Manipur comprises of both hills and plains and you need to have an understanding of the terrain to explore it properly.
The capital Imphal as well as the Loktak Lake is at the heart of the plains of Manipur. It is sort of a moderate altitude plateau with pleasant climate. It is bordered by Nagaland, Mizoram and Assam on various sides. The Manipuri people or the Meiteis primarily reside in the plains.
The Hilly areas bordering Myanmar as well as parts of Nagaland, such as Ukhrul, Senapati, and Tamenglong. These areas are mainly inhabited by various Naga and Kuki clans and many unexplored treks and trails can be found here, along with high altitude lakes and natural caves.
How to Reach Manipur?
Buses and cars reach Manipur through two different routes, the Guwahati-Dimapur-Kohima-Imphal-Route or the Guwahati-Silchar-Jiribam-Imphal route. While the first route is better known, the road condition in the Imphal-Silchar route has improved of late.
There is no genuine train connectivity in Manipur although the efforts are on for the same. In fact the proposed Trans-Asian line also passes through Moreh towards SE Asia. But as of now, the nearest major station is Dimapur, from where you can reach Imphal via Kohima. On the other side there is a railway line till Jiribam, near Assam border but a lot of work remains to be done.
Imphal is a major airport with regular direct flights from Delhi, Kolkata, and Guwahati. From Imphal, you should find transport to most other places.
People and culture of Manipur
Manipur is named after the Meitei people who are generally known as “Manipuris” outside the state. The Meitei Language is an ancient language with its own script and it one of the scheduled languages of India. But a lot of other communities, especially several Naga and Kuki clans live here in the hilly areas. Manipur used to be an ancient kingdom, with a very advanced civilization that has its own music, classical dance, drama, festivals, and cuisines. Many traditional games and martial art forms also can be found here and many believe that the modern game of polo was originally played in Manipur. A good way to experience the diverse elements of their culture is to attend the Sangai Festival organized by Manipur Tourism every November.
What to See and Do in Manipur?
Loktak Lake: Boat ride through World’s only Floating National Park
The Loktak Lake in Manipur is the largest freshwater lake in the Northeast India. It has a distinctive landscape because of the floating phumdis (mass of grass, soil, and organic matters). A boat ride through the lake can take you to the Keibul Lamjao National Park, which is the last remaining habitat of the endangered sangai deer (Manipur brow-antlered deer), one of three subspecies of the Eld’s Deer. This lake plays an important role in the life, culture, and economy of Manipur. It is a major source of irrigation as well as drinking water supply. It is also a source of livelihood for the local fisherman who live on the banks of the lake as well as on phumdis. From fishes to lotus stems, a lot of things collected from here makes way to the markets of the towns. Loktak is located near the town of Moirang, which is not far from the capital Imphal.
Kangla Fort: A Walk Through Millennia of History
The Kangla Fort is not a mere fort but a huge complex protected by a moat, located in the heart of the city. This was the power centre from where the royals used to rule but most of the original structures were destroyed during the violent struggles with the British. However, it has now been restored to its former glory. As of now, there are several monuments within the complex, including ruins of some old structures, some medieval temples, some restored monuments including the two “Kangla Sha”s (mythical animals that were emblems of the kingdom), couple of replicas of gigantic longboat, and many more. It is such a huge complex that you may get tired if you walk around too much and that is why now there is a provision of hiring bicycles at the gate.
The WW II Trail
Most people are not aware of this part of the World War II. The great war was fought here too, on the Northeastern front, as the Japanese army, as well as the Indian National Army under Subhash Bose tried to enter British Army. The heaviest battle took place in Nagaland and Manipur. Imphal has not one but two major cemeteries, maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Also, there is a Peace Memorial built by the Japanese government at Maibam Lokpa Ching, few KMs out of Imphal, en route to Moirang (Loktak Lake). Also, at Moirang town you will find the INA Museum with a lot of rare documents, photographs, and objects from the war to commemorate Subhash Bose and his army.
Attend the Ukhrul Shirui Lily Festival
Shirui lily (Lilium Mackliniae) is a certain type of flower that only grows in the hills called Shirui Hills surrounding Ukhrul. It only blooms for a few weeks, generally in the early summer season. It was introduced to the rest of the world by Frank Kingdon-Ward, an English Botanist who visited the area in the 1940s. The flower is known for its delicate colour and shape. It is also the state flower of Manipur. There are many stories and myths attached to the flower and the locals have been celebrating the flowering of the lily for centuries. However, the tourist festival started only in 2017 as an attempt to develop tourism in the area. Ideally, tourists also get to hike up to the hill to watch the flowers and then cultural programs are organized on the foothills. You can get a glimpse of local culture and food and also due to the popularity of western music in the region, you can expect a good concert.
Get a Slice of Myanmar at Moreh
Moreh is a trading town at the border of Myanmar. It is practically the gateway to the South East Asia. While the full potential has not yet been achieved due to infrastructural difficulties, the ambitious projects by the policymakers give us a lot of reasons to be optimistic. Moreh is a major point for both India–Myanmar–Thailand Trilateral Highway as well as Trans-Asian Railway that can connect India to China as well as all the countries of SE Asia. You can even cross over the border to Myanmar side and visit he town of Tamu.
Attend the Sangai Festival
The Sangai festival is an annual cultural festival organised by Manipur Tourism Department every November. It is named after the endangered brow-antlered deer popularly known as the Sangai Deer, which is the state animal of Manipur and is only found in the Keibul Lamjao National Park in Loktak. As the festival is organized to promote Manipur as a tourism destination, it showcases the best of what the state including art and culture, handloom, handicrafts & fine arts, classical dance, indigenous sports, cuisines, music, and adventure sports in the backdrop of the state’s incomparable landscapes.
Transportation & Accommodation within Manipur
Bus service exists but limited within Manipur. Most major towns are connected with Imphal through shared cars and the capital city acts as the hub for reaching every other place.
Imphal is a big city that has all sorts of hotels, resorts, and restaurants catering to all types of budgets. Additionally, all the major tourist hubs in the state such as Ukhrul and Loktak-Moirang have good homestays, and lodges.
Phone and Data Connectivity in Manipur
Phone and data connectivity is generally good all over Manipur, especially in the major towns. You will get disconnected only if you try to enter some remote village or cave and in such case, you should keep your friend and families informed. Otherwise all major towns in the state have good connectivity.