In My Hands Today…

Gazing at Neighbours: Travels Along the Line That Partitioned India – Bishwanath Ghosh

In July 1947, British barrister Cyril Radcliffe was summoned to New Delhi and given five weeks to draw, on the map of the subcontinent, two zigzagged lines that would decide the future of one-fifth of the human race.

One line, 553 kilometres long, created the province of West Punjab; the other, adding up to 4,096 kilometres, carved out a province called East Bengal. Both territories joined the new-born nation of Pakistan—an event called the Partition of India, which saw one million people being butchered and another fifteen million uprooted from their homes.

Enough and more has been written about the horrors of Partition, but what of the people who actually inhabit the land through which these lines run?

Curiosity leads Bishwanath Ghosh into journeying along the Radcliffe Line—through the vibrant greenery of Punjab as well as the more melancholic landscape of the states surrounding Bangladesh—and examining, first hand, life on the border. Recording his encounters and experiences in luminous prose, Gazing at Neighbours is a narrative of historical stock-taking as much as of travel.

Travel Bucket List: India – Tripura Part 4

Baramura Eco Park
Nestled in the verdant forest at the fringes of Baramura–Deotamura reserve forest where Baramura hill range meets the plains at a distance of about 37 km east of Agartala, the Baramura Eco Park located at the foothills of the Baramura hills is a manifestation of the conservation need of the ecological biodiversity of the Baramura hills. The Baramura hills are a breathtakingly beautiful expanse of rolling hills characterised by thickly forested hill ridges varying in altitude between 90 m to 136 m and valleys with dense bamboo patched, herbs & shrubs that is home to astoundingly diverse ecological biodiversity. The forest also supports the livelihood needs of nearly 2,500 tribal families.

Kalapania Nature Park
Located about 116 km south of Agartala in Sabroom in South Tripura, the Kalapania Nature Park was established in 2004 covering 21 hectares of deserted land into a nature’s paradise set amidst a charming ambience of natural beauty. A lake with serene blue water in midst of two hillocks in the park’s centre divides it into two halves. There is a boating service as well as beautiful cottages around the small hills surrounding the water body. The main attraction of the park is a nature interpretation centre located in the middle of the park.

Tepania Eco Park
Established in 1995 inside RadhaKishorepur Reserve Forest, the Tepania Eco-Park lies about 47 km south of Agartala and 5 km from Agartala Udaipur. Over the years the Eco Park set amidst a charming ambience of natural beauty has been upgraded and today has an area of 155 hectares and has turned out to be a huge tourist attraction. The Eco Park has a modern well maintained orchid house which houses 225 species of orchids. There is a cactus House which has 250 samples collected from various parts of the country. A treehouse inside the park offers a night stay facility in a sylvan environment. The other attractions include a unique wooden hanging bridge, a medicinal garden and a watch tower for viewing the wildlife.

Khumulwang Eco Park
Located on the outskirts of Agartala within the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council, Head Quarter Khumulwng, the Khumulwng Eco Park has been raised in the lap of nature covering an area of 14.5 hectares of land. Khumulwang, which means the valley of flowers, the park is well organised in different sections such as the flower park, the children’s park and the science park. Boating facilities are also available. The Tribal Museum cum Heritage Centre is located at Khumulwng which has models of the 19 tribes of the state.

Jampui Hills
Located about 200 km east of Agartala, the Jampui Hills are the highest hill range in the state bordering Mizoram at an altitude of 3000 feet above sea level. Jampui is famous for its charming landscapes and bracing climate. The excellent climatic condition, green forests, beautiful orange gardens, views of the rising and setting sun are wonderful sights for tourists. The hill range has 11 villages inhabited by the Mizo or Lushai tribes and also by the Reang tribes. The main occupation of the villagers is orange cultivation.

The view of the rising and setting sun from the various viewpoints in Jampui Hills is a wonderful sight for visitors. The various viewpoints in the hill range provide excellent panoramic views of the valley and villages of Mizoram. From the watchtower at the highest peak, Betlingchip at 3200 feet above sea level, one can view the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Kanchanpur – Dasda valley and other hill ranges of Tripura and Mizoram unfold. Every November, the unique Orange & Tourism festival is celebrated here which attracts a large number of tourists, both domestic and foreign. During the monsoon season, the hill is covered with floating clouds and it provides a rare experience for tourists. The formation of clouds at the bottom of the hill range and its gradual ascendance from the bottom to the top slowly engulfing the whole hill range in its mystic lap is an experience to treasure. The Tourist Department of the Government of Tripura has constructed a very modern tourist lodge, The Eden Tourist Lodge at the Vanghmun village in the Jampui hills which has a capacity of 20 persons and is well equipped with all modern amenities.

