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.
Moreh, situated in the Indo-Myanmar border of Manipur, is dominated by the Kukis but is a hub of migrant communities from all across India, making it a melting pot of people and cultures. It is fast growing as the commercial centre of the state.
Moreh is tied commercially to the market town of Tamu in Myanmar, which is often referred to as its twin town. From Tamils to Punjabis to Marwaris, Nepalis and Biharis, the marketplace is abuzz with shops and shopkeepers of immense diversity. Which makes Moreh a unique spot of experience for the traveller. All in all, Moreh hustles and bustles with life and commerce, and provides a glimpse of the liminal nature of places located in the borders.