While flipping through pages of Mint – a financial daily newspaper in India, I was awestruck by a well-researched article entitled Bamboo craft from Tripura, auctioned at Christie’s and read the entire piece from head to toe. Anything of concern related to the North East of India keeps me buzzing because I was born and brought up there.
Thanks to Komal Sharma, the journalist who opened my eyes courtesy of the article on Tripura’s bamboo industry. When the world-famous Assam Tea made its entry into Harrods, it was an unbelievable moment for me and my family and when I got to know the limited-edition Truss-Me bamboo collection designed by Bengaluru-based interior designer Sandeep Sangaru making his entry into the Christie’s auction house, it was another glorious moment for all North Easterners.
Among the modern masterpieces listed in the 154-page Design London catalogue that went to auction was a section on “Asian and Contemporary Design"—featuring objects from China, Japan, Vietnam and India. Sangaru’s Truss-Me Clothes Stand, among the 16 “unique and very limited edition pieces" on auction, sold for £3,000 (around Rs2.5 lakh) with premium.
Tripura is the land of my great grandfather and we still have some acres of land in a far-flung village that is taken care of by our distant relatives. I have been fortunate to come across a gentleman and an Indian defense personnel – Mihir Bhattacharjee, (a much travelled man) who has been playing the role of a mentor to perfection when it comes to the question of getting familiar with India’s North-Eastern state of Tripura.
More than a century back Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore had written to the then Maharaja of Tripura, requesting him to send saplings of a rare variety of bamboo – “the Mooli Bamboo”, which grows profusely in Tripura. The Mooli Bamboo also played a stellar role in the scientific experiments carried out by India’s pioneering scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose.
Tripura is all of 10,490 square km out of which 6292 square km, either 59.98% is covered by forest. The two major forest types are evergreen forest and moist deciduous forest. It isn’t surprising that much of Tripura is blessed with a clean natural environment largely due to the dense forest cover, which makes it ideal for bamboo-based eco-tourism options like tree house recreation, tribal tourism, village immersion tours, etc.
I am yet to see a region in India, which is so rich in bamboo cultivation as Tripura. What is more, bamboo is the most essential non-timber forest produce that tribal people rely upon and it plays a vital role in the socio-economic upliftment of the rural populace. In fact, bamboo touches every aspect of the lives of the people of Tripura by way of providing shelter, furniture and a bewildering array of art objects in the form of home decor, thereby providing livelihood to a large chunk of the rural poor.
The whole world is chasing sustainability and Tripura is an ideal region to launch the Tree House Tourism initiative which is gradually taking center stage in states like Kerala, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. Blessed with bamboo forests and exotic tribal culture, Tree House recreation could revolutionize Tripura’s tourism industry.
The government of Tripura has already set up the Tripura Bamboo Mission to implement the cultivation of bamboo in a cluster-based approach. If the State Forest Department (SFD) works in collaboration with the Department of Tourism in a mutually beneficial manner, this new concept (Tree House Recreation) could be a milestone in the annals of North East India’s tourism landscape.
According to the much-travelled Indian defense personnel Mihir Bhattacharjee, a native of Tripura and one of the most vocal Rastrawadi/Nationalist adherent: “By dint of being defense personnel, I have travelled the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent and have first-hand experience of how states like Kerala and Rajasthan are implementing this rather novel, eco-friendly and green initiative and I have no hesitation in asserting that the state of Tripura is perfectly suitable for launching the Tree House concept of Tourism. The geography, landscape and the bewildering array of tribes that inhabit this magnificent state could be the ideal launching pad for Tree House Tourism”.
Nothing could be as simplistic and nature friendly as relaxing in a tree house. It is nothing but a platform or house built around branches or trunks of trees that are slightly elevated above ground level. Some of the famous tree house resorts like the once in Munnar, Chikmagalur, Jaipur, Vythiri, etc. have been an outright hit with travelers both Indian as well as global.
Treehouses have all the comforts like bathrooms, electricity, water, and even air conditioning options. Investment wise too, tree houses are quite affordable as compared to apartments or concrete high-rise hotels. To build a basic tree house with modern amenities, it might cost you anything in the range of INR 5,00,000 to INR 10,00,000.
If local tribal customs and traditions are anything to go by, the concept of tree house isn’t an alien concept, at least not in Tripura and the North East of India where tribals have been known to build tree houses for centuries together making use of locally available wood and timber to fashion remarkable dwelling units. I can personally cite the example of Nagaland’s “Morungs” or youth dormitories.
In the case of Tripura too, mention may be made of the Riang tribals who still build their houses with bamboo. In a typical Riang village of Tripura, the site of pretty houses built in the midst of trees where even the roofs are made out of specially shaped bamboos is a scene straight out of a fairytale land. These Riang tree houses are built upon bamboo slits that offer space for a horizontal platform, which in this case serves as the floor of the house. The manner in which Tripura’s Riang tribals arrange bamboos on a square grid and incline the whole bamboo structure is a marvel in terms of tribal architecture.
The days of hotel, sightseeing and back to the hotel are gone. These days’ tourists demand real experiences during his/her holidays. The demand is for pleasant surroundings, usually at reasonable rates which Tripura does have in abundance.
The essential ingredient of this new kind of tourism package is the organization of recreation which alone can enrich the tourism experience by allowing greater integration with the place visited and fuller involvement in the social and cultural life of the rural destination.
According to Mihir Bhattacharjee: “The tourists on their arrival to the village are allowed to fish in the pond at a very concessional rate. The gardens are open for the tourists so that they can “pay, eat and pluck” the vegetables and fruits. When this system is fully evolved, the middle man who gets a major share of the income finds no place and the market is brought close to the village”.
The local government (Municipality) first needs to identify a bunch of bamboo villages for accelerated tourism development. The pivotal idea is to construct tree houses made of straw and bamboo alongside the water bodies so as to provide shelter to the tourists. Unique tribal folk songs and traditions can be showcased on the central podium of the village. For the diehard fishing and angling enthusiasts, leisurely boat rides on the water bodies may be encouraged and permission may be granted for fishing in the waters, which will come at a price. Fishing equipment may be rented out to the tourists as well to heighten the touristy experience.
It has to be borne in mind that the village tourism which would be developed will not at all be a simulated one. The configuration of the village which has the set-up according to the caste and class would be explicitly exhibited. The city residents who have not seen the authentic village life would get a glimpse of the village life without paying the charges which the travel agents sell.
Even a decade back, tree houses used to be kid stuff, but not anymore as more adults are building houses in trees to get high. The joy of being tucked up in a remote arboreal hideaway is the stuff that dreams are made of and they have even been the subjects of best-selling books and popular exhibitions.
Hopefully, Tripura will metamorphose into one of India’s idyllic Tree House Tourism hub.
The ethereal ambiance of staying in a tree house is best summed up by O.C. Thomas thus Rainforest Athirapally Owner: “When you get face to face with raw nature, that’s when you start noticing — myriad colours, textures and sounds. You have stumbled upon a place so unadulterated, that we don’t want you to take back mere clicks of the place. Breathe in, take back that feeling home. Everything you see, hear and feel is an outcome of great detailing. Every moment is crafted to transform them into memories, which can’t be described in pictures or words”.