Neermahal, the grand palace located in the vast Rudrasagar Lake in Tripura which is in near-ruins due to neglect and ravages of time, is set for restoration as a major tourist attraction.
The only palace of its kind in the whole eastern region, Neermahal was built by the Martin and Burn Company way back in 1930 in the centre of the 5.3 sq km Rudrasagar Lake.
It served as the summer resort of the erstwhile King Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur and still draws thousands of visitors every year despite the poor condition of the lake which has become shallow because of heavy deposit of silt.
The 24-room palace is surrounded by weeds on all sides and the boats that ferry visitors to the palace are rickety, demonstrating all-round neglect.
It presents a sad contrast to the Lake Palace on Pichola lake in Udaipur in Rajasthan, which doubles up as a luxury hotel.
A light and sound show was installed in the palace in 2003 by a Finnish company at a cost of Rs 1.20 crore, but for the last nine months, it has been defunct.
“The system developed some fault and there was no one to repair it,” an official of the state’s tourism department said.
He said Neermahal had three generators in the 30s as the King wanted his summer palace to be well lit. Now, only the platforms on which the generators stood remain.
In the past five decades, the administration’s compulsion to keep the local farming community happy has also led to a degradation of the lake with water being pumped off to assist paddy cultivation after every rainy season.
The secretary of the Rudrasagar Udbastu Fishermen Samabay Samity, Satyaban Das, said, “It was in 1960 that a decision was taken to have agriculture around the lake along with fishing. The agricultural land was distributed among 600 families but it was not a permanent decision and now we believe it was not right.”
The earning from tourism (primarily from boat rides) during 2011-12 was Rs 24 lakh, while only about Rs 18 lakh was earned through fishing, Das said. As for agriculture, he said rice farming is done on an area of 1465 acre around the lake, which reduces to a mere 360 acres in the dry season.
In all, paddy worth nearly Rs 2 crore is cultivated, but the loss on account of tourism is huge when the potential is considered on the whole.
“It was planned to construct a road around the Rudrasagar Lake, which would provide a defined boundary to it.
“The Tripura government has also taken up development of two resorts on its banks with a total capacity of around 180 rooms,” the official said.
Ashutosh Jindal, Secretary of Tourism and Urban Development department, said, “The state government has decided to develop Neermahal as a mega destination of tourists.
“A consultant is being engaged for preparing a detailed report on how to carry out the revival of the palace to be sent to the Ministry of Tourism,” he said.
Jindal said the state government was also taking an initiative to reclaim the water area as far as possible and the district magistrate had been assigned the task.
A technical committee had also been constituted to assess if the palace, built in the Mughal style of architecture, needed retrofitting and renovation, he said, adding that based on the assessment of the committee, work would be taken up by the Public Works Department.
Situated 55 km away from Agartala, the famous landmark attracts a large number of migratory birds in the winter. A boat race is also organised in July/August every year.
A 23-member parliamentary team, headed by Sitaram Yechuri, had visited the palace in February, 2010, to inspect the decay and suggest measures to revive it.
The team had noted that the water level of the lake came down due to massive siltation and improper maintenance and recommended desiltation and revival.PTI