My love affair with the Northeast began as a school girl, when I went to Nagaland for a family holiday. The dazzling hills and valleys got me completely mesmerised. It continued further when I romanced the lush hills of Shillong in Meghalaya a few years back. Now it was Manipur’s turn to sweep me off my feet. I was going to Imphal to attend the Sangai Festival and was excited to see what this state would have in store for me. Imphal, the capital, a small unassuming town, was decked up for the annual, 10-day-long, Sangai Festival. Over the next two days I went to the following places and came back home very much in love. Manipur’s simple and rustic charms kept the love affair going strong.
I got a glimpse of this massive lake from the aircraft. I was buried in my book, and with a stray glance outside all I could see was blue water with green ‘phumdis’ (floating islands which look like round rings that are formed by clumps of waterweed and soil). It looked absolutely stunning and I made up my mind that this would be one of the first places I would visit, which is exactly what happened.
Located about 55km from the capital, Imphal, it’s one the largest fresh water lakes in the northeast. Interestingly, the lake is inhabited by local villagers who build thatched huts on these floating ‘islands’ and make their way about the lake in dugout canoes. More peculiar than floating villages are the large, perfectly circular fishing ponds created out of floating rings of weeds. One gets a good bird’s-eye-view of the lake from the tourist bungalow atop Sendra Island. Boating is available at Takmu Water Sports Complex.
One of the largest markets in Northeast, it is run by about 3000 women. Spread over three different buildings, each market is dedicated to something specific. While in one of them you can only buy fruits, fish and vegetables, yet another is dedicated to clothes, and, the third, to household items. Also known as Khwairamband Bazaar, it’s a spectacular place for photographers.
Unlike any other fort I’ve seen, this one is not sprawling or huge, and one can easily cover it in a couple of hours. It is a significant place for Manipuris since this was the ancient capital of the state many years back when Manipur was still a kingdom. But it was taken over by the British Army. The fort complex houses the Govindaji Temple and Hijagang Temple.
This little village close to Imphal is an interesting place for more reasons than one. But a significant one is that, this is among the two spots where one can legally drink in this dry state. Yes, Manipur is a dry one (even I was surprised to learn this), and so are Mizoram and Nagaland. Rice beer is made and sold by villagers at little stalls inside Santhei Natural Park. With a backdrop of Baruni hills and a lovely pond in the middle, it’s an ideal spot for a picnic, which is what draws many locals here on weekends.
There is the artisans’ village which houses the Mutua museum where you can get a glimpse of how Manipur’s 29 tribes used to live. It has homes of the main tribes of Manipur like Kabui, Meitei and Kuki. They have lovely pottery work as well, as the married women of Andro keep the traditional pottery alive.
The oldest Polo ground in the world
As surprising as it may sound, but truth is that Manipur is the place where the game of polo began. It was traditionally called ‘Manipuri Sagol Kangjei’ and according to legend it was a game played by Gods. Literally translated, ‘Sagol’ means pony and ‘Kangjei’ means a game played with sticks. The British learnt this game, and after making a few amendments, they introduced it to the world as polo. Matches are held regularly at Mapal Kangjeibung in Imphal one of the oldest polo grounds in the world.
Located about 16km from Imphal is this historical place where the Japanese fought a battle with the British during World War II. There is an India Peace Memorial in the memory of those who lost their lives.