately, none awoke, except Lord Shiva himself. Before he set out for Kashi alone, he put a curse on the others, turning them to stone and that is how the site got its name.

Unakoti also makes a good place for hiking, trekking and other activities given the terrain and the natural offerings of the area. Every year a big fair popularly known as the Ashokastami Mela is held in April and is visited by thousands of pilgrims. Another smaller festival takes place in January.

Known as Tripura’s tourism capital, Udaipur was formerly known as Rangamati and is the third biggest urban area in the state. The town was the capital of the state during the reign of the Manikya Dynasty and is famous for the Tripura Sundari temple also known as Tripureswari temple, one of the 51 Shakti Peethas. Udaipur lies about 51 km south of Agartala. The Gomati river passes through the heart of Udaipur.

Udaipur is dotted with temples the most famous of which is the Tripura Sundari temple, which is one of the 51 Shakti Peethas. The temple was constructed by Maharaja Dhanya Manikya Debbarma in 1501. There is a big lake beside the temple known as Kalyan Sagar. The Bhubaneshwari Temple is another famous temple and the Gunabati Temple, The Jagannath Temple, The Mahadev Temple are other famous temples. Udaipur is also known as the lake city and has many beautiful lakes. Some of them are the Jagannath Dighi, the Mahadev Dighi, the Amar Sagar, the Dhanisagar and Kalyan Sagar. It also has a national library named Nazrul Granthagar, after Kazi Nazrul Islam. The Tepania Eco Park and the Puran Rajbari are other attractions of Udaipur.

The Gunabati Group of Temples was built in the name of Maharani Gunabati, the wife of Maharaja Govinda Manikya, in 1668. The two other temples also bear a contemporary look but their actual history is still to be unveiled. The architecture of these temples resembles other contemporary temples of Tripura except that the topmost parts are without a stupa. The core chambers are marked by the presence of a pitcher circular core chamber and its vestibule which was large with a stupa-like crown is beautifully crafted like a lotus.

Ambassa is a quiet little town popular for its several temples and pleasant surroundings. Initially, a hilly area, which was covered in dense woods, the forests were cleared to create the district only in 1995. Boasting picturesque surroundings and ample natural resources, the town has not only become a popular tourist spot but also has earned fame for being extremely resourceful. Ambassa is inhabited by tribes which mainly live in houses built on platforms. Other residents have mostly migrated from India and Bangladesh. The places of attraction in Ambassa are its several beautiful gardens and the plethora of temples.

A massive juice plant is situated in Nalkata, some 38 km from Ambassa which is a major tourist attraction. Around the spot are also several handicraft shops which one can visit. The Longtharai Mandir is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is believed to be where Lord Shiva rested while he was on his way to Mount Kailash. The temple is situated atop a hill with a picturesque valley below which is how the temple’s name, Longtharai came to be as the word means a deep valley. Beautiful Khumpi flowers bloom here and the peace and calm at the temple is beyond description. Located at a distance of around 35 km from Ambassa, the Kamaleswari Mandir is a temple that is enshrined by Goddess Kali who is also known by the name of Goddess Kamaleswari.

The Sanaiya Waterfalls have a green and soothing natural beauty with panoramic views of the Kamalpur valley from a hilltop adjoining the border with Bangladesh. The village, consisting of the Upper and Lower Sanaiya Reang Para is the habitat of the Reang tribes, which are one of the prominent tribes of Tripura. The waterfall located in a gorge provides a unique tourist spot.

Pilak Archaeological Sites
Located at Jolaibari, about 100 km south of Agartala, Pilak is an archaeological site in South Tripura. Many images and structures, belonging to Buddhist and Hindu sects, have been discovered here since 1927 with the antiquities found here dating to between the 8th and 13th centuries and are on display at the Tripura Government Museum. There runs a hilly rivulet near the place which is known as Pilak Stream and the whole area is beautiful. Thousands of visitors gathered here during the Pilak Festival held in December.

The archaeological site used to be a part of the Samatata kingdom in historical Bengal and is part of a series of archaeological sites that includes Mainamati and Somapura Mahavihara in Bangladesh. The earliest dates of Hindu and Buddhist sculptures, terracotta plaques and seals found at the site are between the 8th and 9th centuries. The artefacts unearthed at the site belong to the Bengal’s Palas and Guptas sculptural and architectural features; also the style of the Arakan in Myanmar and indigenous features are noticeable. The Archaeological Survey of India or ASI carried out excavations at the site in the early 1960s when stupas built with bricks were found. Recent investigations by the ASI unearthed statues of the Buddha and idols of Mahayana Buddhism.

The Pilak archaeological site represents both Hinduism and Buddhism co-existing peacefully. Artefacts of Hinduism are in the form of sculptures and plaques of Hindu gods and a large number of antiquities of the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhism practices. The site is strewn with a large number of terracotta plaques and statues and very large stone sculptures of Avalokiteśvara and Narasimha have been unearthed at the site.

