The streets wore a deserted look. Most of the shops were closed. Few men in uniform were seen chatting insouciantly with guns on their shoulders. It was 7.00 p.m in the evening. Knots of them shine powerful torches into passing cars signalling to drivers to switch on the interior lights. It is Imphal, an edgy shuttered place as the sun goes down. There is nothing to explore when the lights call it a day.
“They check the fingertips while doing routine checks”, said Rina, my cab driver referring to the Indian Army. Rough and stiff fingers point towards probable affiliation to the trigger. Marred by insurgency since the start of the century, Manipur hasn’t been on the tourist radar for obvious reasons, until recently. Travel is a carousel of unfamiliar and exciting things and Imphal fits the brief perfectly.
The capital is a flat valley surrounded by hills that extend into Myanmar. The unassuming city houses the expansive and historic Kangla area, the Imphal War cemetery of WWII and the Indo Japanese Peace Memorial at Red Hill as its major attractions. The scenery changes dramatically once you drive out of Imphal. Dense exhilarating green hills run into each other at every bend of the road. There are a plethora of options to pursue. You can wander in the ancient village of Andro in the gorgeous Senthi Natural Park, do boating in the unique Loktak Lake – the lake of floating islands, visit the mystical monoliths in the spectacular mountain village of Willong Khullen, visit the INA War Museum in Moirang or you can just spend the evening at the famous Rita Café in Imphal with live Manipuri music at your disposal.