Tripura, the place that I have grown up in, spent the first 20 years of my life there. Tripura is familiar, will always be my home state. But when you go home after a while and look around you realize there’s so much more to it, so much that you have taken for granted when you lived here. You realize how beautiful your home is. The once familiar paths throw up new wonders as you look at them with new eyes.
True Agartala has become a little crowded now, progress you may call it, and I like the Agartala that lives in my memories better. But the moment you step out of Agartala a rustic green Tripura greets you. So, off we drove on a Saturday to visit some places in the vicinity. After driving through the roads bordered by trees or green rice fields and small towns and villages with pretty little mud houses set in huge courtyards, our first stop was Kasba Kali Bari or Kamalasagar Kali Mandir. About 45 minutes’ drive from Agartala, this small and beautiful Kali Mandir is built on a hill on the banks of a clear blue lake Kamalasagar. The temple gets its name from the small village Kasba and the beautiful artificial lake that now lies on the Indo-Bangladesh border. Although Maharaja Kaliyan Manikya started building the temple, Maharaja Dhanya Manikya ultimately completed it in the late 15th century. The shrine in the temple is that of Goddess Durga believed to be very old dating back to the 12th century. The ten handed Durga fighting the buffalo demon Mahisasur is worshiped as Goddess Kali.
Legend has it that that the then monarch of Tripura Maharaja Dhanya Manikya, ordered the lake to be dug at the foothills on the temple in the 15th century. The lake has been named after his wife Kamala Devi. According to local lore, Tripura was battling a severe drought when Kamala Devi was visited by the Goddess in her dreams. The Goddess asked her to dig a lake before the temple to end the drought. It is said when the dry earth was dug for the lake it yielded water. Maybe there’s some truth to it, maybe it’s just a folklore, but it definitely adds to the allure of this beautiful place. My cousin Sudip who organized this trip narrated the tale to me.
We then stopped at a tea garden in the village, called Kamalasundari Tea Garden, named after the lake. Walking on the dusty path bordering the green tea shrubs, labourers sprinkling water on the plants, felt like a different world. Of late tea cultivation has become big in Tripura. Beautiful tea gardens are strewn all over the state that now has 58 operational tea garden and has registered 3.58 crore kg green tea leaf production annually. Tripura even exports tea now, an Agri venture that has enhanced the green charm.
Melaghar was the place we visited next. About half an hour drive from Kasba we first stopped at a local restaurant for lunch. I was pleasantly surprised by an elaborate Bengali platter that was served – masoor dal, aloo baigan sabzi, aloo bhate (mashed potato with mustard oil & onion), aloo gobi dalna (bong cauliflower curry), jhiri aloo bhaja (crispy potato fry) and hisla fish, papad and salad, served with rice of course. We bong and our fondness for aloo!
After lunch we set out to catch a glimpse of Pagli Masi, an old or rather an ageless woman who lies in her little room and is believed to have survived without food or water for over 50 years. There’s temple dedicated to her and people worship her as an incarnation of Goddess Kali. She lies in her room covered by a blanket, her face often covered by a piece of jute. People wait for hours for her to peep out of her cover and show her face – a strangely beautiful shrivelled old woman who dwell in the realm between faith and logic.
Melaghar also houses the famous lake palace – Neer Mahal. Once the summer palace of Tripura it was commissioned by Maharaja Bir Bikram Manikya and completed in 1938. It served as the summer residence of the king and approximately Rs. 10 lakhs were spent on those days to build the palace. A British company Martin and Burns was commissioned by the king to construct the palace. We took a speed boat to the palace, walked through its many rooms, trying to imagine the royal luxury and excesses and the many stories whispering from the nooks and corners. Despite so many people around you can hear the murmurs of the past if you listen carefully.
After a fulfilling day we drove back. I was trying to seep in the old and the new of my familiar state, my home. Or maybe it was the same old that I gazed at with new eyes. Or maybe with time they have gathered more tales, their cracks and crevices, though plastered and painted, have so much more to say. Tripura was the same, yet seemed so different, so much more beautiful.