Unakoti: Those Hills Have Eyes

“I could see nothing but thick vegetation on the hills. I started climbing the stairs but for I could see nothing except the jungles and some other visitors. But after one last flight of stairs, I colossal face appeared. I walked a bit more and suddenly some more faces appeared. These hills indeed have eyes!”


Unakoti is probably the best-known destination in the Tripura Tourist Map. I remember it was featured in Surabhi once, back in the 90s. I don’t think still many people are visiting these monuments but at least I think it is a more familiar name compared to the likes of Pilak and Chabimura. So, when I planned to finally visit Tripura, I decided to make it the first stop.

Also Read: Why Tripura is a Backpacker’s Paradise

Since I could not get a confirmed ticket for any Tripura-bound train, I booked till Badarpur, took a shared car to Karimganj, and then took a bus to Dharmanagar, which is a major train station, and the largest town near Unakoti. In fact, Dharmanagar itself is a historical town built around a beautiful lake called Kali Dighi and dotted with many temples. The lake has been decorated with fountains and they light up at night, so it is a good place for lazy evening walks at the end of the trip. I checked into a hotel by the side of the lake. It was noon by then and I had enough time left for visiting my place on the same day.

Unakoti is located somewhere on the road connecting Dharmanagar and Kailashahar, another major town, which used to be the ancient capital of this land and the rulers of this kingdom were responsible for Unakoti. I took a shared car plying between both the town, passed through many tea gardens and densely forested areas, and got down at a spot where I could see the appropriate signage.

Road Sign at Unakoti

Although it is not far from the road, the ruins of Unakoti are not easily visible due to hilly terrain and thick vegetation. I followed the signage, walked for almost a kilometre, and finally reached the entry gate. For some reasons, the guard did not even ask for tickets and let me in. Initially, I just saw some stairs and nothing more. I climbed one of them and saw some other visitors roaming around. I moved forward, getting impatient gradually. But that is when I suddenly noticed a pair of imposing eyes staring at me from a distance. As I moved closer, more and more gigantic faces started appearing.

Faces of Unakoti

The History of Unakoti (Or the Lack of It)

To say that the bas-reliefs of Unakoti are unique is an understatement. There is no equal to them in the entire region both in terms of style as well as the enormity. To me, they are somewhat reminiscent of those mysterious Easter Island statues by the Rapa Nui. Also, as is the case with the most archaeological sites out here, we have no clear idea who made it. Various myths associated with the site has been popularized by Rajmala, the official chronicle of the Manikya dynasty of Tripura. However, considering the lack of actual historical details, it most probably predates that dynasty. In general they are believed to be from 7th to 9th century. The figures here look so unique that it takes some time to figure out the gods they depict. I finally spotted a Nandi Bull under one of the faces and that is how I realized that it is primarily a Shaivite site. There is also a big Ganesha image on the lower side of the hill and one has to climb down a pretty steep flight of stairs to have a clear view of the same.

Shivling worshiped by locals
Nandi

As I mentioned already, Kailashahar used to be an important town in the ancient times and Unakoti being a Shaivite site, both seem obvious connected (Hope you noticed the “Kailash” in Kailashahar). But the other noteworthy aspect here are the faces themselves. Only the presence of the Nandi and some small phallic structures indicated that it is dedicated to Shiva. The faces sculpted on the hills are completely different from the usual Hindu iconography and the faces have distinctive Tibeto-Burman features, thus making it an invaluable cultural missing links.

Some additional statues lying at the hilltop
Ganesh

The Story of Unakoti

In the absence of clear history, all we have are the stories. Even in this case, there no consensus and multiple stories can be found regarding the mythological origins of this site. The only one thing that everyone agrees upon is that the name Unakoti comes from the fact that the total number of statues here is one less than a crore (i.e. one less than 10 million…. or 9999999). The rest of the stories differ, from a blacksmith who built the statues to satisfy Shiva, to cursed deities who were turned into stones simply because they did not wake up on time.

Mysteries That Will Never be Solved
Look at the humans for scale
Look at the humans for scale II
Is that a Lion?

I spent more than an hour at Unakoti. It was getting dark and now I began to realize that I might have taken a big risk by relying on public transport. It is located in the middle of thick jungles and while shared cars ply on the road, they don’t usually wait there. Most other visitors had their own vehicles and so they disappeared soon. I was hoping to catch some cab coming from Kailashahar but the usual traffic had died down by then. So, I started walking, mentally preparing myself to walk the whole 20 Kms and reach my hotel at 9 PM in the worst case scenario. However, after 15 minutes of walking, one car stopped behind me with a screeching sound. It was a van belonging to a courier company but the driver was in a good mood. He offered me a lift. As it turned out, he is habitual at offering a lift. He kept pausing and picking up random bystanders, as he kept incessantly talking about his life and the state in general. He even predicted the outcome of the upcoming assembly elections and dropped me near my hotel in half an hour.

