Some 60 km from Tripura capital Agartala, on the banks of Lake Rudrasagar that has the famous water palace called Neermahal, a group of boatmen are at work to build the state’s longest boat ever.
Dulan Sutradhar, the chief of the boat-making team, claims to have built thousands of boats so far. Now 70, he says he started when he was just 12. The mega boat or the baro dinghy that he is building now, he says, will be his magnum opus.
“I have built thousands of boats in my life, at least 5,000. The new boat will be a 200-seater, and will not sway even in the strongest currents,” Dulan, who belongs to Melaghar, told indianexpress.com with a sense of pride. Seemingly, for him, this boat isn’t just a project to attract tourists to the lake, but also his effort to keep the traditional art of boat-making alive.
Dulan and his team of six, which includes his younger brother and son, began the project on October 24 this year. A month on, the woodwork is nearly complete. In another month, the boat – 65-feet long and 11.5-feet wide – will be ready to float. The boat will ferry people from Rajghat to Neermahal and back.
The project was commissioned by the Rudrasagar Udbastu Fishermen Samabay Samiti, a cooperative body of 2,000 fishermen and boatmen who depend on this lake for their livelihood. This body, which started with 600 members who were displaced from different parts of Tripura, was ratified by the Government of India in 1951.
Ten boats are already operational at the lake, including three baro saronga or traditional racing boats, a speed boat and small boats of watchmen who keep vigil on the lake waters at night.
The secretary of the cooperative society, Parameshwar Das, said Neermahal receives grants under the Swadesh Darshan scheme from the government, the most recent one was for two floating jetties. Das, however, said they did not take any support from the government for the baro dinghy project, and that it is solely being built from the proceeds of the cooperative society. The project is estimated to cost Rs 12 lakh.
Lake Rudrasagar, which is a massive 2,071.78 acres of water body, has always been a point of attraction owing to Neermahal standing in the middle of its waters. The white and red palace was built by Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur in 1939.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, Tripura has seen the highest number of foreign tourists among all the Northeastern states in 2017. More than 13 lakh tourists visited Tripura between 2015 and 2017. The 2018 figures are yet to come.
The state government is also heavily focused on developing Neermahal. Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb has launched an innovative white duck scheme under which 50,000 white ducks will be released in phases for the ambitious tourism development plan. The 7th International Tourism Mart held last year was partly hosted at Neermahal.