It took me 25 years to finally visit Narkel kunjo, the coconut island of Tripura. I have been harking about this place since my childhood. Though it is only 115 km from the capital, this was my 1st time. I joined the overnight camping team by ‘Agartala Adventure club‘, Agartala’s 1st backpacking experience travelling group at Dumboor lake and Narkel Kunjo.
How does it begin?
The story starts nearly 50 years ago, in the 1970s. Power starved Tripura decided to move ahead with an ambitious hydroelectric project. An artificial confluence was engineered of the Raima and Sarama rivers to submerge the fertile valley. The rivers had been glorified in indigenous folklore and mythology like the Ganga and Saraswati. Till now, thousands of devotees gather here every year on the occasion of the Uttarayan Sankranti for the holy dip. Almost 30 thousand indigenous farmers who lived and worked on the lush green Raima valley floor lost their home and livelihood. Major protests had happened during the construction. But it’s a different story altogether. The Dumboor hydroelectric project was commissioned in 1976 with an installed capacity of generating 10MW from its two units and the third unit of 5MW was subsequently installed in 1984 as a standby. It was the pride of Tripura.
But the project has been jinxed from the start. It never generated power to capacity and because of heavy siltation of the lake owing to largescale soil erosion from the surrounding hill ranges that have been heavily deforested, the hydroelectric program has become unviable. During summers and winters every year, the project used to come to a crumbling halt as the water level in the lake drops so low that it is insufficient for the turbine to generate electricity. The expansion of the lake cannot be retained beyond 20-22 square km from 40-44 square km. Considering the project was not feasible any more, the state government had decided to abandon it and convert the 44 islands in Dumboor lake as well as land close to indigenous hamlets into tourist spots.
One such island is Narkel kunjo, the coconut island of Tripura, where the state government is working to encourage tourism. It took us over 3 hours to reach from Agartala. Up to Udaipur, the second largest city of Tripura, the first 52 km, the road quality is good. From Udaipur to Amarpur, which is about 15 km the road quality is decent. The road narrows down and there are many blind curves and sharp turns in this route. From Amarpur to Tirthamukh, where river Gomati originates is over 35 km and the condition is the worst. The route is full of twist and turns and potholes and dust. The last 8-10 km up to Mandirmukh stands the real adventure because there is no practical road. Slightest misjudgement can cost you life. From Mandirmukh you take boats to reach the island which is about an hour ride. Each boat costs 2600/- as of Feb 6, 2021. There is neither any official system nor any mobile network in the ghat section. Locals run everything here. The second adventure starts here. After you walk down the ghat, you realise that the boats are old-wooden fishing boats and there is no life-jacket of safety measures. The boats run on diesel-run made-in-china motors and one crew keeps vacuuming up the leaking water from the engine. The water beneath you is at least 50 feet deep. If God forbid anything happens on the boat, no one is coming to save you.
Nonetheless, the boat ride is something you should not miss. It takes 45-60 minutes depending on the weather. When the boat passes through the narrow valleys and reaches the broader section you feel the enormity of dumboor lake. It was a mix of fear and adventure for me. On the island, the entry fee is 30/- each person. For picnics, it is 100/-. The island was not super clean, especially the toilets I had used. Apart from that everything was amazingly beautiful. From coconut to mango trees, Sedges and grasses to boats at the ghats, nearby islands, there was something very peaceful everywhere. High volume music was playing by another group of people but somehow I was quiet. I was overwhelmed by nature, consumed by the surroundings. I could taste the gentle breeze, I could smell the grass, I could feel the Sun. Mobile connectivity was poor. Only Airtel and BSNL were working. Though I use Airtel, I put my mobile on aeroplane mode, I wanted this separation from all the attention-seeking apps. Both the sunset and sunrise was mesmerising.
As part of the activity, we set up our tents and as usual had lunch and evening snacks. There was some initial miscommunication in the arrangements, but the organisers from Agartala Adventure Club came back strong and maintained their quality throughout. I met one of my favourite college professors there, had a long conversation.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. The place has huge tourism potentials. I genuinely want this place to grow and stand as the pride of Tripura once again.
Some points the tourism authority might want to consider
- Proper connectivity is a must. I drove at higher altitudes, so hills cannot be an excuse for bad quality roads anymore.
- Proper parking and car security in the ghat section.
- Clean toilet facilities and drinking water.
- Safe boats with life jackets and trained crews.