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Published: February 12th 2017
When it comes to travel I have been very lucky throughout my life. After my short road trip from Guwahati to Silchar in Assam in 2009 I had made up my mind that one day I am going to travel through beautiful, evergreen jungles and misty mountains of North East which is often neglected as a possible tourist destination.
Finally in Feb 2016 I got an opportunity to travel to Manipur. I landed at Imphal International Airport on 23 Feb 16 which is also called as 'Tulihal airport'. The view while landing was mesmerising and enchanting as all I could see was lush green mountains and pristine blue waters of vast Logtak lake covering the valley floor in the shades of blue and green . From serene landscapes, lakes , rivers, lush green rice paddy fields, made me fall in love with them. On getting down from the flight I could feel freshness in the air..... The blue sky and this quaint airport was a pleasant surprise specially after coming from bustling extravagent New Delhi' s T3.But this airport has a great historic importance...as it is one of the 3 airstrips used by Royal British Air force during WW II , others being Koirengi near Imphal and Kakching located 48 km south east of Imphal in Thoubal district of Manipur. The Royal British Air force carried out bombings of Japanese forward areas and airfields in Myanmar using these airstrips.
This state is famous for its women empowered society amongst North eastern states of India and the same was quite evident as we were driving through the airport road towards Imphal city. The streets looked busy and full of women folk doing almost everything from selling local products on street side to controlling traffic. During my stay at Imphal I went to Paona Bazar and Ima Keithal. These 2 are very old markets whose inception can be traced backed to 16th century. 'Major Paona' after whom the market has been named was one of the Generals of 'King Budhachandra' of Manipur who fought valiantly during Anglo Manipur war. This market has a number of shops selling Chinese, Korean and Burmese products and is called modern market of Manipur.
'Ima' means mother and 'Keithal' means market in local Meitei language. This market is only of its kind in entire India and has women shop vendors as well as owners. It was set up by 'King Khagemba' of Manipur in 16th century. A lady vendor at the market told me that, King Khagemba's wife was an artist and used to make embroidery on precious Chinese silk. Thus in order to promote her art the king decided to hold an exhibition at an open ground outside the Kangla For. Many women folk picked up the art subsequently and started selling embroidered local cotton cloths at this very place, thereby turning it into a market. The cloth became famous in south east Asia and is still used as a traditional dance attire during 'Ras Leela' and Manipuri classical dance 'Jagoi'. You can pick up traditional Manipuri handlooms such as shawls, bamboo baskets,bags, embroidered clothes , cane works , etc from this market.
If you are a keen bird lover and have some interest in wild life , then Logtak lake is the place which will fascinate you the most. Located near town of Moirang at a distance of 52 km from Imphal on NH 02 which is the main connecting link between Manipur and Mizoram, Logtak is the largest fresh water lake in North east India. As the name suggests, 'Log' means people and 'tak' means water body in local Meitei language, people have actually constructed houses on the small floating islands known as 'Phumdi'(local name for floating island). Logtak lake has almost 300 species of birds and as an avid bird lover I was able to spot Wagtails, Shrikes, Water hens, Striated Herons, Flycatchers, Spotted billed ducks, Kingfishers and may more migratory as well as resident birds. The best bird spotting season would be between Nov to Feb and time between 0730 to 0930.The lake is also home to only floating national park in entire world known as 'Kaibul Lamjao national park'. The park is well know for a rare, endangered, endemic brow antlered deer called 'Sangai' which is also Manipur's state animal. Though I was not lucky enough to spot Sangai as my guide told me that ,Sangai spotting is very rare these days as there are very few left; reason being poaching of horns and deer skin.
What I have realised about this state is that despite various grievous problems like insurgency, diverse ethnicity,strikes and blockades, the people of this state are very progressive, educated ;mostly speak English and avoid Hindi knowingly or unknowingly. All I could say that, if you are planning a trip to North East India and undecided where to go and if you want to spend a calm and peaceful holiday without much hustle bustle of tourists, then Manipur may be the kind of destination you are looking for.
Best way to reach Manipur is by flight as roads are bad and one can face difficulties because of frequent blockades and strikes. Direct fights are available from Kolkata, Guwahati and New Delhi to Imphal. As Imphal is an international airport, it is also connected to Mandalay, Myanmar by flight which operates during 'Sangai' festival. There is no state transport service in Manipur, thus booking of taxi or a cab for travelling in state is recommended. Imphal hotel and Classic hotel are 2 best options for stay. You can also book taxi at the hotel reception. Rooms are good and generally available.
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