Perched on the banks of the Haorah river, Agartala seems unlike any other state capital. It has the charm of a small town where life goes on at a fairly relaxed pace, and instead of the hustle-bustle of big cities, visitors here experience a serene environment and friendly locals.

The city derives its name from the words agar – a tree used for producing perfume – and tala meaning store-house, which put together mean ‘a store-house of agaru tree’.

It is interesting to note that Udaipur, not the city in Rajasthan, but a town located on the banks of the Gomati river in South Tripura, used to be the ancient capital of the former princely state of Tripura. Maharaja Krishna Chandra Manikya Bahadur had shifted the capital to old Agartala in 1760, and then to present-day Agartala in 1849.

Puneet K. Paliwal
The muddy Gomati river flowing past a lush landscape
The muddy Gomati river flowing past a lush landscape

During the British era, the state of Tripura was known as Hill Tippera, and the area annexed and ruled by the British was called Tippera District, the present-day Comilla District of Bangladesh. Agartala served as the capital of Hill Tippera and became a municipality in 1874–75. In 1949, Tripura became one of the last princely states to accede to the independent Indian Union.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

The second-largest city in the North-eastern region after Guwahati, Agartala is located just 2km from Bangladesh. The city boasts of exquisite natural beauty, with pris-tine forests, roaring waterfalls and beautiful valleys in its vicinity. Agartala’s historical splendour is seated in its magnificent palaces, ancient temples and shrines. It also serves as a superb base for exploring various monuments and lakes in its surrounding areas.

Ujjayanta Palace

In the heart of the city lies the Ujjayanta Palace. Built in 1901 by Maharaja Radha Kishore Manikya Bahadur, this gleaming white structure is set in the middle of Mughal-style gardens with a lake in the front. Built in the Indo-Saracenic style, the palace is topped by three domes, the most striking of which is the 26m-high central dome.

Swapan Nayak
The Ujjayanta Palace set amidst Mughal-style gardens
The Ujjayanta Palace set amidst Mughal-style gardens

The palace now serves as the Assembly House of Tripura’s state government and is closed to the public, except for one wing that has been converted into a museum with an impressive collection of royal and cultural artefacts. Its interiors are breathtaking, with a beautifully tiled floor and an intricately carved wooden ceiling. The floodlights and dancing fountains in the gardens surrounding it make the palace a stunning sight at night.

Jagannath Temple

Another remarkable architectural feat in Agartala is the Jagannath Temple, located within the precincts of the Ujjayanta Palace. It was built in the 19th century by Maharaja Radha Kishore Manikya, who chose Agartala over Udaipur as his capital.

The famous temple was one amongst numerous such structures that were commissioned for beaut-ifying the capital city. Dedicated to the Hindu gods Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra, the temple is known for its octagonal floor plan and the beautiful pradakshina patha (pathway encircling the sanctum). It is adorned with bright orange-painted shikharas and square-shaped pillars topped with pyramidal cones.

Benuban Vihar

Situated at Kunjaban, in the northern part of Agartala, Benuban Vihar is one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples of Tripura. This small Buddhist shrine houses exquisite metal statues of Buddha and Bodhisattva, both of which are of Burmese origin. Buddha Poornima, the festival commemorating the birth of the Buddha, is celebrated here every year with much fervour. The event is attended by people from surrounding areas.

Courtesy Tripura Tourism
The royal Neermahal located in the centre of the Rudrasagar Lake
The royal Neermahal located in the centre of the Rudrasagar Lake

Gedu Mia Mosque

Located in the Shibnagar area of Agartala, the Gedu Mia Mosque occupies the pride of place for the Muslim minority of Tripura. Built using imported white marble stones, the imposing mosque features a number of minarets and there are sprawling gardens that surround it. The doors of the mosque are adorned with carefully selected works of art.

The founder of the mosque, Gedu Mia, earned big profits after bagging a lucrative contract for constructing an airport in Agartala from the last princely ruler, Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya, in 1942. He contributed a part of his profit towards building this exquisite mosque.

Chaturdash Devta Temple

Located in Old Agartala, around 6km away from Agartala is the revered Chaturdash Devta Temple, literally meaning the Temple of Fourteen Gods. It is believed that during the Mahabharata, Trilochan – who then reigned as the king of Tripura – used to worship these 14 gods as the deities of the royal household. This tradition is believed to have continued with all the subsequent kings of Tripura.

The images of these fourteen gods were originally kept in two temples in Udaipur. In 1770, when Maharaja Krishna Manikya moved his capital to Old Agartala, the idols were also shifted and installed here. The temple was then built to house these statues. The Old Palace ruins can still be seen next to the temple. The ruins serve as the venue for the annual Kharchi Puja, which is held in honour of the 14 gods, in the month of July. A seven-day long fair is organised in Old Agartala, where thousands of devotees congregate to offer prayers and participate in the celebrations.

