Just about 8km from the sub-divisional headquarters of Kailashahar town, lies Unakoti hill. Home to the largest bas relief sculptures in India, Unakoti is famous for its massive stone and rock-cut sculptures that have been carved out from the hillside. It is immediately apparent that these carvings were made by extremely skilled artisans. Surrounded by lush greenery, this place is also a Shaivite pilgrimage site dating back to the 8th or 9th centuries CE or perhaps even earlier and is, therefore, dotted with the ruins of ancient temples.

Unakoti literally means ‘One Less Than A Crore’. According to Hindu mythology Lord Shiva once spent a night here en route to Kashi. He was accompanied by 99,99,999 gods and goddesses. He had asked his followers to wake up before sunrise and make their way towards Kashi. Unfortunately, none awoke, except for Lord Shiva himself. Before he set out for Kashi alone, he put a curse on the others turning them to stone. And that’s how the site got its name. However, there actually aren’t that many sculptures here today.

Puneet K. Paliwal
Impressive rock-cut sculptures carved out from a hillside
Impressive rock-cut sculptures carved out from a hillside

The most famous amongst these awe-inspiring carvings are the central Shiva head and gigantic Ganesha figures. The former, known as Unakotiswara Kal Bhairava, is about 30ft high. Its most striking feature is the intricate headdress, which is 10ft high by itself. The headdress of the central Shiva is flanked by Goddess Durga on one side standing on a lion, and Goddess Ganga on the other sitting atop a capricorn. Besides these there are several other detailed scultpures including Nandi bulls, Hanuman and Ravana.

Unakoti is also well-known for the Ashokastami Festival

WHERE TO STAY

Two good options here are Unakoti Tourist Lodge (Tel: 03824-223635, Cell: 09856071270; Tariff: ₹805–1,856) which is located near the Head PO in Kailashakar. It has 12 rooms and arranges meals on request. The Juri Tourist Lodge (Tel: 0382-2231921; Tariff: ₹575–978) in Dharmanagar has nine rooms, Wi-Fi, parking and arranges meals on order.

Puneet K. Paliwal
A priest sits by a stream in Unakoti
A priest sits by a stream in Unakoti

AROUND KAILASAHAR

Jampui Hills (100km)

Situated at an altitude of 915m above sea level, Jampui Hills is the highest hill station in Tripura. Travelling upto Jampui Hills makes you feel like you are in paradise – with flourishing forests, beautiful orchids, verdant landscape and beautiful orange groves. The panoramic views of its misty valleys, orange-scented hilltops and unique climate have rightly made it more popularly known as ‘Permanent Seat of Spring’. To the east of this hill range lies Mizoram and to the south lies the Chittagong hill tract of Bangladesh.

On one hand adventurous and awe-inspiring trek routes await you and on the other there are captivating sunrises and sunsets. From the watchtower on the highest peak – Betlingchip – the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, the Kanchanpur -Dasda valley and other hill ranges of Tripura and Mizoram unfold an enigmatic scenic vista. You could even try the popular Village Tours to the indigenous tribal villages of Lushai and Reang tribes who comprise very warm, hospitable and colourful Mizo communities.

Orange plantation started in Jampui Hills in the early 60s. It began as a private fruit plantation for self-consumption. Later on new gardens were created and more families joined the plantation business. In order to promote tourism, the Information and Culture Department of Tripura started the unique Orange & Tourism Festival which takes place every year in the month of November. A large number of tourists, both domestic and foreign, attend this festival. During this time, the hills are wrapped in floating clouds and make for a thrilling experience. The formation of clouds at the bottom of the hill range and their gradual ascent to the top, thus slowly engulfing the whole hill range in its mystic wrap is an experience one shouldn’t miss.

If you wish to stay here you can opt for the Eden Tourist Lodge (Tariff: ₹805, dorm ₹490) in Vangmun village. The lodge has 42 rooms and three dorms. Don’t expect anything fancy in terms of services and facilities available here.

FAST FACTS

When to Go October–March

Tourist Offices

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

Tourist Information Centre, Tripura Bhavan, 1 Pretoria Street, Kolkata, Tel: 033-22825703/ 0624/ 2297, Fax: 033-22826842

Tourist Information Centre, Tripura Bhawan, Ramkrishna Mission Road, Birubari, Guwahati, Assam

Tel: 0361-2492041/ 2042

Tourist Information Centre, Tripura Bhavan, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, Tel: 011-23015157, STD code 0381

GETTING THERE

State Tripura

Location In the Kailashahar sub-division of Unakoti District

Distance 160km NE of Agartala

Route from Agartala Take NH44 to Unakoti

Air Nearest airport: Agartala is 180km from Unakoti. Agartala is connected to Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati. Air India, Jet Airways and Indigo airlines offer daily flights

Rail The two nearest railway stations to Agartala are Kumarghat (160km) and Dharamanagar (200km). Both the stations are on the North-East Frontier Railway, connected with Lumding & Guwahati, while Lumding and Guwa­hati are connected with Kolkatta and other major stations in India

Road NH44 originates from Agartala and goes northeast across Tripura into Assam, enters Meghalaya and joins NH40 near Shillong Bus Kailashahar is well connected to Shillong, Silchar and all districts and sub-divisional towns of Tripura by regular bus services