MANIPUR: THE LAND OF THE MEITEI PEOPLE, LOKTAK LAKE AND IMPHAL

MANIPUR

Manipur is strategically located in the Northeastern corner of India bordering Myanmar to the east, Nagaland to north and Mizoram to the south. Manipur is known for its tribal groups, and handicrafts and handloom textiles and was occupied by the Japanese in World War II. It is very remote and rarely visited by foreigners. Many of the foreign visitors are Japanese visiting the graves of forefathers who died in the war. At one time permits were needed to visit Manipur but that is no longer the case. State Tourism Website: www.manipurtourism.gov.in

Manipur state covers 22,327 square kilometers (8,621 square miles), is home to about 2.9 million people and has a population density of 130 people per square kilometer. About 71 percent of the population live in rural areas. Imphal is the capital and largest city, with about 270,000 people.

Manipur has been at the crossroads of Asian economic and cultural exchange for more than 2,500 years. It has long connected the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia to Southeast Asia, China and East Asia. Manipur has traditionally been ruled by kings, the first and greatest of which was Ningthou Kangba, who reigned in the 15th century B.C.. During the days of the British Indian Empire, the Kingdom of Manipur was one of the princely states.

Manipur has a rich cultural past dating back to centuries. It is the birthplace of Raas Lila- a renowned form of classical dance which was created by Maharaja Bhagyachandra. Manipur is also the birthplace of modern polo. Locals call this game ‘Sagol Kangjei’. It is a land of festivals and almost every month the people of Manipur get together to celebrate various festivals which reflects its rich culture, traditions and religious practices. Manipur has a travel friendly climate that makes anytime of the year favorable for visitors. The nine mountain ranges that surround the state prevent the cold winds from the north from reaching the valleys where most people live and also act as a barrier to cyclonic storms from the Bay of Bengal. Winters can be sometimes cold. The maximum temperature in the summer months is 32 °C (90 °F). In winter the temperature often falls below 0 °C (32 °F), bringing frost. January is the coldest month in the state, and the warmest is July.

Religions in Manipur (2011): Hinduism (41.39 percent); Christianity (41.29 percent); Islam (8.40 percent); Sanamahism (7.78 percent); Buddhism (0.25 percent); Heraka (0.23 percent); Judaism (0.07 percent); Sikhism (0.05 percent); Jainism (0.06 percent); Not religious (0.38 percent)

Northeastern India

Northeastern India looks like a wing that was connected to India as a kind of afterthought. It is linked to India proper by a narrow strip of land between Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Bangladesh. Northeastern India is made up of the seven states of 1) Assam, 2) Meghalaya, 3) Tripura, 4) Arunachal Pradesh, 5) Mizoram, 6) Manipur, and 7) Nagaland. Assam is a large tea-growing state. Arunchal Pradesh, the northeastern-most state of India, is also claimed by China and requires a permit to visit. Meghlaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura are small ethnic states set up for the main ethnic groups that live in each one. They were set up largely to protect indigenous minorities living in them who are mainly Christians.Some of the states were off limits to foreigners in part to protect the culture and way of life of the tribal groups that live there. Some have experienced separatists violence,

Northeast India is one of the country's most scenic region. The snowcapped Himalayas provide a magnificent backdrop in the northern part of the region for pine forest, flower-covered meadows and lush tea plants that thrive in the regions misty weather. A multitude of ethnic groups occupy the southern and eastern regions, where there are dense rain forest with rare plants and animals. The main attractions are hill stations, national parks, Himalayan peaks and ethnic minorities. Some areas receive quite a bit of rain, especially in the monsoon season. In the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland, upward of 90 percent of the population is tribal. However, in the remaining northeast states of Assam, Manipur, Sikkim, and Tripura, tribal peoples form between 20 and 30 percent of the population.

Certain tensions exist between these states and a relatively distant central government and between the tribal peoples, who are natives of these states, and migrant peoples from other parts of India. These tensions have led the natives of these states to seek a greater participation in their own governance, control of their states' economies, and their role in society. Emerging from these desires for greater self-governance are new regional political parties and continued insurgent movements. In addition to the more frequently analyzed regional movements in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and states such as Assam and Nagaland in the northeast, there are other regional movements, such as those in the Tripura and Miso tribal areas. [Source: Library of Congress]

There are more than 30 different separatist insurgent groups in Assam and northeast India. They include the United Liberation Front of Assam, the Manipur People’s Army, the National Liberation Front of Tripura and Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland Some of them have been fighting since independence in 1947 and have a history of fighting that goes back before that.

For a long time many areas of Assam and Northeast India were off limits to tourists, and some areas still are, because of the insurgent groups and tensions with China and to a lesser degree Bangladesh. There is periodic fighting between Assamese and Bengalis, and the Indian army and the Nagas, a tribal group that has never been completely tamed. You need a special permit to some areas. In recent years an effort has been made to open up the area. Restrictions on traveling are slowly being lifted. In 1995, the restricted area permits were lifted for Meghalaya, Assam and Tripura. In 2010, they were lifted in Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur. Arunachal Pradesh still requires a permit.