Dumboor Lake, Dhalai
A charming water body about 135 km southeast of Agartala, Dumboor Lake is located in Amarpur. The lake is shaped like a tabor-shaped small drum, or the Dumboor of Lord Shiva from which the name Dumboor originates. The lake is spread over an area of 41 sq km and there are 48 islets inside the lake. The surrounding hills and the islets are enchantingly emerald green and present a captivating scenic spectacle. The winter months attract hundreds of migratory birds which gives the lake the status of healthy wetland habitat. There is a hydel project near the lake where the River Gomati originates and the area is called Tirthamukh where a big fair is held every year on Pous Sankranti on 14th January. The Lake is on the confluence of the rivers Raima and Saima. Boating facilities are available in Dumboor Lake.

Rudrasagar Lake
Also known as Twijilikma, the Rudrasagar Lake is located in Melaghar and is a picturesque lake that has lately been recognised as one of the wetlands of national importance for the conservation of resources and their sustainable use. Also known as Rudijala, three rivers named Noacherra, Kemrali Cherra and Durlavnaraya form the lake. The highlight of the lake is the magnificent Neermahal Palace built in 1930 which is situated on the northeast bank of the lake. The lake occupies an area of 2.4 sq km and is situated about 52 km south of Agartala. Rudrasagar Lake is a natural sedimentation reservoir, which receives flow from three perennial streams. After settling the sediment from the received flow, clear water discharges into the river Gumati through a connective channel, Kachigang. Rudrasagar is a potential Important Bird Area and attracts a large number of waterfowl in winter. Among the rarer species recorded are the endangered Baer’s pochard and near-threatened ferruginous duck.

Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary & Clouded Leopard National Park
Home to a variety of wildlife especially birds and primates, the Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary & Clouded Leopard National Park is not just a wildlife sanctuary but also an academic and research centre. Spread over an area of 18.5 sq km about 27 km south of Agartala, the sanctuary came into existence in 1972 to conserve and propagate the biodiversity of the area. With the addition of a Botanical Garden, a deer park and a zoo, the bio complex was subsequently upgraded as the Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary in early 1987. More than 150 species of residential birds, migratory birds, orchid gardens, boating facilities, wildlife, botanical garden, zoo, elephant joy-rides, and rubber and coffee plantations beckon the tourists all through the year. The added incentive for animal lovers is the famous spectacled monkey which is now a rare species. The sanctuary has more than 456 plant species, many kinds of bamboo and a variety of grasses and medicinal plants as well as a rich population of birds and animals. The sanctuary also offers spectacular views of coffee and rubber plantations and has boating facilities in the lake and a joyride in the toy train. The Clouded Leopard National Park is a part of the Sipahijala Wildlife Sanctuary and was established in 2007 with an area of 5 sq km.

Trishna Wildlife Sanctuary
Located about 111 km south of Agartala, the Trishna Wildlife Sanctuary is a wildlife and biodiversity sanctuary spread over an area of 164 sq km. Founded in 1988, this sanctuary is famous for the sizeable population of the Gaur or Indian Bison. The sanctuary also harbours a good stock of avifauna population which is integral to the prevalent ecosystem. Trishna Wildlife Sanctuary is also the habitat of and home to the highly endangered and only ape species of the Indian subcontinent, the Hoolock Gibbon and primates like the Capped Langur and the Golden Langur. The sanctuary has several perennial water rivulets, water bodies and grasslands with patches of virgin forests that are rich in rare vegetation. Closed on Tuesdays, the sanctuary is open between 9 am and 5 pm on other days.

