A loaded title. Let me load it a little more.
Sometimes it is important to say hello to a place with its original, un-enhanced, un-standardized being – just like meeting someone who has left the sleepy state but has not put on the mask to meet the social world. That is the state where you are likely to find the place’s own self and not the front which is designed by the wishes and whims of pseudo-travelers, visitors who demand home-conditions and refuse to mingle with the place they are in, and the marketers who generally ruin the place as it is.
What I mean is, one needs to recognize the kind of traveler one is. Does one like to meet a place at face value? Accept it as it is? And find its uniqueness while accepting that not every city, every town, every place wears its signature on its sleeve?
Places are also quite like people. You have to take a step towards them, work a bit, stretch your arm so that you begin to sense who they are. While in place A, thinking of place B, to me, is like being an infidel. Also, while being in place A, asking for food, living arrangements and such to be like place B (most of the times like one’s home/hometown etc) is like refusing to even want to recognize the place one is in.
Of course, one is constantly juggling choices of places, constraints of time, and what seems to be appealing in the midst of suggestions by people and sites. So, there is always that feeling that one cannot really explore a place fully – but there is that joy of catching a glimpse of whatever one can, in the brief window, that is open.
I am going to write more about my encounter with Manipur over 8 days. But the brief plan is like this:
- Arrive in Manipur in the morning. Depending on the time you have, do the city sight-seeing. Whatever you may do, keep a couple of hours for the Kangla Fort Gardens. if you have time, visit the nearby museum where the artifacts from all over Manipur are housed. Attend one Aarati at the Govindaji temple. More about this, soon.
- Get used to the clock. This is the unsung land of rising sun. 4 AM is the time of Arunodaya – the time of daybreak when the pitch dark begins to turn gray and pink and then orange within half an hour when the sun rises. Similarly, by 5 PM it is dark.
- Next day, leave for Loktak lake. Stop on the way to take numerous places, greet unknown people, and see some more sights. More, soon, on this as well.
- If you can, stay at Sendra Tourist Lodge. It is located at a height and has the best view of the place. Explore the lodge and its campus. Descend its winding steps to meet the lake. Reflect. As soon as lunchtime is over, head towards the boathouse. Get reminded of the novel by Daphney DuMorrier and the pivotal role played by the boathouse. But this boathouse is nothing like the one Manderly had.
Ask the in-charge to get a local boatman to take you for a two-hour ride in the slim, narrow, signature boats of Manipur. Spend the first hour moving away towards a homestay hotel located in the middle (so to say) of the lake, climb up its viewing tower. Listen to the peace. Drink the beauty. Get heady and head towards the boathouse as the darkness begins to envelop you. wonder if any other place allowed you night-boating. Feel the weight of the blanket of complete darkness in which the sound of water lapping against your boat and the rhythmic rowing is the only indication that you are in the water. More on this soon.
- Next day, start for the Keibul Lanjao National Park. Get a guide. Climb the hill to watch the Sangai deer graze lazily. Be draped in amazement that you are standing on a floating island – yes, you read that right – it is a *floating* island made of biomass. Go for a boat ride with the guide. Get down mid-way and try to step on the ‘land’. More on this, soon.
- Ask the Sendra staff to pack an early breakfast for you and head to Moreh. You need not pass through Imphal. There is a road from Keibul Lamjao to Moreh. Stop at Gaby’s for an overnight stay at their cottages. Both Sendra and Gaby’s are expensive, but there is no regret. The food at Gaby’s was not very good, but coffee is to be enjoyed, relatively speaking. Also, enjoy the cottage and the view it offers.
- Have early breakfast and leave for Myanmar border. Do carry Aadhar card. Pass through checking and queries, and arrive in Burma – Myanmar. Hire a local vehical, be stirred by curiosity, wonder, and a strange sense of meeting a neighbor who is an erstwhile family. Eat at Waterworld. More on this, soon.
- Come back home to India and leave for Ukhrul. Stay at Chiko’s, at their hotel named 25 [degrees] by the North. Their food is expensive. Be open to explore the local rice-hotels which serve a bowl of rice, a dal, and a vegetable – also with nonvegetarian options. Enjoy conversation with Shangcham Shangjam and retire early. Leave early next day after early breakfast for Shiroi hill trek.
It is a medium level trek, may take 4 to 5 hours. Climb down and head to Nungbi town. Visit Machihan Sasa’s house of black pottery. Get fascinated by their story of rising to fame and distinction in the middle of continued resource crunch. See some eye-catching shapes of black pottery, and return – totally exhausted.
- Next day, again get up early as if you had spent the previous day just window-shopping. Today, head to Khangkhui village which is the home to Khangkhui caves. Hire a 4×4 vehicle and meet Kasar, an enthusiastic youth who will guide you while weaving the facts and perspective of this village, these caves.
When we asked if there could be some lunch somewhere, he took us to his house where his wife and sister made rice grown in his field, boiled cabbage, and a curry made of squash and split beans which resembled Moong. It was delicious, and there were several nonvegetarian choices also. More on this, soon.
- Leave for Imphal. Book a homestay through Airbnb – we did ours at Singjamei. Stroll nearly and eat at Laneima Food. Their red Thai curry with bamboo shoots was particularly interesting. Rest and get ready for the last day with Manipur.
- Next day, visit Ratan Thiyam’s Chorus Repertory Theatre. It is a place to visit and realize once again how much about Manipur is known to the rest of the world, without you knowing it. While at Kangla Fort, at numerous war memorials, museum, khangkhui, … you learn that ‘North East’ is not just one lump.
This is Manipur, with its own diversity and distinction across its regions. Your local guide could tell you that he knows and speaks six different languages (and he says that in English, and doesn’t count English in his list). Likewise, Ratan Thiyam is a world-renowned stage director but in all likelihood, you may have never heard of him, let alone see some of the plays directed by him.
Later, have lunch at Shri Govindaji temple. You may have to register for it in the morning. Another option is to eat at Laxmi kitchen, which enigmatically closes at 2 PM. Period. Then spend the rest of the day looking for Moonga silk, and other Manipuri textile or whatever you may fancy, or do whatever else you like from the suggestions floating on the internet. Rest well, and return home.