People of Manipur

The demographic make-up of Manipur is very diverse. The Meitei are the main ethnic group in Manipur and make up the majority of the state's population (See Below). Nagas and Kuki/Zo are the major tribe conglomerates. The Nagas in Manipur are further sub-divided into sub-tribes like Anāl, Liangmai, Mao, Maram, Maring, Poumai, Rongmei, Tangkhul and Zeme. There are also Pangals or the Pangans (Manipuri Muslims), Gurkhas and other communities, who speak a variety of Sino-Tibetan languages.

The Kuki is a group related to Chin that live in the hill country of Manipur and northwest Myanmar. There are around 200,000 of them, with around 80 percent of them in India and 20 percent in Burma. They speak a Tibeto-Burman language called Thadou (and are sometimes called by that name) and are believed to have originated from China or Tibet.

The Kuki have traditionally lived in fortified villages on the top of ridges in the jungle. In the old days villages raiding and head hunting were common. The taking of heads was closely linked with the cult of the dead . Heads taken in conflicts were placed on the graves of deceased relatives and were believed to work for them as servants in the after life. Heads were also collected for the burial of chiefs and as settlements for debts. The Kuki marriage ritual often includes a mock elopement with a feast featuring wrestling and throwing mud, dung and rotten eggs at friends of the groom. Premarital sex and divorce are common. Large feasts are held to honor men who killed all the dangerous animals of the forest.

Languages in Manipur (2011): Meitei (Manipuri) (53.3 percent); Thadou (7.84 percent); Tangkhul (6.41 percent); Poula (4.74 percent); Rongmei (3.83 percent); Mao (3.12 percent); Nepali (2.23 percent); Paite (1.92 percent); Hmar (1.72 percent); Liangmai (1.59 percent); Vaiphei (1.39 percent); Kuki (1.32 percent); Maram (1.12 percent); Bengali (1.07 percent); Others (8.4 percent).

Meitei People

The Meitei are the main ethnic group in Manipur and make up the majority of the state's population. They make up abouy 1.5 million of Manipur’s 2.9 million people and have traditionally been centered Loktak Lake region. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Loktak Lake (Loktak Part) and Keibul Lamjao National Park (KLNP) are surrounded by many villages mainly inhabited by the Meitei, a dominant ethnic group of Manipur. These places are historically, culturally, economically and politically very significant in Meitei society as it is mentioned in various folk songs and folk tales of Manipur. There are many ancient chronicle (Puyas) written in Meitei mayek (script) namely, Kangbarol, Leisemlon, Pungkanbalol, Karallon, Umanglon, Leihou Naophamlon and Moirang Kangleirol Lambuba, in which the cultural and historical significance of Loktak Lake and KLNP are mentioned. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The Meiteis have rich culture out of which the floating huts exemplify uniqueness in their architecture. Three hillock island villages namely, Karang, Thanga and Ithing are located in the Loktak Lake with few floating huts erected on the Phumdi. Phumdi is a heterogeneous mass of soil, vegetation and organic matter at various stages of decomposition. They occur in all sizes and thickness, occupying almost half of the lake area and three-fourth of the Keibul Lamjao Area.

“The Umang-lai (sacred groves/ forest deity) is worshiped in almost all the villages surrounding the Loktak Lake and KLNP. The folk songs, dance and other cultural rituals performed during umang-lai haraoba festivals (pleasing the sacred groves) in these villages are quite different from other such festivals performed in other villages of Manipur state. Indigenous boat race, water transport systems, indigenous aquatic foods, etc are some of the significant features of that area. The Loktak Lake and Keibul Lamjao is also associated with the Epic love story of seven incarnations of ‘Khamba Thoibi’. There are many sacred places associated with Khamba and Thoibi epic which are still worshipped by the villagers.

“On the other hand, many legendary stories are associated with Sangai. One of such legend is: a prince of Luwang clan (one among the nine clans of Meitei tribe) of Manipur had transformed himself into a majestic deer to be known as Sangai. Second, the ancient royal boat (Hiyang Hirel) had the decoration of Sangai head on its head part. Third, according to Moirang Kangleirol (Folklore of Moirang), a legendary hero called Kadeng Thanjahanba, once brought a gravid female Sangai as a loving gift for his beloved Tonu Laijingrembi and released the deer free in the wild of Keibul Lamjao, thence-forth the place became the only abode of the Sangai.

“According to Meitei mythology, Ebuthou Thangjing, the divine ruler of the Moirang kingdom is worshipped as deity and deemed one among the creators of the universe. This kingdom was located near Loktak Lake, 45 kilometers from Imphal, was rich in culture and tradition. In addition to these symbolic cultural places, there are many other sacred places in and around Loktak Lake.”

