The SP, Agartala spared the services of Pradeep Kumar, an ASI, to conduct me around the sights in and around Agartala. It was a thoughtful gesture from Aneesh Prasad IPS, for it saved me a lot of time and bother. (He was particularly helpful in dealing with a motorcyclist who was cross with me for having overtaken him on the Highway!) Such escorts are excellent companions to understand the local customs, beliefs, history and developments. Pradeep Kumar was a good source of local information.
Ujjayantha Palace is the centerpiece of the city. The huge white dome can be seen from miles away as you approach the city centre. A visit to the 1901 structure built by the 182nd Maharaja of Tripura was a bit disappointing. Poor maintenance of the premises and overgrown weeds give it the impression of a decadent ancestral home. Mercifully, the entire Palace is getting a makeover. For security reasons, entry into the Palace is not permitted. The Assembly sessions are still held within the Palace. The new Legislature Complex is likely to be ready soon, I understand. There are two large ponds flanking the Palace.
The Agartala Railway Station is a joy to behold in terms of architecture. Once the section is converted to Broad Gauge, the local economy will get a further fillip. Even now the station has an earning of over Rs. 1 lakh per day, mainly due to parcel traffic. There is enough land with the railways to build additional platforms and maintenance facilities to introduce more passenger trains after the gauge conversion.
The legend of Sati’s immolation resonates in Tripura too. When Vishu used the Sudarshana Chakra to cut up the immolated body of Sati, her divine right leg is supposed to have fallen at Matabari, where the Temple now stands. It houses a Kali temple built in 1501. Animal sacrifice is the offering done by devotees here, as is done in the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati. It should be possible to replace this gory ritual with something more symbolic without hurting religious sentiments. People visit the large pond in front of the Temple and throw into it offerings of puffed rice and biscuits. The pond has huge fish, which is said to worship the deity of the Temple. I was totally surprised to see fish devouring biscuits; another amusing sight was that of a dog snatching away a biscuit almost from the open mouth of a fish! There are many shops around the Temple that specialize in ‘milk pedas’, which is offered for blessing in the Temple.
The SP, Agartala had arranged for lunch at the District Armed Reserve Camp of the South Tripura District. While lunch was being prepared I rested in the well-appointed guest room and watched the proceeding of the India-NZ cricket match. I almost went off to sleep watching Dravid and Laxman in action. Lunch was an elaborate affair of rice, rotis, dal, three veg dishes, salad and chicken curry. Apples, oranges and bananas were the dessert. Amazed by the spread I asked the officer who was attending to me if any more guests were expected. The officer was surprised by the question for, I suspect, he believed I could polish off the spread without any assistance going by the size of my belly! As I had finished my breakfast early, I tucked into the food ‘shamelessly’, and left for the Neer Mahal immediately thereafter.
The Palace built between 1930 and 1938 in the Rudra Sagar Lake by the then Maharaja of Tripura was christened by Rabindranath Tagore as Neermahal, the Water Palace. The Neermahal was used by the Maharaja and his honored guests as a place for leisure and pleasure. Motor boats and row boats are available on hire to go to the Palace. The fish from the Rudra Sagar Lake is sold in Agartala. The Palace itself is a fine blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture. The reflection of the white and red palace is a good photo opportunity. The gardens within the palace are maintained well. I understand that a light and sound show is organized during the season.
Bangla is the most commonly spoken language in Tripura; Kokborok is spoken in the rural areas among the tribal population. The Bangladesh border is barely 3kms east of the capital city of Agartala. The tensions between the Bangla and the tribal peoples had resulted in many years of extremist activity in the northern areas of Tripura; the southern areas were also in turmoil during that time. Things have calmed down in the past couple of years. Closer to Udaipur one can see acres and acres of rubber cultivation. The oldest plantations are nearly thirty years old. The trees grow well, but the older plantations did not look particularly well looked after. New areas are being brought under rubber cultivation every year and two to four year old trees can be seen in new patches of plantations. These are mostly tribal plantations. I gathered that productivity is low due to less than adequate rainfall. Tripura is rich in gas. I passed through the 2x363 MW gas based power station being built in Palitana, the first phase of which ONGC will shortly be commissioning.
While returning to Agartala, I noticed with concern that the car was running low on fuel. By 3.30 pm, two pumps I turned into had closed for the day! I was fortunate that the fuel lasted till the outskirts of the city, where I tanked up. It may be a good idea to tank up periodically, as I was told that there could be shortages in the NE due to prolonged blockades.