Unakoti Travel Guide

How to Reach Unakoti?

Unakoti is located between two important towns, Dharmanagar, and Kailashahar. This area is located in the Northern Tripura, closer to Assam border. So, if you are taking any train or bus from Assam, Dharmanagar will be the first major town on your way. From here, you can get into any bus or the shared car going to Kailashahar and ask them to drop you near Unakoti which is 20 KMs from Dharmanagar while Kailashahar is another 10 KMs from it. To return, come back to the road and wait for the shared cars to arrive.

Where to stay in Unakoti?

You can’t exactly stay here. But both DHarmanagar and Kailashahar have enough options. There are Tripura Tourism Lodges at both places and also many private hotels. I stayed in Dharmanagar at a place called Hotel Sun, near the Kali DIghi. It was a small but convenient room for just INR 350.

Entrey Fee in Unakoti

Nobody charged me any free. They probably forgot. Anyway, it is a negligible amount as far as I know.

Kailashahar

Kailashahar used to be the ancient capital of Tripura and it is believed that the rulers of this town were the ones who constructed Unakoti. There is another government tourist lodge here along with other hotels. It even had an airport but that is no longer functional. There are also many tea gardens around Kailshahar that can offer you some pretty frames.

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Jitaditya Narzary

Is a traveller disillusioned by the familiar and fascinated with the unknown... and of course the founder of this blog.

15 thoughts on “Unakoti: Those Hills Have Eyes

  • Pingback:Monuments of Pilak & Udaipur, Tripura | The Travelling Slacker

  • 2018/07/19 at 7:05 am
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    Beautiful images and very informative narration as always! Hope to visit Unakoti someday soon.

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  • 2018/07/19 at 11:32 am
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    I watched its story on a TV channel and since then , I am looking for a chance to go there. Your post will guide me whenever I would be there .

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  • 2018/07/19 at 4:21 pm
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    Good to know in details about Unakoti. Yeah, those faces reminds you of the ones in Easter island.

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  • 2018/07/30 at 4:30 pm
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    It’s incredible to think that all this details has survived for so many centuries. And that we don’t fully know who created the carvings. I wonder if they’ll give up their secrets one day?

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  • 2018/07/30 at 8:13 pm
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    What an interesting site indeed. It must’ve taken a lot of time for the Blacksmith to have completed this (if the stories were found to be true, that is). Glad to know that kind people still exists and would pick up strangers along the way to give them a lift. 🙂

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  • 2018/07/31 at 12:28 pm
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    I am loving the sights and the carvings in the rock. Found this an interesting read and has given me some ideas for when I hope to get to this area (which i am hoping will be 2019!)

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  • 2018/07/31 at 1:15 pm
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    That would be so much fun to see! I have heard about this place from my friend who actually backpack as well. Its cool you didn’t get charged either! What a great read!

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  • 2018/07/31 at 11:33 pm
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    Unakoti looks incredible. So many sculptures. Each one looks really huge and amazing. I am sure the stories too will be so interesting. We have never heard about them earlier. Great write up and pictures as always.

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  • 2018/08/01 at 9:24 am
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    Unakoti is a magnificent and enigmatic place that you have unravelled. The rock sculptures look like nothing I have ever seen before, and to think that almost a crore of them exist on the rock faces is awesome. Yes, the features of Shiva seem to be different and you are right this place is definitely a cultural bridge if studied could come up with some fascinating accounts.

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  • 2018/08/01 at 10:51 am
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    This historical site is incredible and I totally see the resemblance to Easter Island as well. Also … I am in awe … just less than 10 million statues?? Thank you so much for sharing this article, I personally was not aware of Unakoti.

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  • 2018/08/01 at 5:07 pm
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    This is honestly the first time I have read about Unakoti. India really has so much to offer. I love the carvings! I am so happy that they are maintained and maybe I can drop by when I go to India next year!

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  • 2018/08/02 at 1:29 pm
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    Those faces look really similar to ones I have seen in Colombia. I once saw a statue in Colombia that I swear looks like an elephant. I suspect there was a lot more cross-culture contact that we are willing to admit. The similarities are just too striking.

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  • 2018/08/02 at 5:03 pm
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    This is such a lovely treasure you have shared. These sculpted stones are quite lovely and pretty well maintained too. We all talk of similar faces in Angkor or terracotta soldiers in China but right here in India, we have our own treasure that possibly dates back to those days or earlier. Amazing!

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  • 2018/10/08 at 5:00 pm
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    I am visiting Agartala in November. Kindly let me know how much walking has to be done at Unakoti. We plan to take a taxi from Tripura. Is it worth the fare? What is the other option ? We are four members and two of the them have health issues.

    Reply

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