“Mujhe mootra visarjan karna hai.”
“Disgusting! When will you stop mouthing cheap Hindi movie dialogues?” asked a seemingly exasperated Neelam.
“Knock! Knock! Reality calls! You have married a cheap Hindi-dialogue aficionado, sweetheart!”
“Bakwaas nai karo! Go and do your mootra…God! Tumhare saath rehte rehte main bhi aisi hi ban gayi hoon!”
“That’s like my gal!” I patted her cheek and went in search of a toilet. I didn’t have to look for one for long. There were plenty at the fair that we had come to attend. I had never seen so many public toilets at one place before. Later, I learnt that it is a planned city that takes good care of sanitation. I was thankful to the local civic body for me not having to pee like a doggie on the wayside.
Neelam and I got married at the dawn of the New Year. Although the wedding went smooth, we couldn’t agree over the honeymoon destination for several days. I actually had to appeal to her Punjabi spirit of enterprise to explore the ‘Paradise Unexplored’ with me. Later, I resorted to emotional blackmailing, and within two days, we had our air tickets done to the first stop of our honeymoon travel—Agartala.
“Mela to dekh liya, now what are you showing me next?” I like the curious look that Neelam gives me whenever I take her out.
“Palace dekhna hai?”
“Idhar palace bhi hai?”
“Tripura was a princely state, sweets. In fact, it was the only Northeastern state that wasn’t exactly a British dominion. In 1849, Maharaja Krishna Kishore Manikya made present-day Agartala his capital, as it made it easier to be in touch with British Bengal. Tab se lekar ke aaj tak, this city has been the capital, even when Tripura finally became a part of the Indian Union in 1949, and became a state in 1972.”
“Ab history chaddo ji, take me to this palace.”
Off we went to Ujjayanta Palace, which houses the state Legislative Assembly. It was completed in 1901 and was designed by celebrated British architect, Sir Alexander Martin. The earlier royal palace of the Kingdom of Tripura was located 10 km away from Agartala, but a devastating earthquake in 1897 destroyed it and was later rebuilt as Ujjayanta Palace in the heart of the city.
Neelam was delighted to see the Mughal garden–style ground adorned with fountains and such exquisite rooms like the Durbar Hall, Throne room, China room and so on. We also went to see the adjacent temples, Lakshmi-Narayan, Uma-Maheshwari, Kali and Jagannath.
“Tum to bahut Mughal Mughal karte rehte ho na, kuch unke jaisa bhi kaam kiya karo,” Neelam had a mocking tone.
“Accha? Aisa kya karna chahiye mujhe taaki main unke jaisa lagu?”
“Shah Jahan ne apni begum ke liye Taj Mahal banwaya, tum mere liye Ujjayanta jaisa ek palace banwa do.”
I could see that coming.
“Soniyo, Delhi mein flat le raha hoon na twadde vaaste? Aur ek aisi jagah dikhau jo tumhe is palace se bhi accha lage toh?”
“Ummm…fir tumhare Delhi waale flat mein reh lungi. Ab woh kaunsi jagah hai mujhe batao.”
The ‘Water Palace’ was built in 1930 in the midst of the Rudrasagar Lake. Its architecture is inspired by both Hindu and Muslim styles and reminds you of the lake palaces in Rajasthan. It is about 53 kilometres from the city.
As expected, Neelam liked the place a lot. She even had a wild idea of taking a swim in the lake and later sunbathe at the palace. I had to remind her that we have come for sightseeing, not to shoot an episode of The Little Mermaid. She was angry. She didn’t talk to me on our way back, which gave me some time to observe the city from the window of our cab.
Agartala appeared to be a growing city: a city that got acquainted with modernisation not too long ago. The roads were decent and the city skyline was dotted with several high-rise buildings that housed malls and apartments. In the years to come, it would become a major city in the east, I thought.
What struck me was the low police presence on the roads. I could only see a few traffic policemen and few check points. On the way, a pilot car crossed us with just a couple of escort vehicles. Our cab driver told us that it was the state Chief Minister’s cavalcade! I wondered if our Chief Minister Shiela Dixit could dare to travel with such light escort: a thought that even Neelam shared.
We stopped at the Kaman Choumohani, the main market place, and I bought her a traditional Tripuri dress. She was immediately back to her jovial self. Girls have a thing for shopping, I tell you. It just acts like therapy. They will shop when they are happy, and shop more when they are sad. Neelam herself says she is an “irritatingly feminine” girl. And I have always wondered what that means.
“Walk pe chale?” Neelam proposed.
“Itni raat ko? Khaana khaane ke baad?”
“What’s the problem? Delhi mein to mana nahin karte? 12-1 baje bhi we have met at the India Gate, haven’t we? So stop being lazy and let’s go.” It was an order that I had to obey.
We took a stroll towards the city centre, towards Ujjayanta Palace. It was all lit up and looked beautiful. We spent some time there, holding hands and enjoying the tranquillity of the place. It feels good to escape from the din and bustle of a metro and spend some time in quieter climes.
The next day, we went to the Raj Bhavan or Pushbanta Palace, which is another architectural marvel in Agartala. Although we could see only those parts that were open to the public, yet we could make out the beauty of the place although we could only imagine the greatness that lay inside.
We also went to the Sipahi Jala animal resort and zoo but had to return soon as it began to rain.
“Damn, the rain ruined it al!” Neelam cursed her luck. And later blamed it on my not taking her to the famed Buddha Temple in the city.
“God ne hume punish kiya.” My girl tends to be a little superstitious sometimes even though she has a completely metropolitan upbringing.
I had no intelligent answer to this, but a logical explanation. “Agartala has a monsoon influenced humid subtropical climate with high levels of precipitation almost all throughout the year.”
Later, when it cleared, I took her to the temple of goddess Tripura Sundari, after whom the state of Tripura has been named. We also went to the banks of the Haora River, which runs along the city stretch, and spent some time. All the while, we both were comparing it to the Yamuna, which is in a dangerous state, but which could have given Delhi another peaceful getaway.
Since it was our last day in Agartala, we had to make the most of it. So, we went to see Malancha Nivas, where Gurudeb Rabindranath Tagore used to stay. At the time of our visit, it was being renovated, so we couldn’t see much of it, but I felt surrounded by greatness. I wanted to know Neelam’s thoughts on this, but she was more interested in knowing how they were conserving the building.
We also went to see the new railway station in Agartala and were quite amazed to find it akin to a palace. Everything about the city is grand and regal. If developed further, it could become an important city and a prominent destination on the world travel map, I thought.
On our return flight to Guwahati, Neelam kept on asking me about other places in the Northeast and about my home state, Assam. She seemed to have enjoyed Agartala a lot, and so, was very curious about other places in the region.
“Abhi aur kahaan jana hai?” I asked her, pinching her nose.
“Jahaan tum le chalo…” I knew there would be no further argument between us in matters of travel.
I wanted to ask her if she had a specific place in mind, but by then, she had already dozed off, holding my arm. Poor girl, she has hopped so many places in the last two days with little rest that she was tired. I closed my eyes too, trying to zero in on our next stop.
Ajatashatru and Neelam Soni got married in such a rush that Fried Eye could not invite its readers to the wedding. We apologise for that and would like to invite you all to join us in congratulating the young couple for tying the knot. We are also thankful to them for sharing their travel experiences with us.
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