Meitei Land-Use and Economy

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Meitei ethnic group is mainly dependent on Loktak Lake and KLNP. Agriculture and fishing are the main economy of the people living in and around the lake. In addition to these, the villagers collect the aquatic plants and other aquatic food products from Loktak Lake and KLNP which are very costly and popular indigenous cuisines of Manipur. However, the importance of Loktak Lake in the overall socio-economy of the people of Manipur state cannot be ignored as it is the main source of livelihood. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The vast agricultural fields surrounding the Loktak Lake is known as pat-lou (pat meaning ‘lake’ and lou meaning ‘agricultural field’) where indigenous paddy (such as Touthabi) are cultivated. The Punghul method (in this method, the land was to be tilled first and the seeds were sown over it again and finally the seeds were covered with soil by one more tilling) is generally employed in pat-lou.

“The agricultural use of the Phumdi in the Loktak Lake vividly exemplifies an exceptional system which has evolved organically and harmoniously over time. Wild rice and vegetables are commonly grown. Wild rice, locally known as Kambong or Kambon-ishing is an aquatic/wetland plant of Manipur and is used for various purposes by the ethnic people ranging from food to fodder, thatch roofing, firewood substitute, house wall plastering etc. The infected gall forming culm (infected with fungus Ustilago Esculenta) is highly priced by local people and regarded as delicacy.

“The fish production of the state is mostly contributed by the Loktak Lake. Athaphum is a fishing technique using enclosures of strips of Phumdi arranged in a circular formation. This fishing technique has evolved over ages, where thin Phumdi and other plants such as E. stagnina, Capillipedium sp. etc. are put within the enclosure to attract fish. The harvest phase is called phum namba. The frequency ranges from once every fortnight to even three months.”

Imphal

Imphal (500 kilometers east-southeast from Guwahati) is the capital and largest city of , with about 270,000 people. It is believed to have existed since the third century B.C. In recent times it won some notoriety when troops of the Indian National Army planted the Indian flag here during World War II, declaring India as an independent state.

Imphal is spread out along the valley of the Manipur river. Flanked by snow-capped peaks and parallel ranges of verdant hills, Imphal is situated in a beautiful area with lakes, natural caves. tea estates to lush parks and teeming flora and fauna, The Imphal River, a tributary of the Manipur River flows through the town. At the heart of the city lies the Kangla Fort, a grand structure standing on the bank of the Imphal river. In its ruined ramparts, the fort hides vestiges of the glory of its past rulers. Steeped in history, Imphal's rich heritage can be traced in the various museums here, the most important of which is the Manipur State Museum. The city preserves its past glories and honours the martyrs with a memorials and graveyards.

Getting There: By Air: Bir Tikendrajit International Airport (Tulihal Airport earlier) is just 5 kilometers from Imphal and has flights from Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai, Agartala, Aizawl, Guwahati and Silchar. By Road: Major cities including Guwahati, Kohima and Dimapur are connected to Imphal by the AH1 and AH2. You can also take NH 150 that connects Imphal with Aizawl via Churachandpur and NH 37 to Silchar via Jiribam. There are many private buses running daily from Guwahati, Dimapur and Silchar to Imphal By Train: You can take a train to the nearest railhead Dimapur in Nagaland, 215 kilometers away. Else, you can reach Silchar in Assam which is 275 kilometers away.

Battle of Imphal

Perhaps the biggest waste of human life was ill-fated Imphal operation in March 1944 to capture the east Indian city of Imphal. More than 72,500 soldiers out of 100,000, died or were wounded, A commander wrote, “Our men on the front line have lost their ability to fight due to illness and starvation, without ammunition in torrential rain and a sea of mud, all due to incompetency.”

The Battle of Imphal took place in the region around the city of Imphal, the capital of the state of Manipur in North-East India from March until July 1944. Japanese armies attempted to destroy the Allied forces at Imphal and invade India, but were driven back into Burma with heavy losses. Together with the simultaneous Battle of Kohima on the road by which the encircled Allied forces at Imphal were relieved, the battle was the turning point of the Burma Campaign, part of the South-East Asian Theatre of the Second World War. The defeat at Kohima and Imphal was the largest defeat to that date in Japanese history. [Source: Wikipedia]

At the start of 1944, the war was going against the Japanese on several fronts. They were being driven back in the central and south west Pacific, and their merchant ships were under attack by Allied submarines and aircraft. In south east Asia, they had held their lines over the preceding year, but the Allies were preparing several offensives from India and the Chinese province of Yunnan into Burma. In particular, the town of Imphal in Manipur on the frontier with Burma was built up to be a substantial Allied logistic base, with airfields, encampments and supply dumps. Imphal was linked to an even larger base at Dimapur in the Brahmaputra River valley by a road which wound for 100 miles (160 km) through the steep and forested Naga Hills.

