Northeast India's second largest city, Imphal is an underrated tourist destination. It serves as the gateway to a rich set of experiences in Manipur, but the city itself is worth checking out. For tourists, the city’s big attractions are its location, in the heart of a lush valley, and the ruins of the Palace of Kangla. Imphal gets heavy rain for nearly seven months and so, November to March is when you should go.
Start your trip by ticking off Manipur's highlight: the Kangla Fort with the beautiful Kangla Palace. Built as the seat of the Kingdom of Manipur, this is a great site at which to learn more about the history of Manipur’s Meetei monarchy, and the incremental way in which the fort was built by successive rulers in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Next, head to the Imphal War Cemetery, a solemn but beautiful site that pays tribute to the 1400+ soldiers who died during the Battle of Imphal during World War II. Maintained immaculately by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the site gives you a history lesson about the Japanese push into India in 1944, and how it was successfully fought off. If you love martial history, there's more in store. On the outskirts of the city, in Moirang, the INA Museum is dedicated to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his army, and has a good repository of artefacts from World War II.
Imphal Tourism offers picturesque views to all its tourists. Those seeking out natural beauty should drive further down from the INA Museum to the banks of Loktak Lake, where there is an array of adventure sports available for the brave: boating, windsurfing... take your pick. Loktak Lake has a number of "floating islands", some of which make for excellent picnic spots. For the devout, Imphal has the Shri Govindji Temple, and the beautiful ISKCON Temple, which has architecture that brings together local elements with traditional temple layouts.
Your best bet when it comes to shopping in the city is to visit the Ima Keithel market, a market that sees only women vendors selling everything from meat and fish to local handicrafts. Among the goods you’ll find for sale are phaneks (sarongs), innephis (stoles) and more. It is also known as Khwairamband Bazaar and is a must-visit. Tera Bazaar is another market worth checking out for traditional handicrafts like woven textiles and mats made of water reeds. While wandering around the city, it’s also worth keeping your eyes peeled for stone carvings and local hand embroidery, which the region is well known for.
Kohima, the capital of the neighbouring state of Nagaland is a great option for those looking for a weekend getaway—it’s about 5 hours or 140km away from Imphal. While there, make sure to explore the rolling hills and get to know the culture of the local Angami tribe. Within the state, Tamenglong is a district that is well known for its flora and fauna—home to wild orchids, lush forests and indigenous wildlife. Wildlife enthusiasts and adventure seekers will enjoy visiting the area. Ukhrul is another option for those looking to reconnect with nature, though getting to Ukhrul is harder than Tamenglong. If you do go, remember to come back with a bag of the local Nilai Tea.
It comes as no surprise that Imphal is a haven for nature lovers, especially those that want to explore the neighbouring topography to discover the local wildlife. Visit the Khonghampat Orchidarium to see a variety of exotic flowers, while Sirohi National Park is a great option for wildlife aficionados as you get to see leopards and tigers which are both said to roam in the forest. Popular, especially with Japanese tourists, is Red Hill—the site of a peace memorial that commemorates a Second World War battle. Also worth visiting in the city itself is the Mapal Kangjeibung ground, which is said to be one of the oldest polo grounds in the world. In fact, it is said that the British saw Sagol Kangei (as the game is called in Manipur) being played and adopted the game before exporting it to their colonies all over the world. And of course, how can you not visit Heingang village, which has seven shrines dedicated to Lord Marjing, the god of polo!
|NH 150, Imphal, Manipur 795140||IMF|