Meander around Manipur

This remote Indian State in the extreme northeast beyond Bangladesh probably isn’t even on your wish-list yet but combined with its neighbouring States it represents a destination that’s diverse and as yet untouched by mainstream tourism.

Northeast India, which includes Assam, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Manipur  is largely unknown to all but the hardy backpacker and hereby lies the dichotomy of tourism. Luxury tourists demand luxury facilities and efficient infrastructure, whereas an area’s charm lies in its natural state, unsullied by tourism.

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The northeast currently sits on the knife-edge of balance, in that it now seeks the tourist dollar although the countryside is largely untouched. True, the towns exhibit India’s normal abominable mix of urban mass concrete architecture and rubbish but once out into the country it’s possible to see rural India at its best.
We believe that International travellers wish to see the culture and history of India as it was, whilst staying in comfortable accommodation with ‘normal’ facilities wherever possible. As with most things, there’s often a compromise to be made – so the more authentic the experience, the more rudimentary the facilities. Your choice should be made on what drives you to travel – luxury hotels or authentic experiences.
Manipur definitely falls into the latter category and although it is possible to stay in ‘comfortable’ accommodation you won’t regard it as luxury.

 

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classic-grande-5Our first sight of Manipur is the airport at Imphal and it’s a small but tidy and well-presented terminal building that suggests the State is preparing itself for increased traffic.

We’re staying at the Classic Grande, one of three hotels in this group within Imphal. It’s a smart new hotel with most of the facilities you’d expect including a pool, restaurant and lounges and only falls short, as do many mid-high range hotels in India, on having been built with all the ingredients but not the recipe.

It doesn’t have the World Class quality of somewhere like Taj Hotels but it does nevertheless exceed the standards you’d expect once out of the principal Indian cities.

There are a few attractions in Imphal itself that are worth the look before heading further afield.

 

Battle of Imphal

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We were, until we visited, unaware that Imphal marked the turning point of the war against the Japanese in WW2 and as such the surrounding area is marked by several significant battlefields and memorials – if that holds appeal for you, or if you have relatives who fought here.

From March until July 1944, Japanese armies attempted to invade India, but at Imphal were driven back into Burma with heavy losses. Together with the simultaneous Battle of Kohima on the vital road by which Allied forces at Imphal were relieved, the battles became the turning point of the Burma Campaign. The defeat at Kohima and Imphal was the largest defeat to that date in Japanese history.

There are Commonwealth War Grave cemeteries for British and Allied fallen at two locations in Imphal.

Kangla Fort

tlc-sangai-boat-race-3Today, most notable as a haven of peace within the hub of the city centre, Kangla is the focal point of Manipuri history, having been the seat of various royal dynasties back as far as the first century AD.
Taken over by the British as part of her Empire, most of the architecture remaining stems from this time reflecting its use as a fort, completely surrounded by a moat and the Imphal river that separates the mayhem of the city from the tranquility of the 240 acres within it.
Subsequently taken over by the Assam Rifles, it was only handed back to Manipur in 2004.

The rather modern looking entrance belies the more historic fortified buildings within.

 

Shree Govindaji Temple

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A recently rebuilt but nevertheless attractive Hindu Temple, the environs of this temple are extensive, clean and tranquil.

It’s within easy reach of the town centre, being within the Kangla Fort area and worth a visit just to escape the noise and bustle of the town centre.

 

Women’s Market

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Ima Keithel in Imphal is unique in that it houses over 3,000 women vendors in the largest all-women market in the world at Khwairamband Bazar – off the road opposite to Kangla Fort main entrance gate.

Everything from fish to fabrics is for sale in this model of emancipation.

 

 

Further afield

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Its more about the journey than the destinations – and – despite our list of attractions, its not all about the war!
You’ll travel through extensive plains of paddy fields, grass huts and lush agriculture surrounded by hills and forests that hint of the jungles of its neighbour Myanmar. You’re in the extreme northeast of India here and the terrain and landscapes are different from anything you’ll see elsewhere in India.

Keibul Lamjao National Park

tlc-manipur-keibul-lamjao-national-park-11 tlc-manipur-keibul-lamjao-national-park-10Unique for being the only ‘fully floating’ national park in the world, Keibul Lamjao National Park is also the solitary home to the Eld’s Deer, or Sangai, twin bow-shape-antlered deer.

Access to the park is by arrangement through the tourist office and forest department and its principal viewing point is atop a plateau that affords a panoramic view of the floating grasslands below.tlc-manipur-keibul-lamjao-national-park-9

If you’re lucky you’ll see the diminutive deer grazing in the early morning but they’re difficult to spot once they retreat amidst the tall grasses as the day’s heat increases.

 

 

 

Loktak Lake

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Covering an area of nearly a hundred square miles, Loktak Lake is the largest fresh water lake in northeast India and a vital part of the local infrastructure. Not only does it supply fresh water to Manipur but also sustains small fishing communities that number over 100,000 people.

 

The lake can be viewed panoramically from Sendra Park Resort (where you can also stay or eat), or from the hull of a small tourist pleasure boat that will take you amidst the fisherman in their dugouts as you all navigate around the drifting islands of ‘phumdis’ (floating vegetation) that in some cases support dwellings.

 

Red Hill

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Red Hill is situated on Tiddim Road, around 16 km from Imphal. This hillock houses a monument, which was raised to the memory of the Indian and Japanese soldiers who sacrificed their lives in one of the war’s bloodiest battles.

 

Locally known as Maibam Lotpaching, its sadly referred to as Red Hill for the amount of blood shed here – most of which was Indian – either on the side of the Allies or within the INA army that had sided with Japan. The main memorial was built by the Japanese to mark the 50th anniversary of the battle, whilst a nearby shrine and rusting cannon is dedicated to Japanese fallen.

 

Moirang

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Situated in the Bishnapur district of Manipur, this city is home to the INA (Indian National Army) museum that charts the rise and fall of the little known Indian Army that sided with the Axis powers under Subhas Chandra Bose.
Largely a collection of interesting archive photographs, the museum is a huge edifice for such a limited display – but interesting nonetheless.

 

As with many rural towns and villages, daily life can itself be fascinating, with farmers collecting and storing rice grains and families meandering the market places.

 

 

Moirang Lai Haraoba festival is also celebrated here every May with hundreds of folk dancers in traditional costume.

 

In summary

Manipur offers an experience rather than a collection of national treasures. If you’re fascinated by natural areas and landscapes and wish to escape the mainstream tourist crowds then this State, along with its neighbours, is well worth the visit.

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