In March 1943, the Japanese command in Burma had been reorganised. A new headquarters, Burma Area Army, was created under Lieutenant-General Masakazu Kawabe. One of its subordinate formations, responsible for the central part of the front facing Imphal and Assam, was Fifteenth Army. Lieutenant-General Renya Mutaguchi was appointed to command this army in July 1943. From the moment he took command, Mutaguchi forcefully advocated an invasion of India. Mutaguchi planned to exploit the capture of Imphal by advancing to the Brahmaputra valley. This would cut the Allied lines of communication to the front in northern Burma, where the American-led Northern Combat Area Command was attempting to construct the Ledo Road to link India and China by land.

When the Allies received intelligence that a major Japanese offensive was impending, they withdrew their forward divisions into the Imphal plain and forced the Japanese to fight at the end of impossibly long and difficult lines of communication. The Japanese launched several attacks and but the best they could achieve was a stalemate. By May, all Japanese attacks had come to a halt and the Allies began a counter-offensive. By this time, the Japanese were at the end of their endurance. Many units had not received adequate supplies since the offensive began, and their troops were starving. Many Japanese troops were forced to abandon their defensive positions to scavenge for supplies in local villages or on the Japanese lines of communication. After driving rearguards from a Japanese division two large leading groups of Allied troops met at Milestone 109, 10 miles (16 km) north of Imphal, in late June, and the siege of Imphal was raised.

Sights in Imphal

Sights in Imphal include the Khwairamband bazaar, Manipur Zoo, Khonhampat Orchidarium, Loktak Lake, Mornag, and Mutua Museum. Polo is believed to have originated from here. The season begins in November. The City Convention Center is built in modern style of architecture using glass panes. Hanuman Thakur Temple is nestled on the banks of the Imphal River. Shaheed Minar and Bir Tikendrajit Park are located at the heart of the city.

Ima Keithel (Ima Market) is believed to be the largest all-women market in the world. It is an amazing sight to see local women dressed in traditional phaneks (long skirts tightly draped around the waist) and innaphis (shoulder drapes very similar to shawls) setting up their shops and stalls every morning as they get ready to welcome scores of customers. As you explore the bustling bazaars of the city, don't miss out on the vibrant handicrafts on sale here. From exquisite bamboo and cane products to beautiful pottery articles, there's a fine selection of crafts on offer.

Kangla Fort (on the banks of the Imphal river) was once a grand structure that has been in existence for more than two millenniums now. Today, its charming ruins, on the western side of the river, bear vestiges of its former grandeur. Several shrines peppered across the fort are quite popular among tourists. Since Kangla served as the ancient capital of Manipur, several Meetei monarchs ruled from the Kangla Fort. The Kangla Museum is divided into two galleries. While the first one displays portraits of Manipur rulers, a model of the Kangla Fort and maps of the state, the second gallery showcases archaeological excavations discovered from Kangla. The fort remains open to visitors from 7:00am to 5:00pm. Imphal

Shree-Shree Govindajee Temple is a golden twin-domed temple known to be the historic center of Vaishnavites (worshippers of Lord Vishnu). Built in the traditional Nagara style of architecture, the white building of the temple looks truly majestic and is contrasted perfectly by golden domes. Dedicated to Govindajee or Lord Krishna, Shree-Shree Govindajee Temple houses the idols of Lord Govinda and Goddess Radha, along with statues of Lord Balaram, Lord Jaganath, Goddess Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra. The best time to visit the temple is during the morning aarti ritual, when folk music is played to worship the deities. The temple provides the perfect setting for meditation and Mantop is the best spot to soak in peace and quiet. Visitors can also pre-book for prasad and enjoy a wholesome vegetarian meal at the temple premises. The temple was originally built in 1846 during the reign of Maharaj Nara Singh, the king of Manipur (1844-1850). It lies adjacent to the royal palace of the former maharajas of Manipur and has a raised congregation hall and a paved courtyard.

Manipur Zoological Gardens is spread out over an area of around eight hectares. Home to 400 species of animals and birds, the gardens are famed for providing a home for the graceful antlered deer called sangai, is one of the world's rarest species. Surrounded by verdant forests and majestic hillocks, the park is blessed with a rich biodiversity and attracts nature and wildlife lovers with its diverse flora and fauna. Visitors can come across around 55 bird species at the park while the animal section of the park houses 420 species, the sangai being its highlight. The Manipur Zoological Gardens can be visited everyday of the week barring Mondays from 10:00am to 4.30pm.

