Northeast India has always been one of my very favourite and sought-after destinations since I started travelling. It is my dream to explore all the northeastern states of India. But of course, a lifetime won’t be enough to visit every nook and corner of it. There are so many hidden gems and unexplored places that the list seems never-ending. This time it was Manipur on my list. Along with the beautiful landscape, and pristine nature Manipur has a rich historical past. We landed in Imphal as it’s the only place that has an airport and is well connected with other main cities of our country. Since we started the journey from Imphal I decided to write about the ultimate Imphal travel guide which will help you to know a lot about the capital city.
Imphal is the capital city and one of the most developed places in the state. It also takes the centre stage in terms of the state’s history which dates back to the 1st century AD, when Nongda Lairen Pakhangba ruled over the region. Imphal, the capital city of Manipur, is one of the most popular tourist destinations and the state’s main business hub.
Of the many remarkable places to visit in Imphal, the top six places are the Ema Keithel or Mother’s Market, the Kangla Fort, Imphal Second World War Cemetry, Indian Army War Cemetry, Shree Govindajee Temple, RKCS Art Gallery, Polo Ground, State Museum. This ultimate Imphal Travel guide will help you to plan your trip, so do read it and also don’t forget to share.
Meitei is the most widely spoken language in Manipur and I found it quite surprising that most auto drivers cannot speak Hindi so it was very difficult for us to communicate. Most of the popular tourist places are within the heart of the Imphal town but still one has to commute via an auto. Also, it was quite surprising that they didn’t have any idea about the places like the Imphal Indian Army Cemetery and even the State Museum. The only place they know properly is the Kangla Fort may due to its location just at the centre of the town. I have read many blogs on Imphal before planning my trip and I saw this is quite a common problem faced by almost everyone.
Also, an important point to note when you are in Manipur is that the complete state shuts down by 7 pm. All markets, even little shops in residential areas, in every city, town, village etc get shut down. There is no nightlife even in the capital city Imphal.
Also, alcohol is banned may be for this reason I didn’t spot a single liquor shop. But the city wakes up as early as 5 am. So if you want to enjoy the market the best time is early morning. Sunrise, as we all know in Northeastern states, is quite early than the rest of India and Manipur makes the best use of it. You can see the shops run mostly by women. Also, it’s a state where you can see Women’s empowerment in every field of life.
How to reach Imphal
The Imphal International Airport is well connected to other main cities of our country like Kolkata, Delhi, and Mumbai, on daily basis. There are no early morning or late night flights and mostly they are all connecting flights. There are frequent direct flights to Guwahati and other Northeastern states. You can also reach Imphal by bus. There is a bus service from Guwahati on daily basis to Imphal via Kohima or Dimapur.
But I doubt how well the road services would be. But it is quite budget-friendly than travelling via air. Manipur also borders Silchar, an important city in Assam. From Silchar, you can reach Imphal via Jiribham. There are lots of private bus services plying daily.
Bonus tip – For an awesome view of the Loktak Lake from Guwahati to Imphal flight book the window seats in the row that has DEF. We had booked seats 27E and 27F, what stunning views I had I can’t explain you can see the pictures yourself.
Where to stay in Imphal
There are a lot of budget-friendly hotels, and OYO rooms, to stay, in Imphal. We stayed in a hotel named Manipur House which was located in a residential area and a 5 min walk to the main road from there and just 2km away from Ima Market. The Youth hostel is also a decent place for backpackers and tourists.
Inner Line Permit for Manipur
You do require Inner Line Permit or ILP for Manipur. You can get it directly from Guwahati’s Manipur House situated at Bhangagarh. To acquire the ILP is a matter of just half an hour. All you need is a passport-size photo and valid ID proof. At a time they grant 15 days of tourist ILP. You can also apply for ILP online HERE.
A Brief History of Manipur
Before writing about various details of the Imphal travel guide let me share some interesting facts about the history of Manipur that dates back to 1500BC. Manipur was the last independent state to come under British rule. It became a princely state in 1891 under British rule. The old capital of Manipur was Kangla. Manipur is bordered by Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam and also Myanmar. So most of the time land occupancy-related disputes remain a major cause of concern between these bordering Northeastern states.
There are also entry points to Myanmar from Manipur. You can enter Myanmar by road, crossing the Moreh-Tamuh road border in Manipur. Due to Covid, the entry point hasn’t opened yet for visitors. Else it would have been a great experience in Manipur.
The name Manipur means “Land of Jewels”. The majority population are Meitei who reside in the Manipur valley and are mostly Hindus. But if you travel to places like Ukhrul you will find indigenous Tongkhul tribes who are Nagas in origin. Nagas and Kukis are major hill tribes that are mostly Christian. The locals can speak excellent English and also Hindi.
Manipur came under the British in 1891 after defeating the Burmese. Many fierce battles were fought during World War II. But this war turned out to be the greatest failure of the Japanese troops when they tried to invade India. They got defeated and driven out of the land of Manipur with the combined force of the British and Indian armies. But the battle resulted in a large number of casualties from both armies. As such there are many war cemeteries and memories built in Manipur dedicated to the martyrs during World War II.
