Monsoon is the time to visit the lovely valley of Manipur, a
UP in the misty mountains at a height of about 6,000 ft above the sea level is Siroi mountain, home to the Siroi lily. A rare beauty, it only blooms in May for about 10 days. She sits gracefully in delicate pink on her emerald green throne under the canopy of a clear blue sky. Try bringing her down in the valley, pampering her with the best of delicacies, but away from her mountain home, she soon dies.
Manipur, a land-locked state, as unique as the Siroi lily, is home to an equally unique people. A populace composed of three main tribes – the Meitei, the Naga and the Kuki-Chin Mizo groups. Each of these tribes has many clans, and there are an equal number of languages, with no one tribe understanding the other. The only language understood by all is the Meitei, and no one is sure about this language from which it could have been derived. It also has its own unique text.
When the monsoon has well set in, that is the time to visit Manipur. As the plane takes off from the Gauwahati airport, it is a the breathtaking journey over lush-green mountains and gently rolling countryside before the plane lands in the middle of an equally green valley. The valley of Manipur has a total area of 22,327 sq km. Out of this nine-tenth constitutes the hills. The valley, about 2,600 ft above sea level, is surrounded on all sides by smoky blue mountains.
Manipur has all the ingredients to make it into one of the most sought-after places in the world – a green valley that gently meanders at an altitude that keeps it at an even temperature through out the year. The heat is never excessive in the valley, and for eight months of the year it enjoys a most salubrious climate.
It is guarded by gently rounded hills dressed in all shades of green that seem to ebb and flow around the valley.
During the monsoon Manipur is a kaleidoscope of different hues of green. The green tones of the hills change from a brilliant lime to a mystical bluish green. A unique play of sunlight changes the mood and environment of the place from moment to moment. It is an unending fashion show, which never seems to satiate the senses.
The whole valley seems like a garden in fairytales. Ponds full of blue and pink water lilies, some covered with the pristine white lotus, grassy lakeside meadows, which are home to the Sangai dancing deer. This shy and handsome animal with a lovely coat of golden brown is found near the Loktak lake, quenching his thirst in the early dawn.
Manipur abounds in many unique varieties of flora and fauna, from the tropical to the temperate, from exquisite orchids to rare acacias, pines and palms. It has the sweetest pineapple, a variety that only grows here. It is home to every kind of fruit and vegetable but with a difference – they are far more sweeter. Herbs of the rarest kind are found, which are intelligently used by its people for medicinal and cosmetic purposes.
There is much to be said of its people. It is a gifted and beautiful race with each tribe having its own unique culture, music, dance and crafts. They even have their own unique way of weaving, and a lovely aesthetic sense of colour and design, which makes one truly believe in the saying that the art of weaving was given to them by the goddess herself.
Talented in sports and warfare, they have won many laurels for the country in boxing, fencing and weight lifting. The birthplace of polo, even their ponies are in a class of their own. Experts in ancient warfare, the Manipuris were invincible in the old times. Not only were they excellent riders but had an ingenuous way of shooting arrows from a quiver called the arambai, which could shoot 20 to 30 arrows at a time in all directions – even while the warrior was retreating. A blessed land, a rare Shangri-La, dotted with temples of forest deities. The presence of god is always felt.
The calm and peace on the surface of Manipur is unquestionable. Indeed the first impression of the land is one of being a most congenial place for meditation. But like the Shiroi lily, this too fades as soon as one delves a little deeper. Underneath the calmness are the restless currents of violence.
Blood feuds were common among the hill tribes. The Nagas and the Kukis had a tradition of head hunting. Being a warrior meant taking as many heads as one could from the neighbouring villages. A Naga who had taken four heads was considered a warrior and honoured by the tribe, and presented with a spear which had as many spokes as the heads taken. If a Naga took one head of a particular village, then the warrior of that village took two of theirs, and so it went on. Sir James Johnstone writes: "No Angami Naga could assume the Toga Virilis, in this case the kilt ornamented with cowrie shells, until he had slain an enemy, and in the more powerful villages, no girl could marry a man unless he was so decorated."
Civilisation has come a long way since those barbaric times, and even though there are still some pockets, time-locked in their ancient class of heroes and warriors, the world by and large has evolved to a heroism that speaks of peace and progress. Manipur’s glorious civilisation – steeped in culture, rich in poetry, music, painting, dancing, theatre, arts and sports – has indeed a bright future in peace.
The richness of Manipur’s culture and its unique people can only be experienced by being here, and breathing in its clean, unpolluted air, mixed with the heavenly incense of its centuries-old traditions.