Imphal War Cemetery (at Deulahland, opposite the DM College) contains the graves of Indian and British soldiers, who died in the Battle of Imphal between March and July in 1944. The well-kept cemetery sprawls over a large area covered with grass and stone markers and bronze plaques have been used to display the names of the martyrs on their respective graves. Tourists visiting the cemetery also get a chance to explore the rich flora of the region as beautiful flowers and tall trees have been planted to enhance its scenic beauty. The cemetery has 1,600 graves. The Imphal War Cemetery is managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Manipur State Museum offers great insight into the history and lives of the people of Manipur and its fascinating tribal heritage. The most striking feature of the museum is the 54-ft-long royal boat named Hiyang Hiren, which has been displayed in the museum's open gallery. From costumes and polo equipment used by the royalty to tribal clothes, war weapons, ancient relics and documents, visitors will come across some rare exhibits. The museum also houses a great collection of portraits of the former rulers of Manipur, along with traditional agricultural equipment, Buddha relics, tribal ornaments, smoking pipes and Manipur textiles. The museum also conducts regular exhibitions, cultural appreciation courses and awareness programs for visitors. The museum can be visited from 10:00am to 4:00pm everyday except Mondays and second Saturdays.

Sights Near Imphal

Sights Near Imphal include Sanamahi Kiong Temple, located in Nongmaijing Hills; Sanamahi Kiong Temple; Kaina Temple, situated amidst the verdant hills of Manipur's Yairipok area; Santhei Natural Park, on the outskirts of Imphal at Andro village; Nupi Lan Memorial Complex; and the Indian National Army Memorial and Museum at Moirang. There are also many places to go hiking, trekking and exploring.

Sekta Archaeological Living Museum, (16 kilometers from Imphal) is one of Imphal's prime tourist attractions. Commonly referred to as Sekta Kei, it provides an opportunity to explore ancient antiques depicting the history of the tribes in Manipur during the 14th and 15th centuries. The various sections of the museum introduce visitors to the traditions and rituals followed by the tribals during the ancient times. The museum also houses a unique collection of ornaments, exquisite pottery, semi-precious stones and equipment made of metal. Visitors can also come across rare artefacts belonging to the ex-Meitei and Naga rulers. The museum lies on an archaeological site that was excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and archaeologists from Manipur. The excavations revealed six marked burial sites. One burial mound has still been protected by the State Archaeology Department. Covering an area of around 0.35 acre, the Sekta Mound makes for an interesting visit.

Shirui Hills in the Shiri-Kashong range, is the home of the rare Shirui lily, the state flower of Manipur. The pinkish-white flower is found only in the Shirui Hill Range and can be seen in full bloom for a few months starting from mid-May every year. The rare flower has been awarded by the Royal Horticultural Society at its flower show in London. In addition to Shirui lily, visitors can also witness more than 1,000 different flowering plants like rare orchids, rhododendrons like horamwon, shirungwon, khongwon, sirawon, phanwon, tipkhawon and other natural herbs. The Shirui Hill range is also home to several endangered species of birds, including Manipur's state bird, Nongyin or Mrs Hume's bar-packed pheasant. The picturesque beauty of Shirui Hills, the splendid views it offers and its rich biodiversity make it one of the most popular attractions in Manipur and a perfect place to unwind in the lap of nature.

Nillai Tea Garden gives tourists an opportunity to explore lush green tea estates and try aromatic flavors of black and green teas grown in the region. Situated on Hallui Hills, Nillai Tea Garden is one such tea estate that attracts visitors in large numbers for its rich variety of tea and its special green tea. Tourists can take a guided tour of the tea estate and learn about the process that goes behind making tea. The guide from the tea estate will show you how hand-plucked tea leaves are sun dried and then naturally processed by locals. The speciality of the green tea at the Nillai Tea Garden is that its authentic flavor can be tasted only after it is boiled twice. Surrounded by verdant hillocks and dotted with patches of greenery, the mist-covered tea garden is an absolute delight for nature-lovers and people who have a special corner for tea in their hearts.

Khoupum Valley (81 kilometers from Imphal) is the home to the Rongmei tribe and is the second-largest valley in the state. Bordered by verdant hills and dotted with paddy fields, Khoupam Valley offers a great opportunity to unwind in the lap of nature away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities. The most popular attraction in the valley is the scenic Khouduang Waterfall, which is a famous picnic spot. Tourists can also visit the pristine Khoupam Lake, lying at the heart of the valley. Other places worth visiting in the valley include the Khudkai Cave and the Khoupam Dam.

Khangkhui Caves (95 kilometers from Imphal) is a natural limestone cave famous for its large and interesting limestone formations, stalactites and stalagmites. The cave houses two large chambers and five tunnels. Finding one's way out through the dark cave makes for a lot of fun. The cave once served as a shelter for the locals during the Second World War. Several artefacts dating back to the Palaeolithic age have been discovered during archaeological excavations carried out in and around the cave.