Rajbari National Park
Situated in the Trishna Wildlife Sanctuary, the Rajbari National Park is spread over 31.63 sq km. The park is very famous owing to its picturesque surroundings and is one of the many places where one can witness Mother Nature at her best. One can expect to come across various wild animals including the world-famous Indian Gaur, also known as bison, deer, Golden langurs, Pheasants, and many such species. The Bison reserve was entrenched in the Sanctuary to protect the endangered species. With the establishment of this reserve, the primary goal was to restore the natural living habitat of the Bison and strengthen laws put forth for their protection from poachers. The park receives plenty of water from the many rivulets and water bodies situated in the sanctuary which ensures a regular and constant supply for the nourishment of the plant and animal species. It is also extremely abundant in forest reserves and is credited as one of the most conservative reserves that boast of rich biodiversity. The vegetation found in the sanctuary is of great diversity with several herbs, shrubs, tree species and climbers. Four types of forests can be found here including the tropical semi-evergreen forest, the east Himalayan lower Bhabar sal, moist mixed deciduous forest and Savannah woodlands. Bamboo is abundantly available. The safari at the Rajbari National Park is a must and is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of the park. Jeep safaris and wildlife trips are organised regularly to impart knowledge and awareness regarding the environment and its inhabitants to visitors. The magnificent lake situated in the park is a beautiful spot to enjoy a picnic with your friends and family. The park offers boating facilities available at nominal rates as well. The park is open daily between 10 am to 5 pm on all days except Fridays when the park is closed. Entry fees are INR 10 per person.

Rowa Wildlife Sanctuary
Notified in 1988 by the Forest Department, the Rowa Wildlife Sanctuary lies about 160 km northeast of Agartala. It is spread over an area of only 0.86 sq km and was part of the erstwhile protected forests in Mouja Rowa. The sanctuary, despite its small size, has over the years gained a great deal of popularity because of its natural beauty and is the only wildlife sanctuary in North Tripura. The sanctuary is particularly rich in birds and reptiles with large flocks of migratory waterfowl congregating in the several water reservoirs in the protected area. The sanctuary is also home to a large variety of plant species including several species of medicinal value. Rowa Wildlife Sanctuary is open to visitors throughout the year.

Gomati Wildlife Sanctuary
Also known as the Gumti Wildlife Sanctuary, the Gomati Wildlife Sanctuary is the largest sanctuary in Tripura, located in the southeast corner of the state, about 135 km southeast of Agartala. It is spread over an area of 390 sq km. Adjoining the sanctuary, there is a vast water reservoir covering approximately 300 sq km which attracts many local and migratory water birds. The sanctuary also has elephants, bison, sambars and barking deer as well as other animals and reptiles. One of the landmarks of this sanctuary is Lake Dumbur, which attracts around 17 migratory bird species and 126 native bird species in the cold winters, but the number of bird visits has declined significantly in recent years.

And this brings us to the end of this exotic and underrated state. Do drop me a line if I have missed any must-see places and also what are your favorite places to visit in Tripura.

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.

In My Hands Today…

Aimless in Banaras: Wanderings in India’s Holiest City – Bishwanath Ghosh

While cremating his mother at the famed Manikarnika Ghat, Bishwanath Ghosh pretended he was a writer collecting material for a future book rather than a grieving son—his way of dealing with the last rites. A few years later, he returns to Banaras to write that book.

Plunging into its timeless aura, he roams its ghats and galis, sails through the cool breeze of the Ganga, walks through the heat of funeral pyres. One moment he is observing a sadhu show off his penile strength, in the next he is on a boat with a young woman who has been prophesied to marry seven times; one moment he is in conversation with the celebrated writer Kashinath Singh, who is an atheist, and in the next he is having tea with a globe- trotting priest and a god-fearing doctor … Ghosh finds a story in every bend as he engages with quintessential Banarasis—their paan-stuffed mouths spouting expletives and wisdom with equal flair—and discovers why they are among the happiest people on earth.

Then one evening at Manikarnika, as he emerges from a temple, wearing ash from the cremation ground on his forehead, he finds a bit of Banaras in himself.

Aimless in Banaras is not only a sensuous portrait of India’s holiest city but also a meditation on life—and death.

Travel Bucket List: India – Tripura Part 2


Tripura’s capital city and one of the largest cities of northeast India, Agartala is the seat of the Government of Tripura. It is located on the banks of the Haora River, near the Bangladesh border.

Agartala is a derivative of two words, namely agar, a valuable perfume and incense tree of genus Aquilaria, and the suffix tala, meaning underneath, a reference to the density of agarwood trees in the region. The agar tree is historically referred to in the story of King Raghu who tied up his elephant’s feet to an agar tree on the banks of River Lauhitya.

