Manipur, described as the Jewel of India lies south of Nagaland and north of Mizoram. It shares the international boundary with Myanmar on the eastern & southers side. Assam is its neighbour on the west. Though lying at the eastern extremity of India, Manipur is famous all over India thanks to its classical dance form, the Manipuri. The Manipuri dance is marked by graceful and restrained movements and delicate hand gestures.
Manipur is a mosaic of traditions and cultural patterns, best represented by its dance forms. The Lai-Haraoba, a traditional stylised dance is a ritual dance appeasing gods and goddesses. The Lai-Haraoba festival is generally celebrated between April and May, after the harvest season. The Raas songs and dances express the Leelas (sports) of Lord Krishna as a child with the Gopis (milkmaids) of Brindavan, and depict their yearning for communion with the Lord. The tribal dances of Manipur are the expression of love, creativity and aestheticism of the tribal people of the state. Manipuris were earlier recognised as skilful warriors and still practice the arts of wrestling, sword fighting and martial arts. Sogol Kangjei (Manipuri Polo) is the principal sport of the state. Indeed, Polo is believed to have originated here. Muknakangjei (Wrestling Hockey) is also a very popular game in Manipur. The game is part of a ceremonial function and enjoyed due patronage in the olden days. Another popular game known as Yubi-Lakpi (Manipuri Rugby) is played, using a greased coconut.
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Imphal, a mini-metropolis , the capital of this beautiful land of blue-green hills, cascading rapids, carpets of flowers and winding rivers beckons the tourist. It is connected by road with Guwahati (Assam) through National Highway No.39 and Silchar (Assam) through National Highway No.53.
Here the Govindajee Temple is a prominent Vaishnavite centre. The simple aesthetic structure has two golden domes and a large raised hall where ceremonial dances are performed on special occasions. The shrine of Vishnu is flanked by shrines of Krishna & Bal Ram on one side and Jagannath on the other. In the heart of the city are two memorials, the towering Shaheed Minar in Tikendrajit Park that commemorates the martyrs who died fighting British Colonialism and the War Cemetery, that revives the memories of those British and Indian soldiers who laid down their lives during the Second World War, which came to the doorstep of Imphal. The heritage of Manipur can be viewed in the State Museum, located near the polo ground. It is a store-house of Manipur's past. On display are works of art, archaeology, natural history, textiles besides a portrait collection of former rulers of Manipur and armoury of the Royal army. If you feel like shopping, visit the unique Khwairamband Bazar. All the stall holders are women - almost 3000 Imas or mothers. It is split into two sections on either side of the road.
Six kms. away, on the Imphal Kangchup road is the Zoological garden at lroishemba. It takes pride in sheltering one of the rarest species of the world - the brow antlered deer. Also near Imphal, at a distance 12 kms., is the Khonghampat Orchidarium where visitors can view over 120 species of orchids including some of the rarest orchids in the world.
Surrounded by the New Manipur University Complex and amidst pine and jack fruit trees, about 8 kms. from Imphal lies Langthabal where you can see the ruins of an old historic palace, well planned temples and ceremonial houses.
45 kms. away is Moirang. The town is one of the main seats of early Manipuri folk culture with the ancient temple of the pre-Hindu deity Lord Thangjing, situated here. In the month of May, men and women, dressed in colourful traditional costumes sing and dance in honour of the Lord at the Moirang Lai Haraoba which is a ritual dance festival held every year. This town has a special historic importance, as it was here that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army (INA) hoisted its flag for the first time on Indian soil. The collection of letters, photographs, articles, records and other memorabilia are on display at the INA Museum.
48 kms. away from Imphal is Loktak Lake and Sendra Island. This is a saucer shaped fresh water lake that attracts many species of birds. Part of it forms a rare ecosystem. This huge and beautiful stretch of water is like a miniature inland sea. From the Tourist Home, set atop Sendra Island, visitors can get a bird's eye view of the lake and the life on it: the fishermen and their families who live in neat huts on its shores. They cast their nets on the lake, rear fish farms in it using nets as floating walls, harvest it for the water chestnut known as heikak, and even build their houses on islands of floating weed that drift around the lake. On the western fringes of the Loktak Lake, 40 kms. south of Imphal, lies the charming resort of Phubala. It joins the mainland by a low causeway.
The islands of Loktak are unique: they 'float'. The islands comprise of marsh and grass with a root of solid earth. Situated on the fringes of the Loktak lake is the Keibul Lamjao National Park. Habitat of the endangered dancing deer, the brow antlered deer of Manipur, it is the only floating National Park in the world.
In the midst of Siroi hills and near the Khangkhui Lime Caves is Ukhrul. This district headquarters of Manipur east, 83 kms. away is the highest hill station of the state. A centre of the colourful warrior tribe Tangkhul Nagas, it is well developed and famous for a peculiar type of land lily, the Siroi, grown on the Siroi Hills. Siroi Hills and Kangkhui Lime Cavesare interesting places for excursions. Ukhrul bears a gay and festive look during Christmas time.
Manipur specialises in handloom which is a Cottage industry in the state and almost every household owns a loom, with women busy in the creation of typically unique native designs. Famous among them is the Moirangphee design, believed to have been introduced by Princess Thoibi of Moirang. The Phanek or snake design has red and black stripes and is symbolic of snakes. Pick up an exotic shawl, tangkhul scarf, lashingphee blanket, cushion cover, bedspread or ready made garment. Your choice of handicrafts to decorate your home includes Krishna Radha dolls in Raslila pose, Phirooks or decorative papier mache flower vases, baskets, bamboo trays. Or just wear a bamboo hat and walk away.
Ideal places to buy such handicrafts are Paona Bazar, where fixed price shops will lessen your shopping worries, Manipur Handlooms Sales Emporium, Handloom House and Tribal Emporium and Sangai Handloom, near the Gandhi memorial.
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.