Somthang, the driver, and Japan Nameirakpan, the ‘guide’, arrived in time to start the ‘out of town’ visits by 7.30 am. It was misty as we started the trip, but it cleared up by the time we reached Sendra to appreciate the great Loktak Lake, which occupies close to 200 sq kms. The Loktak is the largest freshwater lake in India. The lake produces most of the fish consumed in Manipur. The huge expanse of water, complemented by floating ‘Phumdis’, is the lifeline of a large number of people who live in the area. The circular ‘Phumdis’, used for fishing is an interesting sight. The fishermen in the lake use nets imported from Burma, which are sturdy and safe. They are quite cheap too. The nets are used for netting birds also. The Sendra is today almost the preserve of the armed forces. It is understood that there were almost 1000 UG activists living in makeshift huts on the ‘Phumdis’ of the lake. Recent action saw the end of such domination and the destruction of the unauthorized constructions.
Part of the Loktak is the Sangai National Park (Keibul Lamchang) that measures 40 sq kms. Prompt action by my guide, Japan, ensured permission from the forest officials for entry into the NP, with a chowkidar to take us to the watch tower. The ‘Phumdi’ is a floating grassland. They draw nutrients from the soil when the water is low and float when the water level rises. These ‘Phumdis’ in the NP are home to the Sangai deer. These deer have special hooves that facilitate them to walk on the floating grasslands. The development of a hydro power project, drawing the waters of the Loktak, is a possible danger to the survival of the Sangai and it’s environ. The visit to the watch tower did not yield a view of the shy Sangai – the offer of the chowkidar to take a small canoe through a narrow water body to another watch tower was politely declined. The canoe used in these parts is made by splitting a log of wood and scooping out the insides. The chowkidar mentioned that the disturbance created by the developmental team has scared the Sangais away from the area. The Government is engaged in developing a proper road to the NP and fencing it.
The love story of Khamba and Toibigi is immortalized in an annual, month long festival in a temple in Moirang. The temple is dedicated to the brave, but poor, Khamba and his lady love, the rich princess, Toibigi. The lovers fell prey to the machinations of those who promoted class distinction and they could not get married. Young lovers visit the temple to seek the blessings of Khamba and Toibigi. The INA War Museum in Moirang is treasure house of rare photographs, letters, personal belongings of Netaji and many artifacts of WWII. It is in the premises of this Museum (Moirang Kangla) on 14th April 1944 that the Indian Tri-color Flag was hoisted for the first time on Indian soil by the INA, advancing with the Japanese forces against the British in Imphal. There is also a replica of the INA Memorial in Singapore, with the inscription ‘Ittefaq, Itmad, Kurbani’. The foundation laid by Netaji at this spot was demolished by the British.
The Loukoupat Lake is a natural lake with boating facilities. Surrounding the lake is an Eco Park. Further on the road to Imphal is the India Peace Memorial constructed by the Japanese Government, at the site of the last battle on Indian soil. Ironically, an inscription on the welcome gate to the memorial says, “Preserve Peace Everywhere”, when that is missing in this beautiful land. In Imphal I visited the State Museum, which is very informative. Close to the Museum is the Polo Ground. The Manipuris believe that they invented the game of Polo. The first king of Manipur, Pakhangba, is supposed to have had divine powers and the game was revealed to him by one of the gods. Thus, Manipur has been home to Polo for more than 2000 years and is said to have been adapted by the British.
Chak Hao – black rice – is used only for special occasions and is not very common. Efforts to buy some for supper requirement from Moirang, Bishnupur Bazar and Imphal did not fructify. After lunch I did the rounds of the ‘Morey Market’ once more and bought a few more pairs of sneakers and some interesting LED lamps. Thereafter, I went to the Cathedral and met up with Frs. Joseph, John and Rev Joseph Mattithany over a cup of tea and Kerala snacks including tapioca chips and halwa – Fr Joseph had recently been to Kerala. Later I was taken to the Bishop’s House where I met a few more priests from Kerala.
It was time to pack once again. The stay in Imphal had come to an end. With visits to Nagaland and Manipur over, only Arunachal Pradesh was left in the North East to visit. Within the week I should be bidding the NE goodbye.