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Spend Your Next Vacation Decoding The Mystery Behind This Tiny Indian Village
Duration: 1 Day
Expenditure 15000

Photos of Willong Khullen, Manipur, India 1/1 by Sugato

My pleasantly loquacious driver, Danten, had suddenly fallen quiet. His nonstop gibberish about the amusing tales of ex passengers had kept me entertained. Bumpy rough roads of NH129A to the inconspicuous village of Willong Khullen could not have been the reason. Seeing an army check post in the distance he suddenly started smiling again. The lonely road with dense forested slopes was apparently making him skittish owing to Manipur’s tumultuous past.

“Are you a journalist?” asked one of the soliders and directed me to come out of the vehicle. On my reply, they seemed bemused with the concept of someone being a travel writer. It was new term to them. Only when I showed a few articles of mine in the mobile, I got a much needed smile from their face. They still seemed amused of the fact that I actually travelled so far to see a non-descript village. Once all the verifications were done, the circumspect soldiers turned friendly and one even suggested me to trek down to a nearby school to take photos (on a Sunday)! I promised that I will have a look and moved on.

Photos of  1/3 by Sugato
Photos of  2/3 by Sugato
Photos of  3/3 by Sugato

Mystical Monoliths

Willong Khullen is a small village on the border of Manipur and Nagaland. It is a 200 meters diversion from the National Highway through a newly laid dirt road. Just at the entrance of this road lie rows of vertical stone slabs in various shapes and sizes surrounded by barbed wires.

Photos of  1/1 by Sugato

These peculiar monoliths in the backdrop of the verdant green hills look like guarding sentinels of the modest settlement determined to intrigue visitors with no history of their builders and no story for the reason of their existence. One can’t help but draw a comparison with the world famous megaliths (and monoliths) in England and France. Like, Willong Khullen, these also have always perplexed historians and scientists. “These are were built in the memories of the tribe warriors”, said Nomyank Lechung, a village elder, seemingly putting an end to all speculations.

Photos of  1/1 by Sugato

Others, however, don’t agree. Many of the villagers consider these as holy spirits which come alive at night. As per them, counting the monoliths is not possible as the spirits forbid it. Ironically, it is actually very confusing to count them because of their irregular positions with respect to each other. There is always the chance of repetition. However, few unconfirmed reports estimate the number at 135.

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The Village

Perched literally on the edge of a cliff, it is a small beautiful village with neatly stacked tin roofed houses along the solitary road which culminates at the Church. At more than 2000 meters above the sea level, it is surrounded by mountains and deep gorges.

Photos of Willong Khullen, Manipur, India 1/1 by Sugato

Rice cultivation is the major occupation here. Typical to most of the cultures in the North East, men and women share the burden of agricultural activities. The village square is uneventful with the main attraction being a stone slab erected by the descendants of the village founders and the beautiful community center. Not much exposed to tourists, the people here are warm and inquisitive.

Photos of  1/1 by Sugato

While I was loitering insouciantly amidst the narrow village lanes, I got many questions from the folks inquiring about my background, origin and purpose of visit. My camera fascinated them the most. Few even invited me for a cup of tea which I politely declined. Giggling children ran helter skelter when I tried to take a few shots. People here, though with feeble means of livelihood seem very content and happy.

Photos of Willong Khullen, Manipur, India 1/2 by Sugato
Photos of Willong Khullen, Manipur, India 2/2 by Sugato

The Church

The most striking feature of this obscure village is the beautiful church at the end of the cliff. Seemingly balanced tantalizingly close to the deep ravine, it is the largest structure of the village. A small statue of Lord Jesus looks over the village with spread arms and is perched near the top of the church.

Photos of Willong Khullen, Manipur, India 1/1 by Sugato

The population here was descendants of the Maram Naga tribe. This clan has always been a strong proponent of preserving their age old traditions, practices and religious ethos. When Christianity knocked on the doors of this village and people started embracing it, much of the ancient values, customs and conventions were forgotten gradually. Today, Willong Khullen is a mix of Christians, Hindus and Muslims with the inherent core values of Naga tribe gradually eroding with each passing generation. The village elders try their best to keep the traditions alive by observing several key festivals intrinsic to the Maram Nagas such as the Ponghi (a seven day rice festival), Mankang (festival for women) and Kanghi (a week-long festival where naked fighters put up a show to ward off evil spirits).

The Community Center

“Back in our days, this was the hub of all social activities. The entire village gathered here for cultural programs, traditional dances and other customary practices which made the bonding stronger. Sadly, this practice is fading away and most of the times the center is locked due to lack of activities,” observed Eneko, a village elder.

Photos of  1/1 by Sugato

Owing to the proximity to the border, the architecture and design of the buildings have a striking similarity to Nagaland. Mithun horns are a signature of Naga architecture and can be seen in the design of the community center.

There is no ‘sightseeing’ in Willong Khullen. I invariably walked and absorbed the place’s sights and sounds. Content in the lap of nature and devoid of commercial intrusion, wee places like these are the ones where you can opt to do nothing, just being.

Getting There: The best way to explore Willong Khullen is to do a day trip from Imphal. Around 120 kms from the state capital, the last stretch of 35 kms is through rough winding roads increasing the journey time to a total of 4-5 hrs one way. Cabs will typically charge Rs 4500 for a round trip.

Air India and Indigo have daily flights from Kolkata to Imphal.

Where to Stay

The Classic Hotel: One of the first star hotels to open in the state, it is the perfect choice for a short stay in the city. Conveniently located, the service levels are decent, rooms are clean and the food is good. Rooms start at Rs 2000 onwards.

The Classic Grande: Another property of the Classic group, it is a recently opened hotel and is the most luxurious stay option available in Manipur. Rooms start from Rs 3600 onwards.

Where to Eat

Luxmi Kitchen: Serves authentic Manipuri platter. Quick service and value for money, it is located near the Mother’s market.

Rita Café: A perfect place to lounge in the evening with live Manipuri music being played by a local band. Good options for coffee and mocktail. The chilly cheese toast is a must try here.

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