The North East of India for a long time has been isolated from the rest of the country. Tourists from neighboring states like Assam and Arunachal Pradesh are frequent visitors of Manipur. Lack of information on the web coupled with internal feuds has made Manipur an unconventional destination on travel maps. These issues are slowly but steadily being addressed.
India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru rightly called Manipur the “Jewel of India”. Manipur is unique and the pioneers in various fields of endeavor. Who would have thought Polo was invented here, during the British rule. Manipur flouts the only floating national park in the world – the Keibul Lamjao National Park and supposedly the only woman’s market in the world. Add the exclusivity with a backdrop of picturesque landscapes, Manipur definitely gives a run for the next travel destination in India.
Top Places to Visit
The Fort holds historical significance as the Kingdom of Manipur was established at Kangla. During the reign of Pakhangba in 33AD. Thereafter, it was used as a royal palace for several Manipuri kings. This historic place was also under the rule of Burmese kings and it was only until 1844 AD that Nara Singh shifted the capital back to Kangla.
The British occupied the fort till 1947, and after them, the Assam Rifles were in control. In the year 2004, the fort was finally handed over to the State Government of Manipur.
To Manipuris, the fort goes much beyond a historical site, it is a place of cultural and religious significance. At the entrance, you are welcomed by the mighty king sculpture riding a horse. The entire complex is dotted with numerous shrines, stone inscriptions, a sacred pond, Sir Akbar Hydri’s tomb, and the massive figures of mystical creatures of Kangla-Sha.
Within the fort is a Shree Govindajee Temple, Govindajee is another name of Lord Vishnu.
Imphal Polo Ground
The Imphal Polo Ground is touted to be the birthplace of the Polo game. The sport is an elite affair across the world today but Sagol Kangjei, better known locally, was the common man’s game in Manipur. Commoners played bare feet, in a white dhoti and turban and rode Manipuri ponies.
The sport finally gained popularity during British rule in India. There is an annual Polo tournament held in Manipur during the same time as the Sangai festival.
Loktak is the largest freshwater lake in North East India and is one of the main attractions in Manipur. The lake is unique with its floating phumdis & spectacular beauty. The phumdis also act as a natural habitat for the endangered Sangai deer.
Ukhrul is the highest hill district of Manipur. This offbeat location is home to the Shirui Lily peak which is famous for the Shirui Lily flower that is only found here. Ukhrul also has some interesting caves to adventure into if that is of your liking.
The village of Andro is ideal to get an insight into Manipur’s rich culture and traditions. Andro has built a reputation with its prowess in traditional handicrafts, unique pottery skills, and its homegrown rice beer.
The border town of Moreh is a trade town full of stories at the India Myanmar border. Moreh offers a day visit into Myanmar without a visa for Indians.
INA Memorial Complex
The Indian National Army was formed here at Moirang by Subhash Chandra Bose. The complex houses a museum that speaks of the bravado of our soldiers. The Indian flag was hoisted for the first time on 14 April 1944 here in Moirang.
Manipur will always be remembered in World War History for The Battle of Imphal between the British and the Japanese soldiers. The Red Hill on the way to Loktak Lake is the closest to Imphal the Japanese army had managed to reach. The cemeteries and the memorials bear testimony to the fierce battle fought.
Ima Keithel – Imphal’s All Women Market
Ima Keithel, which translates to ‘Mothers Market’, is said to be the biggest all-women market in Asia. The market is largely spread out in four blocks – vegetables, fruits, perishables, and fish on one side and garments on the other. The market is run by women only and is a cheerful, flourishing community. The women share a wonderful camaraderie while aggressively making their daily sales.
Where to Stay?
Major cities and towns in Manipur like Imphal, Moirang, Chandel, Ukhrul have budgeted hotels in the main center. However, my preferred choice of accommodation in an offbeat destination like Manipur is a homestay (give Suresh link) which will yield a more authentic experience with the local community. Homestays are not available everywhere but there is consistently a larger number of families exploring the opportunity.