On my travels, Agartala, Tripura’s capital, was the most unexpected place I visited. It feels like eons ago when we all didn’t have masks as our constant companions. I was on assignment to assist with a story-telling workshop at NSD (National School of Drama). Agartala is a city bustling with activity. It is located on the banks of the Haora River, near the Bangladesh border. Since I happened to be there in February, the weather was cool and pleasant.
After a busy week of workshops, Exploring the city and its outskirts was possible with limited time at hand. The hustle-bustle of the metro city hasn’t choked this place yet. Therefore, it was easy to cover most parts by walk or a short ride.
Like any other new place, I visited the marketplace and found myself checking out clothes. Amidst many shops was this quaint, neat, cute, small store with a colorful traditional artisanal creation calledFitBird – A resource of Art & Humanities. The staff in the shop couldn’t converse in Hindi or English, and since I was window shopping, I popped in and popped out in a jiffy.
As I waited for others to finish shopping, a very smartly dressed woman in traditional wear passed me. Our eyes met, and we exchanged smiles. And I noticed her going into a particular shop… the neat, cute one, and I noticed her talking to staff in an owner-like demeanor.
I went back in; she was indeed the store owner, and now I started exploring the shop to understand what each item was, and I fell in love with a particular piece. A traditional red wraparound called “Rignai” is worn by the women of Tripura. Such a bright outlook on the prosperity of the region and women.
I was so smitten by that piece of fabric and the owner that I pestered her to give me that piece as a barter gift without taking any money. I was experimenting with finding kindness, and besides that, I was low on cash too! Just to tip the balance in my favor, I threw in a date with the owner to a place of her choice in Tripura for an exchange of my travel stories and to get to know each other more. She was kind to accept, and her name was Lovely.
The date of the conversations just opened up so much more about her. She had foundational experience at Hindustan Lever and was involved in promoting women’s entrepreneurship journey for the women in Tripura. And furthermore, all the pieces she sold were handwoven or handmade precious pieces by the tribal women. The business was, therefore, an outlet for cooperative and collaborative efforts, enabling the tribal economy. She was an ecologically and economically conscious human being, making an impact in the most unlikely of places in India.
Fitbird is a venture that should be on everyone’s must-visit list while in Tripura. It is located in a crowded marketplace. You could miss it, but it is a treasure trove of priceless work, worth a little search and treasure hunting. Check them out on www.fitbird.in and follow them on their social media handles – Facebook
After my hunt for the blue in the Blue City and spotting the blue in the city, Now it was time to pursue and capture the Blue.
As usual, I set out on foot towards the Ghantaghar to have some tea at my now frequented tea joints. I got some directions from the kind people of the city and set out.
It was a 2.5-kilometer walk, and it took me about 30 minutes to reach the junction. The streets were not very wide. The average view of the busy street with people opening their stores, frying jalebis and samosas, and boiling milk sets the tone of the buzz in the city. The people were hospitable and greeted us with a “hello” and helped with the directions as well.
As I reached what is called Nav Chokia, the first sight was of a temple, outside of which “God of Sex” was written on a small pillar. What I thought might be taboo in the conservative old city of Rajasthan was normal and acceptable to have a platform to pray for the divine pleasure that nature has gifted to the “human being”. It surely wasn’t a taboo in this little village.
The two old water bodies are well maintained in the depths of the Blue City. I walked through the streets of Nav Chokia, ignoring the two random bulls on the road, some garbage, and people stepping out for morning rituals. Apparently, the Swach Bharat campaign hasn’t yet taken effect here, despite the efforts of the local authorities.
As I reached the end of the street to a large banyan tree, I saw a body of water under the majestic shadows of the Mehrangarh Fort. Quiet has found its comfort there, with no other human being in sight. The space was exclusive to me. I sat by the lake and soaked in its beauty. The place seemed like a hangout for local men, as beer bottles and leftovers from the previous night’s out could be spotted there.
As I stepped out, I saw a frail looking old man, resting on the platform under the tree. I asked him in the Hindi I could manage, “Sahib, yahaan aur koi talaab hai kya?” He pointed to a little entrance at a large fort gate. There were hardly 4 others who were interested in the place. Here are some videos and clicks of this really beautiful water body and stepwell near the back gate of the Mehrangarh Fort.
As I stepped out, I saw a frail-looking old man resting on the platform under the tree. I asked him in the Hindi I could manage, “Sahib, yahaan aur koi talaab hai kya?” He pointed to a little entrance at a large fort gate. There were hardly any others who were interested in the place.
This body of water seems like the main source of water for the Mehrangarh Fort, and therefore was protected. The body was well populated with fish, and people are not allowed to go down the steps towards the water.
