MANIPUR Is irresistible, thanks to cheerful women, delicious food, the temples and a fort

I leave the quaint Imphal airport, with mountains around, and on the way to the hotel, watch graceful Manipuri women near the Rani Market, dressed in their beautiful traditional skirts and colourful shawls. I recollect Tagore's dance-drama in which Arjuna falls in love with princess Chitrangada, the ruler of Manipur.

At around 5 p.m., Imphal is already dark. I long to take a walk, but the guide Suraj warns us it may be too risky with ‘ugs' (the local term for militants) everywhere. Instead, he takes us to the Gobindaji Temple nearby, under a big, waxing moon.

Men in white dhotis and chadors play the Manipuri drums, the Kanshi and the cymbals. The temple guards stand near the doors with long spears in their hands. The final aarti of the day is in progress, and the Gods are about to be put to bed. The temple priest holds the lamp with many wicks, and moves it in a circular motion in front of the Lord and his beloved Radha, a time-honoured ritual.

First is the aarti arthifor Radha and Krishna, next is the turn of Krishna and brother Balaram, and after that the three siblings — Krishna, Balaram and Subhadra. As we watch in silence, the priest drops a burning wick from his oil lamp near our feet, a ritual!

After the aarti, arthithe priest, the temple guards and the musicians go around the temple, and chant bhajans. I tag along, as the bells on the temple tower chime. As I leave the temple, the priest calls out to me and offers the prasad — a bag filled with slices of fruit and some flowers.

Myanmar's neighbour

The next day, we head to Moreh. With bad road, the bone-breaking and breath-taking 110-km drive takes about five hours. After witnessing every shade of green with Himalayan hills in the background, we reach Moreh. Moreh is on the border of India and on the other side is the district of Tamu in Myanmar.

We eat a lunch of toor dhal, rice and cabbage curry at an eatery in Moreh, and I like the food. I find it similar to Bengali food.

Another beautiful place in Manipur is the large Loktak Lake in Moirang district. It has phumdis or floating islands where people live. Unfortunately, attacks by militants are said to arise from around the area. After a Manipuri lunch — dried fish curry, bamboo shoots cooked in a gravy and some fresh fish — at the Imphal marketplace, we leave.

The local market is enchanting with the colours and character of Manipur. Interestingly, it's an all-women market, and they sell everything from shawls to fish.

On the last day, we visit the Kangla Fort. A historical and archaeological site, it is said to be the old palace and fortress of Manipur, later occupied by the British. There are citadels and ruins of old palaces inside, and a huge moat. The main entrance to the palace and its walls have been destroyed.

The sculptures of the dragons of Kangla Sha, destroyed in the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891 have been restored. The buildings have been restored in parts by the State's archaeology department.

After the fort, it's time to head to the airport, carrying memories of a tiny Indian State.

Keywords: ManipurImphal