The ancient capital of the then princely state of Swadhin Tripura was at Rangamati in present-day Udaipur in South Tripura by the bank of the River Gomati. In 1760 it was shifted by Maharaja Krishna Chandra Manikya Bahadur of the Manikya dynasty to present old Agartala by the bank of the River Haora or Saidra and was named Haveli. Due to frequent invasions of the Kukis and also to keep easy communication with the British and the Bengalis, Maharaja Krishna Chandra Manikya started the process of shifting the capital from Old Haveli to New Haveli which is present-day Agartala in 1849.

Bir Bikram Kishore Debbarman is called the founder of the planned city of Agartala. He had gone on a tour to the United Kingdom and was so impressed at the architecture that he started planning a similar township in Agartala. During the 1940s the town was re-organised in a planned manner with new roads and a market building. 1981 saw Agartala expanding and increasing its connectivity as well as businesses in various fields, The Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore visited the city multiple times and built a house that still exists.

The Ujjayanta Palace used to be the palace of the Kings of Tripura that was converted into the state legislative assembly and today is a museum, situated in the area of the Palace Compound. The palace also served as the meeting place of the Tripura Legislative Assembly until 2011. Tours are conducted by the Tripura Tourism Department. The name Ujjayanta Palace was given by the poet Rabindranath Tagore, who visited the state many times. Maharaja Bir Bikram was the last king of Tripura and the last king who stayed in the palace. It has now been transformed into a museum named Ujjayanta Museum.

Built in 1901, the palace has magnificent tiled floors, carved wooden ceilings and lovely doors. The palace includes the Public halls, a throned room, a Durbar Hall, a Library, the Chinese Room and the Reception Hall. The Palace stands on the banks of a small lake surrounded by the lush greenery of Mughal gardens. Spread over an expanse of 28 hectares of parkland, this exotic palace has several Hindu temples dedicated to the deities, Lakshmi Narayan, Uma-Maheshwari, Kali and Jagannath.

Also known as Nuyungma in the Tripuri language, the palace was constructed between 1899 and 1901 by Maharaja Radha Kishore Manikya Debbarma and stands on the banks of two lakes surrounded by gardens inspired by the European style. Upon the merger of the Kingdom of Tripura with India in 1949, the royal properties were nationalised. The main building along with the area around the palace was purchased from the royal family by the Tripura government in 1972–73 and housed the Tripura Legislative Assembly until July 2011 when the assembly moved to a new location 6 km north of Agartala.

Today it is one of the largest museums in Northeast India, covering an area of over 800 acres of land, it depicts the lifestyle, art, culture, tradition and utility crafts, besides the customs and practices of various communities residing in northeast India. The two-storied palace has three large domes, the largest of which is 86 ft high, and which rests atop a four-storied central tower. The architecture shows a mix of influences – Mughal, Roman and British. There are two large artificial ponds on either side of the garden which is decorated with pools and fountains. Several Hindu temples occupy plots adjacent to Ujjayanta Palace, dedicated to Lakshmi Narayan, Uma-Maheshwari, Durga and Jagannath. Newer attractions in the compound include the musical fountain installed in front of the main entrance and the night-time floodlights. The grounds are laid out as formal Mughal gardens adorned with fountains. The palace and musem is closed on Mondays and other days is open between 10 am to 5 pm and has an entry fee of INR 10 per person.

The Kunjaban Palace was constructed by King Birendra Kishore Manikya in 1917 and is today the official residence of the Governor of Tripura. The intricate carvings and magnificent structures built here, along with the magnificent adjoining gardens make it a marvellous monument as a whole.

The Jagannath temple was built by the Maharaja of Tripura of the Manikya Dynasty in the 19th century and is located in the Ujjayanta Palace grounds and is dedicated to Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra. While the Islamic style of architecture is predominant in the exterior of this temple, the interiors are decorated with Hindu splendour. It is widely believed that the Neelmadhav idol that is consecrated at Puri was donated from the Jagganath Bari Mandir of Tripura. The base of the Jagannath temple is an octagon in shape with brightly coloured orange walls. Pyramidal conic structures adorn the pillars of the temple. The impression of the pradhkshin patha that is around the sanctum deserves special mention. The Nitya Puja, Bhoga offerings and distribution, along with the evening Aarti, are the main rituals that are followed here. The Aartis are especially a must-attend event to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of the temple and to be lost in the devotion of the Almighty. The Ratha Yatra, also known as Maha Ratha Yatra is the annual festival of the temple that takes place in June, is an important festival that is attended by hundreds of devotees each year.

