As we stepped out of the small lmphal Airport. we were reminded of the diversity of India. Coming from Nagpur where the temperature was at that time (May 29) around 47 degree, the cool breeze in lmphal was a pleasant change. Airport was bustling with activity. yet no one was rushing about helter skelter; there was a sense of calm.
The white complexioned people looked very different and they were a very friendly lot. We were reminded of India's diversity which is actually her strength. We are different, yet we all are one nation. It is very important that we respect the identity of each Indian. People at the airport guided us in broken Hindi and tried to make us comfortable. Prof Ibohal Singh of Manipur University and Dr Narasingh of IPTA welcomed us with a warmth that brought cheer to all the visitors who were otherwise tired after a long flight. It must be mentioned here that the best way to visit Manipur is to reach lmphal by air either from New Delhi or Kolkata The adventurous can reach lmphal by a 14 hour road journey via Guwahati. Kohima or Dimapur.
We were stationed in the Manipur University Guest House located in Conchipur on the southern flank of lmphal city. On our first day we drove on the India-Myanmar highway to reach a small village named Khongjam where the statue of Shaheed Pouna Brajbhashi stands tall reminding us of the sacrifice our brethren have made to liberate our country from the yoke of the British Empire. A peace park is located just near the memorial.
On the way we passed through Thoubal, the constituency of the Chief Minister. We were surprised to find a huge market almost 500 mt long constructed by the State Government. We were told that even lmphal doesn't have such a long market!
At about 6 pm we reached the small village near Thoubal to witness a Lai haroba Dance festival. All along we were able to see the nine hills that surround almost all of Manipur. As the international highway wound its way we could see beautiful Manipur villages with houses made of bamboo and mud. Almost every village had its pond as we find in the state of West Bengal.
One thing that attracts the attention of any visitor in Manipur is the total cleanliness. It is difficult to find filth strewn here and there. Except the garbage heaps kept at the designated places we don't find litter. In one of his letters Jawaharlal Nehru has mentioned that he could not find a single Manipuri citizen in dirty clothes. Although the Manipuri men have adopted the western clothings. women (not teenagers) wear beautiful traditional ‘Half Sarees'.
As we entered the village. we were delighted by what we saw. About three hundred women. girls and about hundred boys, all attired in traditional Manipuri dresses were dancing in a large circle. Two singers. a male and a female were standing at the centre. The dance was led by six middle aged women whose dexterous hand movements were almost poetic. As we were the guests of the day, we were presented different types of fruits and flowers after an offering was made to the deity, College girls in Manfpuri sarees were a delightful sight.
lnspite of the insurgency, common man in Manipur feels proud of being an Indian and connects well with Indians coming from other states. ln the evening an enchanting ballet was produced by the ’Manipuri Jagoi Marup' on the story of Kabuliwaia. There are a number of ballet groups in Manipur who present mrmerous shows in and around lmphal round the year. Historically Manipuris were warriors who did not bow even to the British Empire easily. Today the Manipuri ballets depict their courage and strengths of war. on the stage.
One very important destination in Manipur is Moirong. it is called the cradle of Manipuri culture. Situated 43 km to the south of lmphal, Moirong borders with the famous Loktak Lake. It was in Moirong where Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's confidant Col. Shaukat Ali Malik hoisted the Indian Tricolour for the first time. A befitting INA memorial has been built by the Govemment of lndia at that site that was inaugurated by our late Prime Minister Mrs hidira Gandhi in the year 1969. The museum showcases the whole life and struggle of Netaji and the INA during their fight against the British Empire. It is a national pilgrimage site which every true lndia must visit atleast once in his life time!
On our retum we visited the famous Loktak Lake, the biggest fresh water lake in the North East.ltis 10 miles long and 5 miles wide.It is called a miniature Sea. A tourist home has been made on a small island called Sendra from where one can see the vast lake. There are three islands in the lake. There is a floating Keibul Lamjo National Park in the Loktak Lake which is home to the rare brow antler Sangai of which only 250 are in existence today. This is the only floating park in the world. You must have atleast two days in hand to see the beauty of this beautiful lake. Sendra Tourist Home at Moirong situated just near the Loktak Lake takes care of the lodging facility. Do not forget to enjoy the typical fish dishes of Manipur eaten with rice and their own version of salad. The staple food of Manipur is rice but roti is provided on demand. While in lmphal a visit to Ima market is a must. lma means ‘Mother in Manipuri. This market is entirely run by senior women. in tact every town in Manipur has an lma Market. Traditionally the job of selling in Manipur was done by women only. Surprisingly the Ima market was very peaceful. There was no solicitation, the mantra of marketing today elsewhere. Even bargaining is in a very friendly manner.
Another landmark in lmphal is the Kangla Fort. it was the Ancient Capital of Manipur till 1891 when the Manipur resistance was defeated by the British army after a bitterly fought battle. The British army was so troubled that it razed the entire Kangla fort to dust. Only some fragments of old fort remain. Today the entire area is developed restoring some of the old structures as a monument to the freedom fighters. A museum located in the fort takes us down the memory lane.
On our way back to the Airport Shri Sahu and myself agreed that in spite of being a tribal state Manipur society is a highly cultured and a developed society, where women are respected and enjoy equal status with men. No wonder one of the leading journals has recently reported that Manipur is the best place in India for a girl to take birth!
Maybe the nine hills that surround Manipur provide that heavenly grace and protection to the daughters there!