The space at the back of the Mehrangarh Fort seemed a lot less crowded, and this intrigued me to check if one could access the fort from an entrance from the Nav Chokia side. And there was indeed an opening.
With just a few architecture students present making sketches at the entrance, this seemed like the perfect way to explore the Mehrangarh Fort, away from the crowd. The guard at the entrance was a kind man. We struck up a brief conversation, exchanged greetings, and I began the climb.
After soaking in the beauty of the gigantic structure, I stepped out to explore Jaswant Thada.
As I started, curious villagers of Nav Chokia, who had been observing me, engaged with me to find out my story. I mentioned my intent to reach Jaswant Thada, and they were quick to suggest a road less travelled from beside the water body. They said “road kaccha hai, lekin agar app yeh nahi kiye to app kuch kiye nahi” (roads aren’t great, but if you haven’t done this by walk, you haven’t covered anything). True to what they said, this was a beautiful wild route, giving some new perspectives on the water body. After a good 45–60 minute walk, I reached the main road, from where Jaswant Thada was just 300 metres away.
The Jaswant Thada
It is another spectacular structure made of marble, which houses tributes to all the Marwar rulers. The garden outside is beautiful. It would be an ornithologist’s paradise if one was interested in sighting and observing birds. As I sat outside the marble structure, the cleaning lady of the space decided to join me for a brief chit chat. Just as we clicked into a pleasant moment, nature gifted us with some spectacular clouds. Some of my best clicks happened at this moment.
After the magical moments over Jaswant Thada, time inched towards my train timing. There are times when you want to cover just another place so that the journey feels completed. Mandor Fort was that place for me in the Blue City. It is a place of significance, so it is worth making it a part of the travel destination. Mandor was the first capital of the Marwar region. I am told that the place gets its name from Ravana’s wife, Mandodiri.
Since time was a bit crunched, I took an auto from Jaswant Thada to travel a distance of 10 km and be dropped back at the clock tower. I paid Rs. 400 for the same. All the money I may have spent in all of 2 days was spent on the 20 km trip to Mandor Fort.
At the fort, there is a park and a museum, apart from the ruin of the old fort. At this point, it may be worthwhile to understand the difference between what gets called Qila/Quila (pronounced as Khila) and Garh/Gadh (pronounced as Gad). A quila is a structure on the ground. And the Gadh is built on a high mountain with a vantage point over the destination.
I walked through the garden for about 1.5 km to reach the fort. I gave the museum a pass as I didn’t have time. People climb to the top to get a view of the “Mandor Garden.” The garden also had a few structures that were probably meant to be temples, but were left unfinished. They look like the kinds of temple structures you find in Khajuraho. I don’t have too much information to share about the various elements inside the Mandor Garden. Hence my advice: if you were to cover this place, do it slowly.
I sat in the setting sun for a bit and started back. I would like to share an observation in this space. On the weekend, several people gather in the garden to play cards, mostly older men. I noticed many small groups. There were also communities where joint families or family friends would come together and have some fun playing something like a tambola. These are distant memories from my past. Seemingly, human connections are more alive in rural India than on our urban side.
I headed to take one last look at the fort in the setting sun. This should be a destination to cover on every traveller’s list. Two days is a justified time in Jodhpur.
This quote has always inspired me in ways unexplained.
One of my greatest fantasies has been travelling the world. Countries close by, countries far away, big regions and small, nooks and corners of the world hold treasures of stories and knowledge.
My Appa used to say, one of the things I was never scared about as a child was sleeping in the open at night. Such was my comfort with “Darkness”. It helped me discover that I had no concept of the “unknown”.
I had to fight a hard fight inside and outside my head before I could decide to push the reset button at 40.
Allowing myself to let go and accept whatever comes my way has been the key to disconnecting my life from the noises of entanglement.
After a series of unfortunate personal events, I decided to quit my job, to walk out of my business, to give up my dog to a friend, to let go of my possessions, and to set out on a journey to discover myself, whatever that means!
“Late Bloomer,” someone said in awe. So be it.
My journey till now has been to wade through my challenges, sometimes breaking down incessantly with pain and picking myself up with difficulty breathing, looking in the mirror hoping to heal my broken heart, pushing my limits in each and every way possible.
The ability to be awestruck and amused by my surroundings, to be uninhibited, vulnerable, to explore, experience, fail, and bounce back, to discover new possibilities, to have unfiltered fun, to be in goodness, kindness, and a constant state of gratitude, has shaped who I am today.
Today, I am available for anything, anyone, anytime, anywhere, as long as there is acceptance for who I am, the way I am… as perfect as imperfect can be.
For the last six months, I have set sail on a solo trip.
Here and now, I will start to share my stories, hopefully to inspire you to explore life as a package.