Hills, Fish and Imphal.. part 1
Sometimes the wind blows past me, whispering in my ears the calls of longing to be back in my hometown, Imphal. Most non-Manipuris do not have a clue about how Imphal is like and I am often asked by my friends to describe it. They all promise they will come visit me someday which I am sure is pretty unlikely considering how 'happening' Imphal is.
I struggle now to sum up my hometown in a few words. Where do I even begin?
Let me put it this way. From the sky (in an aeroplane, of course), what will first strike your notice is how green the place is. Patches of fields in shades of yellow and green. Little houses scattered around them. Long isolated roads all leading to the city centre. And green hills shielding it off from the rest of the world. You would think it was almost a rural setting.
Land in the city and you will almost get a paradoxical idea about the concept of rural Imphal. As you drive closer and closer into the city centre, you will be greeted by dozens of half built houses, decorated with bunches of electrical and telephone wires. The roads are scarred with many a potholes, making your ride a great exercise for digestion. You will find, you are not the only one out for some exercise. There are many others, too many, each criss-crossing the others' paths, almost competing to get to their destinations. It is almost like an obstacle course you encounter in those Fitness training sessions which test agility and quick thinking.
An appropriate anecdote to share with you all at this point would be the one where I tried my hand at driving for the first time, after days and weeks of lessons in Koirengei (an old abandoned ex-runway). There I was having driven my jeep around town with my driving-instructor (who also happened to be our family driver). We were almost at the end and I could not just wait to get home. While negotiating the last turn, I at once encountered two two-wheelers coming from both sides of the road (yes, Manipuris drive by their own rules, no left side or right side system) and to my relief and jubilation, I had managed to find a path between the two and turned to my driving instructor, the pride of achievement shining on my face when there was a thumph.. a rickshaw parked about one-fourth into the road being the new found obstacle. In nervousness, I even forgot how to brake, and if it had not been for my instructor, the jeep and the rickshaw would have been in the bottom of the community pond just a few inches away. The rickshaw owner who had stood watching this helplessly at one side decided that I being the young girl I was would only be charged a fifty rupees for the damage caused (a few scratches on the rickshaw).
Yes, this is another thing you should keep in mind in a city like Imphal. Money, the right amount can get you out of any kind of trouble. In fact sometimes, you often see policemen on roads stopping random passer-bys, conducting checks and charging them their whole wallet's worth for their time. In short, if you have the money, Imphal has whatever you need to get into or get out of. Power is another one. Know the right people and the city is the best place on earth- you can roam around the city like you own the place on bandhs and strike days, for example. Don't know anyone, ahh well, even getting daily rations and petrol is also an ordeal.
Ok ok, my purpose of this piece is not to make sure you cancel Imphal from all your travel plans. Imphal is a beautiful place. Really it is. Ignore the buildings and half built roads and look around. Greenery greets you wherever you turn. Drive to the outskirts and you will at once understand why it was tagged in the past as the 'Switzerland' of India. Hills decorating its horizon, the pleasant breeze that blows through the fields, the free flowing rivers welcoming you for some frolicking in the waters..
The people are what makes the city right? One thing that will strike you about the people are that they look anything but Indian. They could pass off as Burmese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Malaysian, mixed-Chinese among many others, but never Indian (sadly). If you have met me, you would already know that eh? And one of the trendiest as well (apart from me, of course) and more crazy about Korean movies and dramas than Bollywood. I guess this has something to do with the Taliban-like insurgents who banned Hindi movies in theatres a long time ago. Anyway, they are also some of the friendliest people you could find. They are, in general, very proud of themselves, one of the reasons why you will not encounter any beggars on the streets (unlike other cities in India).
|(this particular picture is from the internet.)|
One more thing, most vegetarian Manipuris are not really Vegetarians. Unless fish is vegetarian. Fish is an important part of every Manipuri's life and is added into each and very dish that comes out of a Manipuri kitchen (along with chillis). The eromba, the must-have spicy dish in every meal, or 'Morok metpa'(literally translates to Mashed up chillis) as an alternative. Then there is the Mairen Saak (my all time favourite food, tops my list of top 10 world dishes, so you can imagine). The yen thongba (chicken curries). The Kangshois (almost soup like, but eaten with rice).
I must add here, if you do come to Imphal, do attend an Ushop (ceremonial gatherings where you are greeted with an array of Manipuri dishes both sweet and spicy on a banana leaf...). It is the best way to sample most of the dishes (apart from fish, for ushops are organised in memory of loved ones who have passed away and hence no fish is served). And yes there is no need for worrying whether that will fill you up, did I mention how the dishes are refilled on your platter everytime you finish it? :)
I started off this post with a lot on my mind about Imphal, but I realise I should pause here for a while atleast. My brain is seriously jammed with too much data. So I will conclude with a list of must-do things and continue some other time.
2. Go to the Sekmai and have a walk around in the river. People often have picnics by the side of the river and cook their food there. Add that in too.
3. Climb one of the hills. The view from the top is just wowie. And if you are fortunate enough to climb one with pine trees, on your way back down, slide on the pine leaves on the ground. I have tried it and can vouch that it is wayyyy more fun than roller coasters.
4. A long drive around the outskirts of the city.
5. Loktak Lake! Not in the city, but in Moirang. Apparently the boat rides are fun (have never got the chance..)..
6. Paona Bazar for some shopping.. Pirated CDs. All kinds of things from Moreh (Badminton-racket like mosquito killers, anyone?).
7. Come during the monsoon rains and treat yourself to some soaking...
To be continued...