Of all the Indian states that I have travelled in, I would rate Manipur at the top of the excitement scale, till now. And the challenge scale, as well. As a solo traveller, I pictured myself standing for hours by dusty roads waiting for small vans to arrive, over loaded with people and luggage.
Clambering on the top of the van and claiming your seat seems to be quite acceptable as a mode of transport.
How about finding a tiny toehold on a foot board at the back of a van?
Travelling on public transport would work for those who are going from Point A to Point B. You will miss out scenic spots by the road because public transport vans and buses do not stop at random spots by the road. Traveling with a guide provides you the luxury of stopping the car, walking around, climbing up a 40 degree slope to take a look at pineapple plantations and then to admire the view of Imphal valley from the top.
My knowledgeable guide Bashan had hired a friend's Hyunday i20 to take me around. This helped keep costs low, compared to hiring a taxi and a driver.
Further, Bashan stopped at a bus stop that contains a memorial. The event being remembered is the Malom Massacre. The soldiers of the Assam Rifles had fired indiscriminately at a bus stop where civilians, including old ladies and children, were waiting for buses. The para military forces got away with this killing. The memorial records the names of the victims.
Bashan asked me whether I have heard of Ms Sharmila, a human rights activist who has been on a fast since the year 2000. Oh yes, the name did ring a bell. The 'Iron Lady of Manipur', as Ms Sharmila is called, has been protesting silently to remove the special powers accorded to the Assam Rifles forces to shoot first and ask questions later. She has been jailed on charges of attempted suicide, and kept in solitary confinement. According to Wikipedia, Ms Sharmila is released once a year, and when she continues to fast, she is arrested and put into her jail cell again to be force fed for another year until the next release.
Ironically, not too far away in Moirang, I happened upon a car where interesting graffiti had been written on the mud that caked the rear of a parked car.
Manipur seems to represent a snapshot from the past. Spare parts of Lunas and Vespas are still sold, vehicles we used to ride back in the 1970s.
The choice of hotels in Imphal is quite limited. I had enquired via email and phone before my trip. The top rated and much publicized hotel (Classic) was full. They referred me to their 'sister' hotel (Imphal), where I was quoted a rate of well over Rs 2.5k per night. Fortunately, my guide helped me find a room in Hotel Nirmala, where a small, economy room was available for Rs 500 and a much better room (double) was available for Rs 600. That worked great for me. I opted for this room. Very comfortable, mattresses of just the right firmness, clean, friendly front desk and very good room service. They accept Credit Cards, as well.
I would like to acknowledge the contribution of my guide Bashan Waikhom in making my trip to Manipur a memorable one. The WWII memorials, Lake Loktak, Sadu Chiru Waterfall, two ancient Meitei Temples, Rice hotels, Meat hotels, Snacks hotels, local distilleries and other sights, all of which were a part of the tapestry of my memories of Manipur.
How did I get to know Bashan? I would like to thank the owner of the Indian Terrain Nature Club whom I 'met' via the TripAdvisor Forum, for having introduced me. The Indian Terrain Nature Club organizes group tours to the region.
My knowledge gathering about the WWII battles was enabled by the remarkable Battle of Imphal tour services that Hemant Katoch has put together. Thank you for your commendable work.
Will I travel to Manipur again? Why not? Will I try public transport? Oh, certainly, at least for inter- and intra-state travel. Further, I may even consider crossing the border into Myanmar (Burma) if that is allowed using a visa. Need to start my research. There is much work to be done.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my experiences as much as I have enjoyed compiling my story in pictures.
Thank you for joining me!
The posts in this series are listed below.