Tripura – a hidden secret of India
“Is this the famous Lake Palace of India?” asks Jenny from Australia, as we wait for our boat transfer.
It’s not unusual for first time visitors to confuse it with the much-hyped Lake Palace in Udaipur in Rajasthan, as both were built by maharajas to beat the summer heat.
I have seen images of the other one, but now I stand before this glistening white royal residence on red-brick foundations and crowned with several Mughal-styled domes. It is eye-catching in its beauty.
Its reflection on the greyish lake water sprinkled with pink waterlilies amid green foliage creates a scene so magical that I, like other onlookers, try to lock in my camera.
This 20th century built regal abode, about 50kms from the capital Agartala, is a highlight of tiny Tripura, one of India’s 29 states tucked away in the north-east frontier of the nation.
At first sight, Tripura appears different from the rest of India with the typical crowd, chaos and cacophony missing. It’s predominantly a hilly, landlocked region decorated with lush valleys, rivers and streams, spreading lakes and pristine forests.
Calmness and tranquillity – a rare commodity in vibrant India – can still be sensed there.
Often referred to as the Daughter of Mother Nature, the grace and grandeur of Tripura’s green landscape is heightened by its rich human resource reflected in the ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity of the population – currently less than 3 per cent of India’s 1340 million.
As a tourism destination, Tripura finds it difficult to compete with big brothers Rajasthan, Kerala or even Goa, but the state has many attractions to lure visitors for a few days.
Besides splendid nature, its 10,000-plus sq km offers a variety of sights from royal leftovers and stimulating rock art, to Hindu temples and rich craft and culture. It’s enough to trigger any traveller’s quest for discovery.
As per history books, Tripura achieved its golden era under the Manikya dynasty which ruled for almost 500 years until joining the independent Indian Union in 1949. Their leftovers are always ranked at the top of any visitor’s itinerary.
As well as the Neermahal Palace, the other site of great significance is the Ujjayanta Palace in the heart of Agartala city.
Inside a manicured Mughal-style garden on the banks of a small lake, the palace has a similar look to the famous Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, particularly with its white fascia and neoclassical design, which was widespread during the early 20th century.
Martin & Burn, a reputable Indo British company of the time, built this palace which, curiously, remains largely unnoticed by the architecture buffs in India and abroad.
It’s most likely lack of promotion, as today this palace, which once housed the royal family, is home to their belongings. It’s the State Museum displaying memorabilia proclaiming past glory
Religious tourism is big in Tripura, the region being a treasure trove of the Hindu and Buddhist faiths.
Archaeological ruins around Unakoti, Pilak and Devtamura, 170km from the capital, display gigantic rock-cut carvings and stone images of Shiva, Vishnu and other Hindu gods and Buddhist creeds. Experts believe them to be more than 1000 years old.
There are many Hindu temples throughout the state, the most significant being Tripura Sundari, a version of Goddess Kali.
It’s located in Udaipur, 56km from Agartala where, as per Hindu mythology, one of the 51 body pieces of Mata Sati fell, thus becoming a “pith” or a revered holy site. No visit to Tripura is complete without paying a tribute at this pious junction.
Similarly, it will be a big miss if anyone leaves Tripura without seeing the spectacled monkeys, a rare and endangered species. Tripura and parts of the northeast are their stronghold.
Luck permitting, they can be spotted in the wild. Otherwise Sepahijala Wild Life Sanctuary, 28km from the capital, is the place to meet them.
This 18sq km forest is a zoo where the star attraction is these rare langurs with white circles around their eyes.
Tripura is very close to Bangladesh, sharing more than 850km of land boundary. A border post is only a few kilometres from Agartala. A military showbiz around sunset has become Tripura’s newest tourist drawcard.
This pageant is similar to the famous “Beating the Retreat” ceremony at the India-Pakistan border at Wagah in northern India, but obviously of much lesser grandeur. Still, it’s worth watching the pomp, which basically involves trumpet blowing, uniformed guards marching and then almost on sunset, lowering the nation’s flags.
Efforts are now being made by both India and Bangladesh to make this a major tourist attraction for both sides.
When leaving Tripura, most visitors find it to be one of India’s best-kept secrets and wonder why it’s still an off-the-beat tourist conclave.
The destination has a good resume but needs brushing up by the state and national tourism agencies to make it more attractive for travellers.
Getting there: Singapore Airlines singaporeairlines.com to Kolkata and then a regular flight to Agartala.
Accommodation: Modest accommodation at private hotels and government guest houses. Agartala Ginger Hotel gingerhotels.com is most popular.
Local tour managers: koyelitravels.in and avanitravels.com
Visit Tripura Tourism tripuratourism.gov.in
Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au