If you are flying into Imphal, you will be warmly welcomed by a blue expanse dotted with green floating islands just before touch down. That’s Loktak Lake one of the jewels of the jeweled land.
Loktak Lake is located about 50kms from Imphal down Tiddim Road in Moirang and is a nice day trip including the World War Sites, Indian National Army (INA) Memorial and the world’s only floating Keibul Lamjao National Park.
The name is derived from Lok (Stream) Tak (End) where many rivers including the Manipur river converge. It is also the source of water, fish and power for the state specially Imphal. It took us about 1.5 hours to reach Sendra Island which is one of the largest islands on the nearly 300 sq km Loktak lake. Sendra Island has a private resort on a hillock which offers some breath taking views of the Loktak Lake. The resort restaurant food is primarily chinese fare but has beautiful bamboo art on the ceiling. The blue is soothing to the eye, the shimmery waters pretty inviting under the warm afternoon sun. I would not mind waking up to such a sight and then float around in a fisherman’s boat and watch the birds fly by. The floating green patches or Phumdis are heterogeneous patches of soil and vegetation and float on the lake swaying with the wind and water current.
Earlier, the larger Phumdis (Phumshongs) were home to fishermen who have been now largely relocated to nearby areas to protect the pollution and ecological balance of the lake. There were some boats around to go around the lake but lack of standard rates and timings makes it difficult for solo travelers. Instead, I preferred to walk around enjoying the haggling over fresh catch intermittently closing my ears from the deafening sound of gunshots practiced by the men from Assam Rifles in a camp near by.
A short distance away Keibul Lamjao National Park (40 sq km) is the only national park in the world which is on a floating island (Phumdi). After purchasing tickets, you get a pair of binoculars and then you can drive in with your own car to the view point through a serpentine road dotted with large trees on either side. It was rather disappointing, since the Sangai Deer chose to give me a miss 🙁 since they are extremely wary of humans and are inching towards extinction. I am told you have to be there at crack of dawn and if the officials are benevolent, you may be able to canoe in through the narrow canals and reach a point where you can catch a glimpse of the Star of Manipur OR you have to be really lucky to catch a glimpse at dusk. I wish there was some sort of safari to take us to wild.
If you are a History buff, specially Indian Independence and the World Wars, there is a lot to interest you on Tiddim Road while driving down to Loktak Lake. Yai my guide from Imphal Walks has an amazing command over the details of the Battle of Imphal, he weaves it like a story, making everything come alive. We drove by Red Hill (Maibam Lokpaching) which saw the fiercest battle between the White Tigers (Japanese) and the Black Cats (British) during the summer of 1944. This is the closest point to Imphal that the Japanese army had managed to reach. There is a War Memorial dedicated to the Japanese soldiers who laid down their lives and many Japanese tourists come by in search of the lost loved ones who went on the last passage without a funeral.
Once we reached Moirang Town, we headed straight to the INA Memorial Complex. INA or Indian National Army was formed by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose while he was in exile fighting for Indian independence from the British rule. After greeting Nataji’s statue at the entrance, to the left is the museum which has an excellent collection of photographs including the last available one of Netaji, news paper articles, letters weapons and other memorabilia which narrate the chivalrous stories of the INA soldiers. It does not take long to realise why INA was synonymous with the springing tiger. It was here that the Indian Flag was hoisted for the first time on 14th April, 1944. To the right is a replica of the INA Memorial in Singapore with 3 pillars (Ittefaq, Itmad, Kurbaani) which was completed years later though the foundation was laid in 1945 by Netaji himself.
On our way back we stopped at the ancient Thanjing Temple where Lai Haraoba or the Festival of Gods is celebrated every year in May with dances, worships and other merry making. The temple was closed but the Sanamahi Flags were fluttering in air while people sat around fire, preparing for a temple feast. This temple is also associated with the legendary love story of Princess Thoibi of Moirang and commoner Khamba which is nothing short of Romeo and Juliet.
Travel Tip: You will need a car for the day from Imphal and it will cost anywhere between Rs 3000-Rs 4000. You can also use local transport, changing buses and autos but it will be a little tedious.
I traveled with Yaiphaba of Imphal Walks.
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