A quick look at my Manipur Travel Itinerary.
Before we visited Manipur I made a list of all the popular places to visit. We had planned a four-day itinerary for Manipur. Though it’s very less yet we tried to explore as much as we can while in the state. On day one we visited the important historical places in Imphal, on day two we boarded an early morning bus to reach Ukhrul, and on day three we returned from Ukhrul to Imphal in the evening. After that, we took a shared metro taxi to reach Moirang. From Moirang we returned to Imphal and took an evening flight back to Guwahati.
In Moirang we spent a day on Loktak Lake and visited nearby tourist attractions. After that, we returned to Imphal and boarded an evening flight to Guwahati. Well, I shall write a detailed blog post on my entire Manipur Travel Itinerary. Let’s continue with the Imphal Travel Guide which I felt to be a major attraction for history lovers.
Read more posts from Northeast India
The Ultimate Imphal Travel Guide
The Kangla Fort
There are not many travel agencies or guided walks conducted in Imphal. You can make a list of all the popular places and visit one after another. You can take the autos plying everywhere in Imphal. You can reserve it for Rs100 for a single ride or you can go for a shared one at Rs.20 per head.
Kangla Fort is situated right at the centre of the town. Very well maintained and located amidst lush green trees on the bank of the Imphal river, the Kangla Fort holds great importance in the glorious history of Manipur.
“Kangla” means dry land in Manipur or in Meitei Language. It was the ancient capital of Manipur and dates back to 33 AD. Over time many rulers have ascended the throne of Manipur. But it is believed that the fort existed long back from the time when the mythical God King of Manipur Nongda Lairen Pankhangba ruled the state.
The Fort opens every morning from 9 am to 4 pm (Nov-Feb) and 9 am to 5 pm (Mar-Oct) Monday remains closed. Entry tickets are Rs 20 per person and you can also rent a bicycle at Rs 20 per hour or rent a vehicle ride since the campus is huge and walking may not be a good option when travelling with kids or senior citizens.
The fort’s original structure somehow got demolished with time and the impact of so many battles fought. But the great effort has been made to restore the Fort and the Palace.
In front of the Fort, you can see the gigantic structures of the Kangla-Sha dragon God. They are the guardians of the entrance to the Uttra- the Coronation Hall of the Meitei Kings. They were destroyed by the British government in 1891 AD but later restored after Manipur achieved independence in 1947.
Ibudhou Pakhangba Temple ( Located inside the Kangla Fort Campus)
Inside the Kangla Fort campus, the beautiful and white-coloured Iputhou Pakhangba Laishang temple looks incredible with its unique architectural style. This is an ancient temple dedicated to the ruling deity Pakhangba. According to ancient texts and literature, the people of Manipur worshipped many Gods and Goddesses and also natural elements like the Sun, Moon, Fire, Water, Earth, etc.
Inside the temple chamber, there was the idol of Lord Krishna and Radha beautifully dressed in all white. We offered prayers and spent some time sitting there. There was a signboard where the legend behind this temple was written, you can read it from the picture I am posting below.
Inside the fort campus, there was a glass house which had four boats. The front part of the boats was carved like dragon heads. They are called “Hijagang”. Please read in detail about these boats from the picture given below.
World War II Cemetery or Imphal War Cemetery
The location of the cemetery is quite offbeat and a little far away from the main market area. Also, the autorickshaw drivers don’t have proper knowledge about this place so we had a hard time explaining to them where we went to visit. The main problem was none of them can talk in Hindi.
There are two Second World War Cemeteries in Imphal. They are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. These cemeteries were built in honour of the brave soldiers both Indian and British who had laid down their lives during World War II.
The Imphal War cemetery has around 1600 graves and the Imphal Indian Army War Cemetery has 828 graves. The graves have bronze plaques with the names of the Bravehearts and a powerful message. But the graves without any names left me very emotional. I wonder who those unnamed soldiers were who sacrificed their lives in the battle.
The Japanese Army faced a major defeat in the Battle of Imphal and had to revert after facing an acute crisis of supplies and food. If you visit Kohima in Nagaland, you can also visit the War Cemetery situated at the heart of the town.
RKCS Art Gallery, Imphal
Located just along the Nambul river road, Keishamthong RKCS Colony, the RKCS Art Gallery, Imphal may not be a popular tourist place but a place meant for history and art lovers. It’s a gallery where you can see every minute detail of Manipur on canvas. The gallery is dedicated to the renowned artist of Manipur Rajkumar Chandrajit Sana (RKCS) who is also the person behind most of the paintings. This Gallery also finds a place in the LIMCA BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS, 1994.
When we entered the gates, everywhere I could see green potted plants. I liked the ambience. There was also an artist who was busy painting on a canvas, I stopped for a moment and saw him making beautiful strokes with the brush and paint on the canvas. It was a normal two-storied building with the first and second floors designed as the art gallery. On every wall in every room, there were beautiful pieces of paintings on canvas.