Located within the Ujjayanta palace grounds, the Ummaneshwar Temple is a saffron-coloured temple influenced by West Bengali culture.

The Tripura Sundari Temple is a beautiful temple situated in Udaipur, around 55 km away from Agartala. This ancient, 500-year-old temple is one of the 51 Shakti Peethas and is where the toe of the right foot of Sati fell. The temple is that it is in the shape of a tortoise and is also known as the Kurma Peeth. Dedicated to Goddess Kali, built in 1501, is where a steady stream of pilgrims make almost endless animal sacrifices that leave the grounds as bloody as the temple’s vivid-red shikhara. The temple is also known as Matabari and is served by priests in red robes who minister to the Tripura Sundari.

King Dhanya Manikya who was the ruler of Tripura in the 15th century had a dream asking him to install the idol of Goddess Tripura Sundari in the temple present on the hilltop. However, this temple was already dedicated to Lord Vishnu which is why the king could not decide how to install another idol in the temple which was already devoted to Lord Vishnu. However, the repetition of this message by the oracle made the king decide to follow its command and thus the Tripura Sundar Temple came into existence.

The temple is small and measures 24 square feet at the base and 75 feet at the top where Goddess Parvati is worshipped with the names Tripurasundari, Tripureshwari, and Soroshi. The temple’s structure is similar to that of a tortoise with the roof in the shape of the humped back of the tortoise. This is why the shrine is also known as Kurma Peetha since Kurma means tortoise. There is a square sanctum in the temple having a conical dome. This was constructed in 1501 by Maharaja Dhanya Manikya Debbarma. Inside the glorious temple, two exact images of the same deity are present. These have been given the names Tripura Sundari which is 5 feet high and Chhotima which is 2 feet high. The idol is built from Kasti stone which is reddish-black and it is said that this idol of Chhotima was carried on the battlefield by the king.

Kalyan Sagar is a lake is situated on the eastern side of the Tripura Sundari Temple and is spread over 5 acres of land with a length of 224 yards and a width of 160 yards. 124 years after the Tripura Sundari Temple was set up, the Kalyan Sagar Lake was founded which can be traced back to the rule of Maharaja Kalian Manikya in 1501. Different varieties of aqua species can be found in the lake including huge tortoises. The devotees who visit the temple feed biscuits and puffed rice to the fish. The lake is considered sacred by the devotees and has a fountain in the centre which makes it appear even more beautiful. The temple opens between 5 am and 9 pm during the summer months and between 5:30 am and 8:30 pm during the winter months.

The Bhubaneswari Temple is located in Udaipur about 55 km from Agartala by the bank of the River Gomati. The temple built by Maharaja Govinda Manikya is now under the control and supervision of the Archaeological Survey of India. While approaching the Bhubaneswari Temple one also finds the ruins of the palace of Govinda Manikya.

The Chaturdash Devta Temple is located in Old Agartala and is also known as the Temple of Fourteen Gods. Before 1770 AD, the images of fourteen Gods were in Udaipur in two temples beside the Tripureswar Bhairab Temple, but in 1770 A.D after Maharaja Krishna Kishore Manikya was defeated by Shamsher Gaze, he shifted his capital from Udaipur to Old Agartala and the images of the Fourteen Gods were also taken to the capital and installed in a new temple. The capital was shifted to resent-day Agartala in 1840 AD, but the images of Fourteen Gods remained in the same temple. On the occasion of the special puja of the Fourteen Gods known as Kharchi Puja, a grand fair is held for 7 days in and around the old palace. The worship of the Fourteen Gods has an old history and legend associated with it. During the time of Mahabharata, Trilochana, a contemporary of Yudhisthira, was the king of Tripura who used to worship these Fourteen Gods as Royal deities. The tradition continued with all the subsequent Kings of Tripura. Animal sacrifices offered by the devotees are an integral feature of Kharchi puja. Inside the temple, the images of the Fourteen Gods do not consist of a full body with only the images of the heads of the Gods present.