Keibul Lamjao National Park

Keibul Lamjao Conservation Area (30 kilometers south of Imphal) contains the only floating park in the world and was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Keibul Lamjao Conservation Area represents an extraordinary story of natural antiquity, diversity, beauty and human attachment. Keibul Lamjao Conservation Area (KLCA) comprises of a core area of Keibul Lamjao National Park (KLNP) (40 square kilometers) and a buffer of Loktak Lake (140 square kilometers) and Pumlen Pat (43 square kilometers). The property area along with buffer area is located in the southern part of Bishnupur district and eastern part of Thoubal district of Manipur, India. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

The Loktak Lake has a unique ecosystem called ‘Phumdi’ (a Manipuri word meaning floating mats of soil and vegetation). The largest area of the Phumdi in the Loktak lake is in the Keibul Lamjao National Park, which is home to Manipur brow-antlered deer (Rucervus eldi eldi) also popularly known as the Sangai. The habitat exclusively consists of floating meadows and an elevated strip of hard ground that dissects the park into northern and southern zones. For effective in-situ conservation of Sangai, Forest Department of Manipur in collaboration with Wildlife Institute of India has developed a plan to reintroduce Sangai in the adjoining area having similar habitat.

The Keibul Lamjao Conservation Area is of superlative natural beauty and provides some of the most spectacular scenery on earth....called the Switzerland of east and is famous for many peculiar features. Adding more to its beauty like a sparkling diamond amongst the pearls, a beautiful lake known as “Loktak Lake” is situated in the north of Keibul Lamajo Conservation area. Loktak (LOK = stream + TAK = the end) is the journey end of several streams and rivers. Loktak looks like a vast sheet of water reflecting light like a mirror. It is the largest fresh water lake in North Eastern India. Some hillocks protrude from the water surface. There are floating swampy islands, the characteristic feature of the Loktak Lake, within KLCA, locally called Phumdi. Phumdi are the actual jewel of the lake, made of thick mat of humus and dead vegetation, one fifth of which is above water and the remaining four fifths are below the surface of water.

Loktak Lake

Loktak Lake (20 kilometers south of Imphal) is the largest freshwater lake in Northeast India and the primary attraction of Manipur and Keibul Lamjao Conservation Area. The lake is famous for its floating circular swamps, which are called phumdis. These swamps look almost like islands and are a mass of soil, organic matter and vegetation. The lake houses the only floating national park in the world, Keibul Lam Jao National Park, which is the last refuge of the endangered brow-antlered deer or sangai, Manipur's state animal. In addition, the lake shelters about 230 species of aquatic plants, 100 types of birds and 400 species of fauna like barking deer, sambar and Indian python. Loktak is a visual treat for birdwatchers, who can find species like black kite, East Himalayan pied kingfisher, northern hill myna, lesser eastern jungle crow, Burmese pied myna and lesser skylark.

Tourists can book a homestay along the lake to get a firsthand experience of life by the lake. The best way to explore the lake is by boating in long fishing boats in the early hours of the morning. You can also visit the fishermen islands in the vicinity, and engage in some fishing. To get splendid views of sunset, hike to any of the hills overlooking the lake. You can also attend a local function that is underway.

Loktak Lake is part of the Keibul Lamjao Conservation Area was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Loktak Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in the northeastern region of India and plays an important role in the ecological and economic security of the region (Tuboi et al, 2012). Loktak Lake has been broadly divided into three zones, viz., northern, central and southern zone, on the basis of vegetation type, Phumdi thickness, drainage network, open water area location and human activity. It has been reported that about 0.8 –2m phumdi area proliferate within 6 months in the main lake and 0.1m per 6 months in the KLNP area. The lake is oval in shape with maximum length and width of 26 kilometers and 13 kilometers respectively. The depth of the lake varies between 0.5 to 4.58 meters with average depth recorded at 2.7 meters. There are 14 hills varying in size and elevation, appearing as islands, in the southern part of the lake. The most prominent of them are Sendra, Ithing and Thanga islands. The lake is rich in biodiversity and has been designated as a wetland of International Importance under RAMSAR Convention in 1990. The catchment of the lake includes drainage sub-basins of the Manipur River Basin and its associated tributaries up to Ithai Barrage. The catchment covers an area of 4947 square kilometers and constitutes 22 percent of the total geographic area of the state. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“People of Manipur are socially, economically, culturally and ecologically connected with the Loktak Lake and Keibul Lamjao National Park. The lake has been the source of water for domestic generation of hydro-electric power, irrigation, habitat for several plants used as food, fishing ground for local people, fodder, fuel, medicines, biodiversity, recreation, etc. Hence, Loktak Lake has been referred to as the ‘lifeline of Manipur’. Three type of communities live in the villages located around the Keibul Lamjao Conservation Area are the Phum dwellers (people living either temporarily or permanently on the Phumdi), island communities (those living on islands) and the lakeshore communities. Furthermore, in Moirang (located in southwestern part of KLCA) there is a war memorial from World War II (INA Memorial), where the Indian National Army first hoisted flag on April 14, 1944. Moirang also holds an ancient temple of the pre-Hindu deity, Lord Thangjing. It was from the village of Moirang that the graceful Khamba-Thoibi dance originated.

