Our day began with an early morning drive out of misty Shillong, toward the Jowai hills of Meghalaya. Our aim was to reach Agartala, in Tripura, but it was not to be.
As we drove out of the pristine, delightful environment that surrounds Shillong, we found the world around us suddenly turn grey and smoke filled! We spotted rivulets of blackened water running all over the countryside and even overflowing on the road in many places. The road itself, became un-motorable, slowing down our pace. And then it dawned on us – the land was filled with coal, remnants of the now banned rat-hole coal mining industry of Meghalaya that once flourished in this area!
We also spotted what must be the largest number of World War II Shaktiman Trucks on the roads in India! Most of them were nothing but an open engine, placed on a ramshackle and broken body! Their sole purpose until recently, was to transport coal and coal miners around in the area.
Given the nature of the road, reaching Agartala by nightfall seemed impossible. We managed to drive past the Jowai Hills and the Narpuh Reserve Forest, into Assam. We thought the roads in Assam were bad, but when we entered Tripura, we realised the roads were actually no roads at all!
At that moment, we spoke with HRH Pradyot Manikya Barman, the head of the royal family of Tripura, who advised us not to drive further to Agartala (where we were to meet him), but instead he suggested we see the Unakoti Bas-Relief site in the area.
So we trickled into a small town called Dharamnagar, which the nearest town to Una Koti. We booked our “rooms” at a trucker’s stop, that is a local lodging house. It was a “rat hole” with dirty beds on top of a small restaurant in the bazaar. But it was very late at night, and we did not have the energy to drive further. So there we were in the “worst night halt” of the drive!
The good thing is, the next morning, we were going to see the Unakoti bas-reliefs – one of the rarest, least known and hardly visited archaeological sites in India!
Origin: Shillong, in Meghalaya
Destination: Unakoti, in Tripura
Distance Covered: 313 kms
States Covered: Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura.
The highlight of the drive today, was the village markets we drove though. The variety of vegetables, frogs, insects, meat, mushrooms, fish and other food products that were new to us were found in abundance!