The Kasba Kali Temple is a Shakti shrine about 31 away from Agartala and is located beside the Indo-Bangladesh international border. The serene lake in front of the temple adds to the charm of the  place. Although Maharaja Kaliyan Manikya started construction, it was Maharaja Dhanya Manikya who finished building the temple in the late 15th century. The deity installed inside the temple dedicated to Goddess Durga but as the base platform has an image of Lord Shiva , the ten-handed Durga fighting the buffalo demon Mahisasur is worshipped as Goddess Kali. The area where the temple is located is also known as a kasba which is a Persian word meaning town. The ancient name of the place was Kamalagarh or Koilagarh. After defeating Surja, the then-ruler of Bengal, Maharaja Kalyan Manikya built this fort to further secure the princely kingdom of Tripura. A township gradually developed around the fort and the name Koilagarh was replaced by the name Kasba. Maharaja Dhanya Manikya dug a large water body in front of the temple and named it Kamalasagar to honour his wife, Kamaladevi. Today there is an Indo-Bangla Border Hut which is also a special attraction. Every year a big fair is held near the temple in April and thousands of devotees the temple.

Buddhist Temples in Tripura support the fact that Buddhism is quite prevalent in the state. Archaeological evidence suggest that Buddhists have inhabited the region since ancient times with several Buddhist rulers ruling the state who left permanent influences on the culture of the state. In the 16th century, Buddhism was almost eliminated from this region owing to the defeat of Buddhist rulers, but its revival in Tripura began in the 17th century. The Buddha Temple is an important religious site and was constructed in 1946. It houses two idols of Buddha and Bodhisattva, believed to be having a Burmese origin. The surrounding gardens enhance the beauty of the temple premises.

The Gedu Mia’s Maszid is an imposing mosque located in the Shibnagar area of Agartala. Built of imported white marble stones, this exquisite mosque is endowed with a large number of minarets, towers and artworks on doors, fronted by a sprawling green space for religious congregations including weekly Jumma Namaz.

Parks in Agartala include Heritage Park which is the most visited of all the parks in the city. The most notable features are the miniature models of various monuments of the state, the Ayurvedic herb garden and the fountain. Rabindra Kanan is a park in the vicinity of the Pushpavanta Palace, the former Raj Bhavan of Tripura and the Malancha Nivas. This park, close to the Heritage Park, annually holds the birth anniversary ceremony of Rabindranath Tagore after whom the park is named. The Vivek Uddyan is adjacent to the Ujjayanta Palace and the Children’s Park and annually holds the birth anniversary ceremony of Swami Vivekananda, after whom the park is named.

The Lake Palace of Tripura or the Neermahal is the largest palace of its kind in the subcontinent. This architectural beauty derives its name from its location, the middle of the Rudrasagar Lake. One of India’s two water palaces, the former royal palace was the royal summer palace. The palace is the result of Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya Bahadur’s idea of constructing a summer residence in the middle of Rudrasagar Lake which took nine years to construct. The palace is a beautiful amalgamation of Hindu and Muslim architecture and looks more enchanting during the nighttime when the lights are switched on, and its reflection is made in the water. Sandstone and Marble have been extensively used in the construction and the palace has a profusion of balconies, pillars, rooms, ornated walls, bridges, and pavilions.  It is divided into two parts, the Andar Mahal and an open-air theatre. Where the former lies in the west, the latter occupies the eastern part of the palace. The Andar Mahal was formed as the royal family’s private area. It has 24 rooms and 2 stairways built in such a way that they land onto the Rudrasagar Lake. Back then boats were used as transportation mode between the palace and other parts of the land. There is a sound and light show in the evenings and the premises also include water sports activities. The palace is also famous for the three-day-long Neermahal Water Festival which takes place annually in August and December. Boat races and swimming competitions are observed alongside small cultural programmes. The palace is open from 9 am to 5 pm and has an entry fee of INR 5 per person while children below the age of 5 pay INR 3. There is also a camera fee of INR 10 per camera.

The Gondacherra Wildlife Sanctuary is home to multiple species of flora and fauna. Mammals like tigers, bison, wild horses, aquatic life as well as migratory birds can be seen here. The Raima Valley is also known as the Mother of the Tribals of Tripura. This lush green valley, decorated with gardens and plantations has become a preferred tourist spot.

The Akhaura Integrated Check Post was inaugurated on 17 November 2013 and is the second largest trading centre with Bangladesh after Benapole and Petrapole in West Bengal. People travel to the border to witness the flag-lowering ceremony in a mutually coordinated performance. The check post includes a mini-stadium which hosts the Beating of Retreat ceremony like that at the Wagah border with Pakistan.