“The poets and singers of Manipur have often described the natural beauty of this lake in their poetry. A famous Manipuri Poet Khwairakpam Chaoba Singh has described the glory Loktak Lake in his poem Loktak Mapanda (on the banks of Loktak).


Today new ripple break dancing
On the surging stream in my life.
In the mere of my thought, high waves with crests
Surge into my mind.
Such a sight of the shining Meitei Lake
These eyes have been blessed with
This is Loktak, our Loktak that stretches
Glittering before us, Meitei Lake (Source: Singh, 2002)

“These lines describes about the dynamic role of Loktak Lake in the life of Meiteis. Similarly, ballad singers of Manipur often describe the Loktak Lake as the mirror of Manipur. It has different connotations. It may simply mean that its water surface looks like a mirror. In another sense it highlights the lake’s association with the history of Manipur. It is a mirror reflecting the history of Manipur and the changes in the society down the ages. The exceptional natural beauty of the Loktak Lake and Keibul Lamjao National Park can be seen by standing on various islands of the lake. The blooming of water lilies and lotus in the lake during the time of summer is the real feast for the eyes. From Sendra Island one can see it as a vast meadow with a hillock in the center.”

Phumdi (Floating Circular Swamps) of Loktak Lake

The floating circular swamps for which Loktak Lake is famous are called phumdis. They look almost like islands and are a mass of soil, organic matter and vegetation. The lake houses the only floating national park in the world, the Keibul Lamjao National Park.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: :The Loktak Lake has a unique ecosystem called ‘Phumdi’ (a Manipuri word meaning floating mats of soil and vegetation). The largest area of the Phumdi in the Loktak lake is in the Keibul Lamjao National Park, which is home to Manipur brow-antlered deer (Rucervus eldi eldi) also popularly known as the Sangai. The habitat exclusively consists of floating meadows and an elevated strip of hard ground that dissects the park into northern and southern zones. For effective in-situ conservation of Sangai, Forest Department of Manipur in collaboration with Wildlife Institute of India has developed a plan to reintroduce Sangai in the adjoining area having similar habitat [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The fresh water lake ecosystem of Loktak with Phumdi represents significant ongoing ecological and biological processes. Southern portion of Loktak Lake forms the Keibul Lamjao National Park which is a continuous mass of Phumdi occupying an area of 40sq. kilometers. Phumdi are a heterogeneous mass of soil, vegetation and organic matter at various stages of decomposition. It provides a magnificent vista of green floating islands all over the lake. “It is the only floating national park in the world”. A Phumdi may be initiated with a small mass of undecomposed organic matter or dense growth of water hyacinth that accumulates some suspended silt and is gradually colonized by grasses and other herbaceous plants.

“The high proportion of vegetable matter in the Phumdi gives it a specific gravity and high buoyancy to keep it afloat. They float on the lake one-fifth of their thickness above and four-fifth under the water surface. The maximum thickness of a Phumdi is 8 feet. but its thickness varies in time and space depending on the conditions during its formative stage. The core of Phumdi is composed of detritus material, which is black in color and is highly spongy. It is constituted of organic carbon (36 percent), nitrogen (2.08 percent), organic matter (24.98 percent) and other residues including mineral matter (37.94 percent). All together Phumdi play an important role in the ecological processes and functions of the lake ecosystem. They provide a biological sink to the key nutrients and govern the water and nutrient dynamics of the lake. Phumdi plays a critical role in the maintenance of the lake hydrological regime.

“Furthermore, Phumdi are an integral part of the lake and play an important role in the ecological processes and functions of the lake ecosystem. The life cycle of the Phumdi involves floating on the water surface during season of high water as in the monsoons. In the lean season, when the water level reduces, some area of the biomass comes into contact with the lake bed. When the rains come again and they become a float, the biomass has enough ‘food’- the nutrient-stored in their roots and their life continues.”

Wildlife and Plants in Keibul Lamjao National Park

Keibul Lamjao Conservation Area (x): KLCA comprises of unique ecosystem which is rich in biodiversity. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: A total of 185 plant species comprising 50 families and 121 genera were recorded. 90 species were recorded in the floating meadows and water, 19 species in the terrestrial habitat and 76 were common to both the habitats. The dominant species of the meadows are Zizania latifolia, Hedychium coronarium, Impatiens spp., Cyperus difformis and Polygonum spp. The species common to both the habitats are Phragmites karka, Cappillipedium assimile, Leersia hexendra etc. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“Overall, 22 economically important plant species used by the local inhabitants as food, fodder and medicinal purposes have been identified from KLNP compared to 33 economically important plant species recorded from the lake area. 54 fish species belonging to 18 families have been recorded from the lake. Out of the 54 species, 28 are common and available throughout the year while 26 species are rare and seasonal in presence. All together, 25 species of amphibians recorded from the lake and 32,855 water birds belonging to 58 different species have been recorded during the recent census conducted by the Forest department and local NGOs in association with the Mumbai Natural Historical Society. Globally threatened species recorded in the lake were Black necked Stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus Oriental Darter Anhinga melanogaster and Ferruginous Pochard Aythya nyroca. Recently, the rare, Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata) locally known "Sana Manbi Nganu" belonging to the family of Anatidae was recorded from Loktak Lake. In addition to that, rotifer communities of Loktak Lake contain 120 species belonging to 36 genera and 19 families and represent the richest biodiversity of Phylum Rotifera known from any aquatic ecosystem of the Indian subcontinent. Biogeographically interesting elements include one Australasian, three Oriental and seven Palaeotropical species of rotifers from the lake. 189 species of zooplankton have also been recorded from the Loktak Lake. Among mammals, Keibul Lamjao National Park also holds population of 212 Hog deer and 204 Sangai according to 2013 census, which generates considerable international interest and perfect example of in-situ conservation.