The gallery also exhibits vintage artefacts, guns, bullets, rifles, and various other kinds of stuff that belonged to the time of World War II. Various oil paintings related to art, customs, dance, traditional dresses, wedding rituals and scenes and stories from the mundane life of Manipur are displayed in the art gallery.
Various paintings depicting scenes from the Battle of Imphal, the Japanese invasion, scenes from the royal court of Manipur, historical scenes of Kangla-fort and other important places, and stories of when the Japanese reverted from India can be seen in the gallery.
Photography is strictly prohibited but you can take the permission of the person in charge and click some for your memories. But photography in the main halls is not allowed. There is no entry fee but of course, donations are welcomed.
Ima Kheithel or Mother’s Market
Located right at the centre of the Imphal main market area, Bir Tikendrajit Road, Thangal Bazar is world-famous among Asia’s largest all-women-run marketplace. Ima Keithel or also popularly called Mother’s Market is around 500 years old and has around 5000 women running various small and big shops. Over many years this market known as Nupi Keithel has evolved and everywhere you can see women selling various commodities.
There were three buildings situated across the flyover and named Nupi Keithel 1, 2 and 3. From vegetables, organic fruits, herbs, traditional Manipuri garments, shoes, flowers, sweets, handmade delicacies, bamboo artefacts, jewellery, Manipuri dolls, dry fish, and locally made products, you will find almost everything there.
I bought two Manipuri traditional stoles and two phanek ( Traditional Manipuri skirts) and also some handmade sweets from the market.
One striking feature about the Mother’s Market is that only married women are allowed to run shops here and these are passed on from one generation to another. The market remains open from Monday to Sunday from 4 am to 7 pm.
Imphal State Museum and Imphal Polo Ground
We skipped visiting the state museum because it was closed for some maintenance and also the Polo Grounds as we were quite exhausted. The Imphal Polo Ground originally known as Mapal Kangjeibung dates back to 15 century BC and is the world’s oldest polo ground.
The game was popularised by the British when players used to play on horseback the game of Sagol Kangjei or Pulu, which we call Polo in the present day.
It is also said that Manipuri King Kangba who was also a deity invented this game in the 14th century BC. You can read more about this game HERE.
Shree Govindajee Temple
This beautiful white-coloured temple dedicated to Lord Krishna was the last place we visited on our first day at Imphal, Manipur. You can easily reach the temple by taking a shared auto at Rs 50 per person or reserve the auto for Rs 100 and they will drop you just at the Temple gate. Shree Govindajee Temple is the largest Vaishnava temple in Imphal and is situated near the Manipur palace.
There are in total three chambers. One has Govindaji (Shri Krishna) and Radha and the other two had Shri Krishna, Subhadra and Balaram. The deities worshipped in the extreme right chamber are very similar to the ones in Puri’s Jagannatha Mandir.
The images of the deities were life-like and I was entirely awe-struck when I saw them. We also took part in the evening prayers which were conducted in a ritualistic manner by the head priest. Many locals participated in the prayer who seemed to be regular visitors to the temple.
A Classic Manipuri Lunch
Of course, the first day in Manipur would be incomplete without a big fat Manipuri lunch. We headed to a restaurant near the Imphal market. Though Laxmi Kitchen is the most popular place among tourists for a Manipuri lunch, we skipped it as it was already lunch hour and we were hungry after exploring Imphal since the morning we landed. Imoinu Chakhum, was a decent place for the Manipuri lunch in Imphal and we felt quite welcoming there.
The people were good and we got some time to interact with them. It was not that crowded and very hygienic. We ordered two Manipuri thalis and extra fish curry.
In the thali, there were lots of items like rice, a salad with local herbs and greens, eromba which my husband had three helpings, dal, boiled vegetables, a green leafy soul with dry fish, some chutneys, potato fries with fish eggs, sinchu which is cooked with shredded pieces of some local fish, and at the end very delicious and sweet tamarind chutney. The man serving us explained to us about all the items being served.
Some important points to keep in mind
- Wear comfortable shoes as you may need to walk exploring Imphal.
- You can bargain at Ima Market but most of the elderly ladies don’t understand Hindi but few are quite fluent.
- You can buy handicrafts, handloom fabrics, traditional Manipuri outfits from Ima Market and also lots of Dry fish if you love them.
- The whole Imphal town gets shut down by 7 pm and it’s very difficult to commute so it’s better to reach your hotel before that. There is no nightlife in Imphal.
- The town wakes up quite early so you shouldn’t miss the morning hours.
- Most of the local auto drivers don’t know about the tourist’s place so what you can do is check the location in GPS and say them the local name of the area they will instantly get you.
- Wear proper clothes as the town looks quite traditional. Most of the women and young girls I saw were in traditional dresses which I liked a lot.
- Please respect traffic rules if you are travelling by your vehicle as the rules are very strict.
These are some of the important places that I want to include in this Imphal Travel guide. Most places are nearby and can be visited either by walking or hiring a shared auto. A day is enough to visit all these places if you start early in the morning. Hope my Ultimate Imphal Guide shall help you a lot to plan your trip. Do share any queries you have in the comment section below and also share the blog with your friends and loved ones. Thanks!!