Have you heard of the Angkor Wat of the Northeast of India – the ancient Unakoti Rock Carvings in the state of Tripura?
In this article, you will know about the Unakoti Rock-Cut Sculptures. I visited Unakoti on the 9th of July, 2023.
Before I share the rock-cut sculpture of Unakoti, let me tell you more about Tripura and its Unakoti District.
About Tripura & Unakoti
Tripura is a state in the Northeast region of India. It shares 84 per cent of its border with Bangladesh. The states – Assam and Mizoram are located on its eastern border.
Kokborok, Bengali, Mogh, Chakma, Halam, Garo, Bishnupriya Manipuri, Manipuri, Hindi, Oriya and English are the languages spoken in Tripura.
Unakoti is a district in Tripura. It was previously a part of the North Tripura District. Unakoti district was formed in 2012 with its district headquarters as Kailashahar.
The Unakoti Rock Carvings
Unakoti Rock Carvings is an ancient place that hosts several mesmerizing rock sculptures. It is located about 8 km from the nearest town Kailashar in Tripura.
The sculptures at Unakoti belong to the Hindu deities and are dedicated especially to the worship of Lord Shiva. The name ‘Unakoti’ means ‘one less than a crore’ in the Bengali language.
These rock-cut structures are found mostly in the vertical walls of Unakoti hills (Raghunandan hills) and in the fallen boulders. Apart from that, a few small and medium-sized loose sculptures are also scattered around the hill.
In December 2022, Unakoti was added to the tentative list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
What is the story behind Unakoti?
Though the existence of Unakoti dates back around the 7th – 9th centuries. One of the story of Unakoti, according to Hindu mythology is when Lord Shiva was on his way to Kashi he halted for a night at this location accompanied by 99,99,999 Gods and Goddesses. He had asked them to wake up before sunrise and make their way towards Kashi.
Unfortunately, when the sun rose none awoke, except Lord Shiva. Before he set out for Kashi alone, he put a curse on the others, turning them to stone and that is how the site got its name UNAKOTI which means ONE LESS ONE CRORE.
Apart from this mythology, Unakoti holds several interesting legends and folklore which you can read in the article by Tale of 2 Backpackers.
My Personal Experience of Visiting Unakoti
Visiting Unakoti after I temporarily moved to Agartala was a long due on my bucket list. But, I never had the opportunity to do so until my cousin Esther got a job in July at a school in Churaibari. Churaibari is 10 km away from Dharmanagar town.
On the third day of my stay in Churaibari, three of us – my aunt, Esther and I set out to visit the famous site of Unakoti. We headed towards Dharmanagar town and hired a cab all the way to the archaeological site.
At the beginning of our journey, it started raining cats and dogs. We sure were disappointed but very adamant to visit Unakoti. It was a pleasant journey as we passed through tea gardens and beautiful landscapes.
The rain continued even after we reached the Unakoti archaeological site. With no choice, we waited in the cab for about 30 minutes for the rain to stop.
Relieved and happy, we headed to the front of the huge entrance gate of the Unakoti Archaeological Site. Beside the gate was a registration counter where we declared our identities and belongings. Upon entering the area we followed the sign that said Unakoti Tirtha.
From the entrance and about 10 meters away, a series of steps leads down to the slope of the cliff and starting from the right to the frontal view, the marvellous rock cuttings and breathtaking sculptures embedded could be clearly spectated. It was as if the huge faces were smiling at us.
The first one had us totally amazed as we had not seen anything like this before. A few steps down below, there was another face, which was quite similar to the previous one and just beside that was a cascade waterfall running down from between the cracks of the rocks.
The trail bifurcated and we took the steps uphill which seems to be never-ending from down below besides a number of scattered boulders that have their own images. Further up, right where the steps end, there are images of two female figures on the stone.
The flight of stairs further down on the other side of the valley leads to some cliff faces with another waterfall flowing down.
On the cliff face is the huge structure of Ganesha along with a few other sculptures. In the monsoon, the waterfall flows over the rock carvings of Ganesha’s head, bathing the deity. The massive gallery of Unakoti also features numerous panels and rock carvings. The most famous one is perhaps the gigantic image of Lord Shiva.
Taking a deep breath and feeling the nature around me was magical. Raindrops refreshed the trees, turning them into a soothing, vibrant green spectacle that delighted the eyes. The gushing of waterfalls and the birds chirping added a peaceful ambience to the moment.
How to reach the Unakoti Archaeological Site?
I planned to go to Dharmanagar town by train from Agartala city which is about 22 km away. But unfortunately, due to heavy traffic, I could not reach the railway station on time i.e. 11:00 am.
I had to come up with another means of transport which was taking a local bus. I headed towards ISBT to catch a bus leading to Dharmanagar as I was en route to another location again. So after a long 6 hours of journey by bus and which only takes 3-4 hours by train, I finally arrived at Dharmanagar.
After my third day of stay, we headed out from Dharmanagar ISBT, taking a hired cab that charged us around Rs 1400 (round trip) way up to the archaeological site.
However, several carpools are also available at a nominal cost of Rs 70/80 which stops at the highway junction leading to the Unakoti Archaeological Site, which is a few meters away and requires walking to reach the spot.
The nearest Agartala Airport is located about 178 km from Kailashahar town. The nearest railway station is at Kumarghat which is 26 km from Kailashahar.
Kailashahar is easily accessible through frequent bus services that link it with Guwahati, Shillong, and Silchar, as well as various districts and sub-divisional towns within the State.
Where to Stay in Unakoti?
Tourists can stay in a government tourist lodge (Unakoti Tourist Lodge) at Kailashahar approximately about 11 km from Unakoti Hills. The rates are quite reasonable starting from Rs 800.
There are also a number of hotels and guest houses at Dharmanagar as well like Hotel Sun and Hotel Unakuti.
What is the best time to visit Unakoti?
The Unakoti Heritage site can be visited all year round. To witness the cultural and religious essence of the place, you can visit Unakoti during festivals associated with Lord Shiva as well as the Ashokastami Festival or the Unakoti Festival.
Nestled amidst nature’s bounty, Unakoti Rock Carvings is a captivating blend of sacred allure and historical wonders. Adorned with magnificent rock-cut depictions of deities, this place truly embodies divinity carved into stone.
As you explore, you’ll find yourself in awe of the grandeur that nature and history have woven together here.
Don’t miss the enchanting ‘Sitakunda’ or ‘Ashtamikunda’, a natural spring-fed reservoir. When Maghi Sankranti (February) and Ashokastami arrive, brave souls plunge into its crystal-clear waters, defying the chilly embrace of winter.
Unakoti is more than a destination; it’s a spiritual and cultural journey waiting to be embraced.
The Unakoti Rock Carvings stand as a testament to the beauty and richness of Tripura’s cultural heritage and will be a place of photographers’ delight and a history buffs curiosity. A heritage of Tripura Tourism, Unakoti is a must-visit place.
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