“Emphasizing on the Sangai, the Manipur Brow-antlered deer is the Indian form of three sub-species of Eld’s deer (first described by Col. Percy Eld). The others occur in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Thailand. All three sub-species are considered “at risk” but the Manipur deer is perhaps the most endangered of the entire world’s cervids. The name “Brow- antlered” refers to the peculiar shape of the antlers which are curved forward and down before continuing outwards to the side, unlike any other species. It is known locally as “Sangai” which means literally, “one who looks at you”.

“Historically Sangai occurs only in the southern part of Manipur and today only in the protected area of the National Park. Sangai, once thought to be extinct, was located by Edward Pritchard Gee, the then Honorary Secretary, Eastern region, Indian Board for Wildlife in 1953 at Keibul Lamjao (Manipur, India). In 1959, in an exercise to ascertain the status of the animals in the park, six heads were counted and this became the beginning of conservation efforts of Sangai at KLNP. Subsequently, the total population of Sangai in the park was estimated between 100 to 112 individuals. The first aerial census was carried out during 1975. It recorded the presence of only 14 individuals. Since then, the population of Sangai has increased from 14 to around 180 individuals by 2003 and to 225 in 2008. According to census conducted by Forest Department during 2013 the population of Sangai has been recorded to be 204 individuals.

“Although the population of Sangai has increased over the last ten years, risks to survival persist, including: encroachment on the habitat, local dissatisfaction with the park, floods and other environmental perturbations; epidemic disease and other health threats; and further loss of genetic diversity. As a single, small wild population, backed up by an inbred and unstable captive population, the Sangai needs serious conservation efforts. To recover the Sangai population, Pumlen Pat has been identified for its reintroduction.”

Pumlen Pat

The Pumlen Pat (68 kilometers south of Imphal and about 45 kilometers from Thoubal) is the second largest freshwater wetland in Manipur. Located at an elevation of 767 meters, it is part of the Keibul Lamjao Conservation Area was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016 and has similarities with Loktak Lake. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Pumlen Pat has an area of 58.06 square kilometers and is situated towards the southern lowlands of the valley and the far east of the Keibul Lamjao National Park. “It gets connected with other satellite wetlands during the rainy season such as the Kharung pat in the north, Loktak Lake in the west and Lamjao pat in the east. The lake receives water from precipitation, surface run off from its southeastern denuded hills, indirectly from the Sekmai River through Khoidum pat on northern side and from the impounded Manipur River which runs along the western shore-line. The lake is surrounded on all sides by 13 settlements, namely: Komjao Khong, Chingjao, Hiyanglam, Arong and Tera in the North, Kakching Khunnou and Thongam in the South, Waitkong, Thanjao, Elangkhangpokpi and Langmeidong in the East and Sarik and Munshoi in the west. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The Pumlen Lake has rich floral and faunal diversity. Seventy-five plant species belonging to twenty-nine families, have been identified in the lake The faunal diversity includes invertebrates like water beetle, giant water bug, snails and fresh water mussel; amphibians and reptiles like water cobra, viper and frog; fish species like Channa punctatus, Clarias batrachu, Anabas testudineus and Monopterus albus; birds like water cock, Indian moorhen, Egret and common teal; mammals like wild boar, hog deer, civet cats and otters (Envis center Manipur).

“The people living around the Lake collect vegetables and do fishing for their livelihood. The presence of the temple Mondum Mahadeva in the Thongam Mondum Hill in the southern side of the lake is a source of disturbance due to the high number of visitors. Aside from this, the temple has also become a favored tourist spot and it creates a market for the resources collected from the lake. (WII, 2012).

“Based on the study of all the parameters, Pumlen Pat is the preferred site for reintroduction in terms of ecological factors like area of wetland and water and food availability. Among the five proposed sites, Pumlen has the highest wetland area with an additional forest area as well. The lake shares the unique characteristic feature of the KLNP, i.e, the floating phumdis; food plants are also readily available.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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