Tripping on Tripura

The once-princely territory has achieved a lot in its 42 years since being declared a state, but is yet to draw in tourists
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Updated on Jan 21, 2014 06:02 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | BySneha Mahale, Mumbai
On January 21, the third smallest state of the republic of India will celebrate its 43rd Statehood Day.

The locals seem rather proud of what the state has achieved in these years.

Get off the plane at Agartala, the capital of Tripura, and everyone — from the rickshaw driver to your tourist guide — will boast of the wide roads in the state (sans potholes, of course), infrastructure that isn’t crumbling or bursting at its seams and the fact that the state has achieved a literacy rate of more than 94 per cent, the highest in India.

"Can your Delhi and Mumbai better this?" questions our outspoken guide, adding that the communist government ruling the state for more than 20 years isn’t ready to rest on the laurels of the state topping literacy charts. "They’ve identified the remaining six per cent and they will be taught as well," he adds.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) met over the weekend (December 13-15, 2013) we are there and banners and hoardings everywhere showed solid support. Crowds walked in from every direction to listen to speeches made by their favourite leaders, but car owners refused to honk as they spilled on to the roads around the venue.

"But madam, you just wait and watch. Tomorrow, when the conference ends, you won’t find a single piece of paper lying around," informs our driver. True to form, the streets are devoid of trash the next day.

Tourism is one sector, however, where some amount of disdain is evident. Despite the rest of the country being bombarded by Incredible India’s ‘visit the North-East’ propaganda, local agencies seem genuinely flustered to receive requests about a potential visit to the state. While Tripura Tourism will happily hand out numbers of local agents and hotels to help you plan your trip, it is futile to expect more. And though the state doesn’t rank too high on the travel bucket-list of the average Indian and has been receiving some amount of visitors only in the last two-three years, the state government isn’t keen to dispel myths concerning safety, connectivity or communication.

"We have no security issues — from within the state or outside," says our guide, while waving out at a fellow communist passing by in his car. "That’s our Chief Minister."

Long before Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal rejected security and wowed a captive audience, CM Manik Sarkar had already established the trend. It is not surprising for locals to see his unmarked car pass by on the streets or his wife visit the local market without security and haggle with the vendors to get the best rates. And if you ignore the fact that punctuality isn’t their best trait, a trip to this landlocked state can be an interesting experience.

Breaking Myths
1 Open border with Bangladesh? Not true. In fact, the entire border is fenced and patrolled by units of the BSF.

2 Vegetarians will have a tough time. As it turns out, paneer bhurji and mushroom chilli have now extended their influence to the north-east as well.

3 Travelling at night can get dicey. If you follow the same safety precautions that work for you in Mumbai, then there is little to worry about. In fact, the local police only carry a stick along and even that they rarely have to use.

4 Language is a problem. Almost every citizen in Tripura is bilingual and can converse in Hindi and Bengali with equal ease.

5 There isn’t much to see. You could actually spend a week in the state and not have seen it in entirety.

Getting there: There are regular flights and train services to Agartala from Mumbai. Though the climate is conducive for travel through the year, winter is a good time to visit. Public transport is available. And though rickshaws do not run by the meter, negotiating is not tough. If you plan to stay a couple of days in Agartala, Ginger Agartala and Tripura Tourism’s Geetanjali Guest House are good options.
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