The former princely state of Tripura covers an area of 10,492 sq km and has a population of 2,757,205 according to the 1991 census. Agartala is the state capital of this land-locked state with four-fifths of its borders enclosed by Bangladesh. Its northeastern border is bounded by Assam and Mizoram.
Tripura is a low-lying land cleft by the valleys of the rivers Gomati, Haora, Longli, Juri Deo, Manu, Dhali, Khowai, Muhuri and Feni. All the rivers traverse Bangladesh before falling into the Bay of Bengal. The steep descent, the zigzag course, the narrow width and shallow depths of the rivers combined with the heavy rainfall and loose structure of the soil causes heavy soil erosion and frequent floods. Of the hills, the highest are the Jampui (3,200 metres) and Sakhantary (2,578 metres) respectively.
The climate of Tripura is similar to that of other Northeast states and Bangladesh. In the summer, the average maximum temperature is about 350 Celsius, while the average minimum drops to about 100 Celsius in December and January. Situated within the monsoon zone of the Bay of Bengal in the south, Tripura receives an annual rainfall of more than 400 cm.
The greater part of the state was covered with primeval forests till the middle of the last century. The varieties of flora include Chattim (Alstonia scholaris), Chamal (Artocarpus phaplasa), Hargaja (Dillenia pentagvna), Garjam (Dipterocreapas turbinates). A large variety of flowers, fruits and medicinal plants are also available. In view of their abundance, Tripura has rightly been termed a herbarium. Perhaps, therefore, a popular saying goes that a tribal medicine man had once remarked that he found no place to set his foot on in the ground without treading on a medicinal herb.
History and people
Though there are legends about the existence of Tripura as a political entity from the days of the epic Mahabharata, most historians say the land now known as Tripura was consolidated by a king named Chhenthum Fa (Maha Manikya). This probably covered a period ranging from the end of the 14th century to the beginning of the 15th century. And when the dynasty had established itself, it dropped the title “Fa” and assumed the dynastic title of Manikya.
In the museum at Agartala, there are portraits of Manikya princes, men who held themselves with great dignity, proud of their origin. One of the many enlightened rulers in the Manikyan dynasty was Maharaja Virehandra Manikya Bahadur, a great patron of arts and a friend of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. The litterateur lived for some years as a guest of the Maharaja. His novel Rajashri and the play Bisharjan, which grew out of legends around the Manikya dynasty, reflected their friendship. Before the Second World War changed the face of Europe and Asia, another ruler Maharaja Bir Bikram travelled extensively in Europe and tried to modernise the state and established an airport at Agartala.
The state?s demographic equations underwent a total turnaround in the last century with migrant Bengalis from the area that constitutes Bangladesh edging out the indigenous tribals in terms of number and political and economic power. The ethnic schism between the tribals and the non-tribals spilled out into the open. Both the major insurgent groups in the state are tribal: the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF). There are scores of other groups. Though the state has seen two accords/agreements in the last decade or so, both resulted in the formation of breakaway, more radical groups. The Tripura National Volunteers and the All Tripura Tribal Force laid down arms and joined the mainstream in 1988 and 1993 respectively. The Tripura Resurrection Army too has surrendered, but there are frequent clashes between the militants and security forces.
The state?s agricultural economy consists of wet rice cultivation in the plain areas and terraced cultivation in the hilly slopes. A pastoral economy with primitive means of agriculture specially jhum or shifting cultivation is still the mainstay of the majority. The rubber industry here has been a major success story, with the state ranking second only to Kerala in annual production of rubber.
Bound by Bangladesh on three sides, the state’s economy has been dominated by illegal trade. The renewal of rail or road links with Bangladesh could help transform the economy, giving it access to a larger market.
Art and culture
The state?s varied culture is reflected in the colourful, intricately-woven handloom and khadi products, besides handicrafts of cane and bamboo.
Adept at their looms, Tripuri women weave beautiful designs for their traditional clothes. They have held on to certain patterns and motifs that have been handed down through the ages. These designs are deeply rooted in the tribal psyche and have become part of their heritage. Traditional crafts can be seen in exquisite cane and bamboo work, where both utilitarian and decorative pieces find pride of place. Tripura’s canework is among the best in the region.
The Maharajas clearly had a fondness for red brick, as many of the official buildings stand out red and assertive against the all-pervasive background of green. But some of the buildings, particularly the Palace which has now been converted into the Legislative Assembly, is in white, at par with the Indo-Saracenic mode of old British mansions of Kolkata.
Then there are the temples reflecting the religious preferences of a long-established Hindu dynasty. At Una Koti, in north Tripura, are large rock cut figures of Hindu gods and goddesses. A fair is held here every spring during Makar Sankranti.
The rich cultural heritage is also kept alive by traditional music and dance that are enjoyed even in far-flung areas of the state. Two of the state?s most famous contributions to Indian music have been the father-son duo of Sachin Dev Burman and Rahul Dev Burman.
Visitors to the state can visit several destinations although they are advised to check security conditions before travelling major distances. Communication, especially by road, is poor. The Lord Jagannath Temple, Ujjayanta Palace, Mughal Garden, Kamla Sagar, Brahmakund, Neermahal (Lake Palace), Tripura Sundari Temple, Deotamura, Dumoor Lake, Bhubaneshwari Temple and the great rock cuts of Una Koti, besides the Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary are some among the more interesting sites. Of those, the Neer Mahal is exquisite and was designed by an European architect.
Visitors should contact the state Department of Tourism or the district administration concerned for reservations in guest houses, hotels, circuit houses and dak bungalows.