Swapan Nayak
Rubber tree sap, Sepahijala WLS
Rubber tree sap, Sepahijala WLS

AROUND AGARTALA

Kamalasagar (31km)Southwest of Agartala lies the serene Kamalasagar Lake, on the edge of the India-Bangladesh border. This area is also known as Kasba, which is a Farsi word meaning town. This vast artificial lake was excavated by Maharaja Dhanya Manikya in the 15th century, and was named after his wife Kamala Devi. The scenic beauty of this lake makes it an ideal picnic spot.

On the banks of the lake sits the popular Kamalasagar Kali Temple, dating back to the 16th century. The temple shelters a 12th-century idol of Goddess Kali, which is made of sand-stone. Every year the two-day Bhadra Fair is held at this temple, and attracts devotees in large numbers.

Neermahal (53km)

Northeastern India’s only water palace, Neermahal, is located south of Agartala, at Melaghar. Literally translating to water palace, this royal mansion is located right in the centre of the Rudrasagar Lake. The palace was constructed by Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya in 1930. It took nine years to build this iconic structure, which served as the king’s summer residence. Neermahal’s archi-tecture is a melange of the Mughal and Hindu styles, and reflects the maharaja’s sense of aesthetics and luxury. The 122-m tall edifice consists of 24 rooms and is surrounded by charming gardens with colourful flowerbeds. The architectural grandeur and setting of the palace is remini-scent of the Lake Palace in Udaipur, in Rajasthan.

The Rudgrasagar Lake covers an area of about 5sq km and comes alive with the chirruping of various resident and migratory birds. Boating facilities are available at the lake – boats depart from the Sagar Mahal Tourist Lodge. A light and sound show reflecting the history and cultural heritage of Tripura is held in the palace on some evenings.

Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary (28km)

En route to Udaipur and not very far from Agartala, lies the Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary, which boasts of a rich diversity of wildlife. Located in the Bishalgarh sub-division, Sepahijala is spread over an area of 19sq km.

The sanctuary was established as a bio-complex in 1972, to conserve and propagate the area’s biodiversity. It acquired the status of a wildlife sanctuary in 1987. Today, it has an orchid garden, a botanical garden, a deer park and a zoo. A variety of residential and migratory birds make Sepahijala a haven for birdwatchers. The avian population of the sanctuary includes winged stork, whistling teal and the white ibis. It has almost 456 plant species, and is home to seven species of primates such as the rhesus macaque, pigtail macaque, capped langur, slow loris and the endangered spectacled langur, which is popularly known as the chasma bandar. In addition, clouded leopard, civet, jungle fowl and elephant can also be commonly sighted in the sanctuary.

The landscape of Sepahijala is dotted with a number of lakes. The 5-minute toy train ride is a good option for exploring the different types of habitats that exist in the sanctuary. You can also visit the interesting Nature Interpretation Centre, or simply enjoy a picnic in the area that has been developed for this purpose.

Timings 9.00am–5.00pm Closed Fridays

WHERE TO STAY

Agartala

Hotel Welcome Palace (Tel: 0381-2384940; Tariff: ₹1,099–3,499) and Ginger Agartala (Tel: 2411333, 2413337, Cell: 09856033739; Tariff: ₹3,999–5,999) are the best options.

Kamalasagar

Comilla View Tourist Lodge (Tel: 2916014, Cell: 09089288637; Tariff: ₹700, dorm bed ₹100) has 10 rooms and one six-bedded dorm.

Neermahal

Sagar Mahal Tourist Lodge (Tel: 2524418, Cell: 09436457697; Tariff: ₹863–1,035, ₹100 per bed) has 52 rooms and a seven-bedded dorm; food is arranged on request.

Kailashahar

Sri Krishna Hotel (Tel: 222859, Cell: 09436530658; Tariff: ₹300–500) has a restaurant attached to it.

Inputs by Shreya Sarkar

FAST FACTS

When to Go October–March

Tourist Office

Tripura Tourism Development Corp, Sweatmahal Palace Compound Road, Agartala, Tel: 0381-2325930/ 3893, 2317878, W tripuratourism.gov.in

GETTING THERE

State Tripura

Location On the banks of the Haorah river, 2km from India-Bangladesh border

Distance 425km S of Guwahati

Route from Guwahati Take Shillong Bypass Road which diverts onto NH44; Continue on NH44 till Agartala

Air Nearest Airport: The Agartala Airport is 12km from the city centre. The city is well-connected by air to Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati. Air India, Jet Airways and Indigo offer daily flights

Rail Nearest Railhead: Kumarghat (160km) and Dharama Nagar (200km) provide rail connections to Agartala. Both the stations on the North-East Frontier Railway, connected with Lumding and Guwahati, which in turn are connected with Calcutta and other major stations in India

Road NH44 originates from Agartala and runs northeast across Tripura into Assam. It enters Meghalaya and joins NH40 near Shillong Bus Services available from Guwahati to Agartala round the clock