Classical Manipuri dance has put this state on the cultural map of India. A graceful and sinuous dance drama depicting Lord Krishna and Radha’s story, Manipuri female dancers are distinguished by their elaborate costumes comprising a stiff barrel-shaped skirt and a translucent veil.
A big part of Manipuri culture is the tradition of weaving. After Assam, Manipur has the highest number of handloom workers (over 2000, according to the National Handloom Census of Weavers and Allied Workers 2010). Different tribes have their own set of motifs and weaving traditions, producing a prolific amount of colourful fabrics, silks and shawls. The birthplace of modern polo, it is interesting to see the women’s polo beginning to take shape.
Plan a trip to Loktak Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the Northeast, which is 48kms from Imphal. Meet the fisher folk who live on the lake’s enchanting floating islands known as ‘phumdis’. The only floating sanctuary that is home to the sangai deer is located here. Go trekking in the hills or plan a trip across to the neighbouring country of Burma.
Imphal has been home to a number of tribes for millennia. It came to prominence during World War II as the battleground between the British and Japanese troops, where the latter was defeated. A visit to recommended museums, historical sites and art galleries provides a deep insight to its people.
Manipur has a matriarchal society and nowhere is this more obvious than Ima Keithel, meaning “mothers’ market”, which is run entirely by women (the only one in the world). Spend a whole afternoon admiring the exquisite textiles, local produce and artefacts.
The Meitei people celebrate the Heitruk Hidongba, a traditional boat race festival, in September. Boat races comprising of elongated narrow boats take place on a 16 metres wide canal. The idol of Lord Vishnu presides over the function, and ends with a number of hypnotising rituals.
Lots of interesting restaurants, little villages to go for walks and the World War II historical sights make a trip here memorable.
Named after the first old Hindu temple, Bishnupur is the abode of Lord Vishnu. It is the cultural and religious capital of Manipur, as seen in its dome-shaped terracotta temples. It is home to the Meiteis, the main settlers of the Imphal valley who are Hindu Vaishnavites. Their festivals and dances are different from the ones practiced in the mainland. The weavers here are very skilled and weave thin cotton and silk fabrics with interesting motifs in vibrant hues.
Left devastated by the invading Japanese troops during World War II, it took 50 years for Churachandpur to be reconstructed. Today it is a peaceful and thriving town.
One of its highlights is the Tonglon Caves. These historic caves carry carvings and sculptures, giving us a glimpse of its first settlements. The Paite tribe has unique social customs, and the chief of the village along with his counsel decide all the affairs of the village. The women of the tribe weave on backstrap looms and their weaves are different from those done in neighboring Nagaland. A small population of tribals grow tea nearby and one can visit a tea sorting factory.
Welcome to the world’s only floating national park. The Keibul Lamjao National Park is also home to the endangered Sangai deer, best seen from a vantage viewpoint or through a boat ride inside the sanctuary.
The largest freshwater lake in Eastern India, you can actually stand here on a piece of land and float along the lake! These are actually floating swamps, better known locally as ‘phumdis’.
This immensely important ecological site, is the economic lifeline of Manipur as it provides hydropower, irrigation and drinking water supply to the area. Go fishing with the locals, visit a homestay on a phumdi for tea or a local home for a meal and to admire their traditional costumes.
About an hour drive from Imphal this small settlement is popular for its very old Pottery technique called Charai Taba or coil pottery–a distinct style of looping clay into various shapes that tribes in Andro specialise in. Most of the pots are handmade and are of different colours (red, dark red and black). Chakpa women are good potters and they make different types of pots that are made for ritualistic and ceremonial purposes.
Explore Andro village and try your hand at pottery along with a demonstration on how the local beer is home brewed using the terracotta pots created here. Also a visit to a nearby village where the local women still practise the traditional methods of salt making in little outhouses set up in their gardens. They make small flat salt blocks that are wrapped in banana or palm leaves. These are later sold in the local markets in and around Imphal to be used during rituals mainly.
About 4 hours from Imphal is the land of the Tangkhul tribe. Ukhrul is home to Shirui Lily which only grows in the hills around this region in the months of April – May. Nearby Sirarakhong is famous for its chilli known as Sirarakhong hathei and it is a part of the Yu river basin. Limestone caves, trek to the Shirui peak and the untouched nature are the main attractions of the place.
The Tangkhul community is very colourful in their dance, attire and are known for their black pottery known as nungbi which is still practised in the nearby villages of Longpi Khullen and Longpi Kajui. The Tangkhuls point out to the association of their forefathers with the seashore. Most of the ornaments of the Tangkhuls such as kongsang, huishon, etc. were made of sea shells, cowrie and conch shells a prominent feature of the people who live on the shore.They were once a part of the Yakkha tribe in China and were first noticed in Manipur by Poireiton, one of the earliest kings of a principality in Manipur valley. There has always existed a political and trade alliance between the Meitei community and the Tangkhul Nagas.
The government organises the Shirui Lily Festival at Ukhrul around late April / early May aiming at the conservation of the state Flower. The festival is a colourful celebration spread over 4 days showcasing numerous traditional and cultural activities. The events during the festival include live music concerts, folk performances, traditional dances, indigenous games and competitions, art and handicraft exhibitions, ethnic food eateries and various adventure activities like camping, biking and trekking.