Tourists paradise

Print edition : September 11, 2009

In the Trishna wildlife sanctuary, which is famous for the Indian bison.-PICTURE COURTESY: GOVERNMENT OF TRIPURA

ALTHOUGH the hilly north-eastern State of Tripura covers a geographical area of just 10,491.69 square kilometres, it has the potential to become a major tourist destination. From palaces of former kings to rock carvings to temples and monasteries and wildlife sanctuaries, Tripura offers the discerning tourist a whole range of alternatives.

The State is believed to have got its name from the presiding deity of the land, Tripura Sundari, whose temple, located 55 km from Agartala, is considered to be one of the 51 peethas (a Hindu pilgrim site, according to the Tantric tradition) in the country. This erstwhile princely state has many beautiful palaces, which stand testimony to its glorious past and rich heritage. The Ujjayanta palace in Agartala, the State capital, covers an area of 1 sq km and was built by Maharaja Radha Kishore Manikya in 1901.

About a kilometre to the north of it stands the Kunjaban palace. Perched on a pretty green hillock called Kunjaban, this palace was built by Maharaja Birendra Kishore Manikya (1909-1923) as a retreat. Constructed in 1917, it was initially named Pushbanta Palace. King Birendra Kishore, a gifted artist, is believed to have drawn up the plan of the palace and the adjoining garden himself. Rabindranath Tagore stayed in the eastern wing of the palace on his last visit to Tripura, in 1926. The garden on the southern side of the palace has been opened to the public and has been rechristened Rabindra Kanan.

About 55 km away from Agartala is the Rudrasagar lake, at the centre of which stands the famous lake palace Neermahal, the only one in eastern India. It was used as a summer resort by the former kings of Tripura. This magnificent palace was constructed in 1930 by Maharaja Birbikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur, who wished to use it as a summer resort. The construction was undertaken by Martin & Burn Co. A combination of Hindu and Mughal architecture is apparent in the domes of the palace. The palace has two broad sections. The one on the western side, known as Andar Mahal, has 15 rooms and was used by the royal family; and the one on the eastern side was used to accommodate security personnel and servants. There is a beautiful garden on the western side of the palace where plays were staged to entertain the royal party. The maharajas reached the palace by motor boat. Now the palace is floodlit in the evenings. Plans are afoot to renovate it and set up a museum depicting the royal lifestyle.

The rock carvings of Tripura are a popular tourist attraction. Historical references to the pilgrim site of Unakoti, 178 km from Agartala, can be traced to the 7th century A.D. The word Unakoti means one less than a crore. According to Hindu mythology, Siva and a one-crore entourage of gods and goddesses had stopped for the night at this site on their way to Kashi. Siva instructed his companions to wake up before sunrise to continue their journey but they failed to do so. An enraged Siva set out for Kashi alone after cursing his companions to become stone images.

The images found at Unakoti are of two types rock-carved figures and stone images. Among the carvings, a Siva head and a gigantic figure of Ganesha stand out. The Siva head on the main peak here is known as Unakotiswara Kal Bhairava and is about 30 feet (nine metres) tall. This is inclusive of the figures embroidered headdress, which is about 3 m tall. On either side of the headdress are two female figures one of them is Durga standing on a lion. Three enormous images of the Nandi bull Sivas trusted mount can be seen half buried in the ground. A big fair known as Ashokastami Mela is held near the site every April. A place called Deotamura, or Chabimura, about 75 km from Agartala, has rock carvings on the steep side of a mountain. The gigantic images of Hindu gods such as Siva, Vishnu, Kartikeya and Mahishasuramardini here date back to the 15th and 16th centuries.

Around 100 km from Agartala is Pilak, considered to be a treasure trove of Hindu and Buddhist sculptures dating back to the 8th and 9th centuries. Beautiful images, terracotta plaques and seals as well as huge stone images of Avolokiteshwara and Narasimha have been discovered here, scattered around an area of about 10 sq km.

Tripura is famous for its large number of Hindu and Buddhist pilgrim sites. Udaipur, famous for the Matabari, or Tripureswari temple, is known as Lake City or Temple City, for the abundance of lakes and temples here. The Matabari temple draws devotees from within and outside the State. Chouddha Devatabari, or the Temple of Fourteen Deities, is another attraction. Every year, during the Kharchi festival, thousands of devotees visit this temple.

The Tripura Sundari temple is also known as Kurma Peetha, as its shape resembles a turtle. Apart from the larger idol of Kali inside the temple, there is a smaller idol called Chhoto Ma (small mother), which was carried by the Maharajas of Tripura when they went to war and also when they went hunting. The temple was constructed in A.D. 1501 by Maharaja Dhanya Manikya. On its eastern side is the Kalyan Sagar lake. Fishing is prohibited in Kalyan Sagar. Every year, during Deepavali, a mela takes place near the temple, which is attended on an average by more than two lakh pilgrims.

Near the Tripura Sundari temple, on the right bank of the Gomati river at Udaipur and next to the ruins of a big palace built by Maharaja Govinda Manikya (A.D. 1660-75) is the Bhuveneswari temple. References to this can be found in Tagores works Bisharjan and Rajarshi.

There are quite a few Buddhist temples in Tripura. Some of the important Buddhist pilgrim sites are the Buddha temple in Agartala, the temples at Pecharthal and Kanchanpur in north Tripura, the one at Manu Bakul in south Tripura.

Tripura offers excellent opportunities for wildlife tourism and eco-tourism as with nearly 60 per cent of the State under forest cover, it is home to different species of trees, orchids, birds and wildlife. The Trishna and Sepahijala wildlife sanctuaries, the Dumboor lake, and the Jampui hill are some of the popular destinations for nature-loving tourists. The Jampui hill is known as much for its scenic beauty as for its vibrant tribal culture. From October to December, when the orange trees are laden with fruits, the entire hill takes on an orange hue. The State Tourism Department runs lodges in every tourist spot.

The Forest Department, with the objective of ensuring ecological stability for the socio-economic security of the people, formulated a Perspective Plan (2007-08 to 2012-13) under which joint forest management committees (JMFC) have been formed to ensure forest-dwellers participation in development work. Until December 2008, as many as 472 JMFCs were formed and 236 JMFCs brought under 11 Forest Development Agencies. Plantations have been raised over 20,411 hectares under the FDAs, and the State governments afforestation drive has covered over 2,78,558 ha.

The government had formulated an Eco-tourism Policy in 2004, to promote eco-tourism in the State and upgrade infrastructure facilities in the sector. The Forest Department also entered into an agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (formerly Japan Bank for International Cooperation) for sustainable management of the States forest resources and for alleviation of the poverty among forest-dependent families. The project, launched in 2007-08, will be implemented over a period of eight years. An Indo-German project will also be implemented over a period of six years at a cost of Rs.140 crore to achieve similar goals.

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