The inscribed terracotta seals found at Pilak depict Buddhist stupas of very small sizes. In Tripura, it is the seal which is worshipped and not the stupa. There is a cone-shaped stone slab with an image of Buddha in an upright posture, dated to the 8th century. A statue of Avalokiteshvara with two arms found at the site is now exhibited in the Tripura Government Museum. A sculpture of the 8th or 9th centuries found here is that of Goddess Marichi, venerated by both the Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhists. However, it is now an iconic idol which is installed in a Hindu temple known as Vasudev-badi. The idol in an upright posture is called Pratyalida and is mounted on a simple plinth, and is well preserved. A sculpted sandstone statue from the site dated to the 8th – 9th century is of Chunda which is now revered as Raja Rajeshwari in a temple at Muhuripur. The image is carved with 18 arms in a posture called Vajaparyankasana deified over a padmapitha or a lotus pedestal. A new find from the Sundari Tilla is a stupa dated to the 11th century similar to the architectural features of the rule of the Palas of Bengal. A Hindu religious terracotta image made in fired clay found at Pilak is of Trimurti. Another image from the Sagardheba mound is of Surya, the Sun god, riding a chariot driven by seven horses, dated to the 7th to 9th centuries which is deified in a temple in the Rajesvari Ashram in Muhuripur.

Located about 77 km southeast of Agartala and about 30 km east of Udaipur, Chabimura is famous for its panels of rock carvings on the steep mountain wall on the bank of the River Gomati. There are huge images carved of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Lord Kartika, Goddess Mahisasurmardini Durga and other Gods and Goddesses. These images date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. These beautiful images are curved with a lot of dexterity on the rocky faces of Devtamura which is steep at 90 degrees. The hill ranges are covered with thick jungles and one can reach this place only after trekking through these jungles. The road leading to the river bank where the rock-cut images exist is a treat to the eye. The area is also an eco-tourism centre.

The first panel is just on the other side of the bank measuring 10.3 m in height and is spread over an area of 28 m and is south-facing. The area to the right of the panel extends up to 60 m where some other images existed. At present some of the images are lost by sliding of rock panels. The second image is that of Mahishasurmardini and is about one km away from the 1st panel and is curved at a height of 10 meters from the river bed. The local tribe worshipped it as Chakrak-Ma. This is one of the largest reliefs of the Goddess present in the country which itself makes it unique. The image has a height of 10.70 meters and a width of 7.70 meters. The face is depicted as round with dishevelled hair-and several hair locks. She is ten-armed and is holding a weapon in nine arms except for the lower arm which holds the hair of the demon king. The weapons are mostly indistinct due to erosion and floral growth.

Mahamuni Pagoda, Manubankul
The Mahamuni Pagoda at Manubankul is located about 134 km south of Agartala. The Buddhist temple not only draws devotees from within India, but it also attracts Buddhist pilgrims from countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Japan and Bangladesh. The temple was built under the leadership of Mathu Mog and others. The monastery bears the Buddhist idioms of expressions in religious architecture. Annually, during March and April, a week-long festival is held and the festival brings about a lot of happiness and bliss to the people. During the festival Lord Buddha is worshipped in the monastery by both Buddhist and Hindu devotees. The Mahamuni Buddha Temple is open throughout the year and the visiting hours are from 6 am to 7 pm.

Buddhist Stupa, Boxanagar
About 36 km southwest of Agartala lies the town of Boxanagar, where, recently after the denudation of a natural forest area, ruins of a brick-built building emerged on the edge of the border with Bangladesh. The local people initially attributed the remains to an ancient temple of Manasa the Goddess of Snakes. After the Archaeological Survey of India took over the site, excavations began and an idol of Lord Buddha was discovered and it was confirmed that it had been a Buddha temple. Other discoveries here include a massive Buddhist stupa, a Chaityagriha, a monastery and other associated burnt brick structures.

The brick-built stupa exposed through archaeological excavation is of a square plan. The basement of the stupa is arrayed in eight mouldings in diminishing order over which the tapering medhi is set with mud mortar and burnt bricks of different sizes. The ruin of the Chaityagriha has been exposed on the eastern side of the stupa which is rectangular on plan and is aligned in the east-west direction. The superstructure of the Chaityagriha is completely damaged except on the side walls which survived up to 1.60 m. The brick-built monastery have a long corridor between rows of five cells on each side.

The excavation of another mound at Boxanagar has exposed a fully burnt-brick structure with Triratha projections having a square sacred chamber which appears to contain the extant remains of three spokes. These spokes are found radiating out from a semi-circular structure located on the eastern side of the sacred chamber. In front of this structure, there is a rectangular hall enclosed by a wall all around. A brick-rammed floor is provided inside this hall probably for facilitating the congregation of devotees. A wide Pradakshinapatha is also provided around these structures.

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