A breeding ground for graceful classical dance traditions, sumptuous cuisine and the sport of polo, Manipur sits amid rolling hills stretching to India’s border with Myanmar. It’s a place of great geographical and cultural variety. The capital, Imphal, and the beautiful, ecologically unique Loktak Lake sit in a fertile, bowl-like valley in the centre of the state. Most of the valley’s residents are Meitei (or Manipuri) people, who today largely adhere to a Vaishnavite strand of Hinduism, but up until the 18th century were casteless animistic worshippers of the sun god Sanamahi. The forested hill country rising up to 2500m outside the central valley is populated predominantly by now-Christian tribal peoples such as the Nagas and Kukis.
The vast, low-walled fort at the heart of Imphal was, with a few interruptions, the political and religious heart of Manipur for many centuries until taken over by the British after the 1891 Anglo-Manipuri War. Today it’s a tranquil, beautifully maintained, parklike space of lawns, moats, ponds and big trees, containing, among many interesting features, several temples, two large white Kangla Sha (protective dragons), a pavilion with spectacular royal longboats, the world’s oldest polo field, a historical museum and a pleasant cafe.
Manipur State Museum
The two-storey state museum, on a lane off the main road that fronts Kangla Fort, has a curious collection of tribal costumes, royal clothing, 20th-century Manipuri art, musical instruments and stuffed wildlife. In its own pavilion on the outside of the building you can see an ornate and spectacular 78ft royal boat.
The sport of polo is believed to have originated in Manipur and Imphal’s Mapal Kangjeibung is reckoned to be the oldest living polo ground in the world. Games happen on variable days through the October-to-May season (admission is often free), and an international tournament is staged during the Sangai Festival in November with all teams riding the small but agile Manipuri breed of polo pony.
Imphal War Cemetery
This peaceful, impeccably maintained graveyard is the last resting place of more than 1600 British and other Allied soldiers and airmen killed in the Imphal area during WWII. Most of them died during the Battle of Imphal (March to July 1944), one of the most intense battles of WWII, in which Allied forces repulsed a Japanese attack on eastern India. You’ll find the cemetery along a lane off the Imphal–Kohima Rd, 400m north of Hotel Imphal.
The food of Manipur is considered to be very healthy. Their preparations are simple and yet, tasty. Most of the ingredients they use are organic which again, contributes to the health factor. Of course, the food here has to be healthy, as there are so many hills and peaks in this area that require a good deal of strength and agility to scale! Manipuri food is also supposed to be spicy and contains less oil. Their secret is that they make use of chilli pepper instead of the usual garam masala powder that the rest of the country uses. That is why their food is considered healthier.
In a nutshell, the people of Manipur eat rice, fish, leafy vegetables, etc. Also, they grow their vegetables in their gardens or farms, and breed their fishes in their backyard ponds. So, everything is pretty much organic. They also make use of a lot of herbs in their preparations, ranging from mint and chives to pepper and basil.