Manipur was turning out to be a destination that would change my perception of the North-East. Exploring Imphal was a breeze; also because the weather was perfect after a downpour. I had a day and a half to spend at Loktak Lake and was totally clueless about it. As the shared taxi rolled into Moirang, I had my first glimpse of Loktak Lake but that was no indication of the riches it holds.
It was early in the morning and since the days in the northeast begin at 4-430, I was in the shared Winger taxi by 7 am. The locals had indicated that the place where the shared taxis left from Imphal for Moirang was quite close to the hostel where I was staying. It was an incredibly efficient system and a vehicle left every 15 minutes or so in the morning. There were buses for Moirang too; but I trust the local recommendations and they had told me that the Winger was an easier and recommended choice. I had also been told that if I really wanted to explore Loktak Lake, it was better that I stay at Thanga village.
Manoeuvring through the network of phumdis on the Loktak Lake boat ride.
Coming back to the Winger – It was a unique vehicle that functioned like a small minibus with a seating capacity of 15-18 people.
We crossed Bishnupur before reaching Moirang; the 50 km distance from Imphal to Moirang cost 60 Rupees per seat and hardly took an hour and a half. Once in Moirang, I finally had breakfast before walking towards INA Museum. After a detailed perusal of the same and much astonishment later, I concluded that it was indeed better that I went to Thanga Village. The hotels in Moirang were quoting high prices and anyway Moirang didn’t feel like a town that would entice me with its charms.
There were two roads that bifurcated in Moirang : One went right to the Keibul Lamjao National Park and the other continued straight to Sendra Island and the villages on Loktak Lake like Thanga (where I was headed). There wasn’t much information available on the internet about homestays around Loktak Lake and that only added to my confusion. Locals kept advising me that Sendra Resort was the best place to stay if I wanted to experience Loktak Lake. I wanted to stay at a homestay instead; and experience the local way of life.
In my usual style of travel, I kept asking here and there and figured that shared autos run from Moirang to Thanga village and a few people also vaguely confirmed that there was indeed one homestay in Thanga village. I found one auto that was brimming with people and was charging 20 Rupees for the 10 km distance to Thanga! Some language confusion meant that there was no space in the auto for me. I had to wait until there were enough passengers for the next shared auto.
In the meanwhile, the Israelis I had met at the hostel in Imphal had also reached Moirang. They had come from Imphal in a bus and we were all very happy to be reunited. The prospect of staying at a homestay sounded very promising, especially now that a few people had confirmed that there was indeed a functioning homestay in Thanga Village. There was no space in the next auto by the time they reached; the roof was the only space left!
The auto dropped us just outside the homestay in Thanga village; there was a steep descent on a slippery cemented path after that. One of the Israelis had a minor fall but we all made it to the homestay. It was a home owned by a local family and was located on the banks of Loktak Lake. The lady of the house informed us that they only had 3 rooms on offer. We sat in the open seating space while the lady confirmed the rates with Mr. Maipakchao (the owner and husband).
We finalised a reasonable rate and quickly put our bags inside. Days in the Northeast end early and we wanted to spend as much time as possible on Loktak Lake. We were very hungry and also Mr. Maipakchao had not yet come home; so it was decided to have a quick lunch and only then go out. Once Mr. Maipakchao was back home, he had a discussion with all of us. He decided to show us around the lake. The Israelis put me in charge of the boating discussion and we finalised a rate of 200 per person.
We were given cool looking bamboo hats as we walked out on the road. The weather was pleasant but the afternoon felt a little humid. We joked among ourselves at our touristy behaviour and whether we looked like jokers! The Israelis were young and fresh out of their military stint and I was very glad to know that even though it was their first trip to India they were exploring Manipur rather than the usual Himachali villages. It was around 2-230 in the afternoon and Mr. Maipakchao had told us that we needed to end the boating before 4 pm so as to reach a hillock in time for sunset.
To read about my candid feelings during the boat ride, check Life on Loktak Lake, Manipur : A Photo Story.
The sun had already started its downward journey as we rushed after the boat ride. Mr. Maipakchao led the way and we followed him hurriedly, wanting to see as much as we possibly could! It was a steep and uphill climb, I was perspiring like crazy. After much huffing and puffing, when I finally made it the sun was still strong. A strong breeze blew on top of the hillock making all if us feel quite relieved. The floating phumdis of Loktak Lake were visible in their glory and in all directions.
We could see round phumdis and wondered how on earth was it possible that these natural land masses were perfectly round!! At times, it felt like a motion movie with the scarcely believable postcard perfect scenes. The sun created surreal orange hues as it went behind the mountains. Tiny boats were seen heading back to the floating huts. I rubbed my eyes more than once to confirm that this wasn’t really a dream.
The Keibul Lamjao National Park was visible in the far distance. One of the Israelis was carrying a portable stove and made excellent coffee. We all took some time to savour the moment and sat on the ground enjoying the coffee with the gently changing sky colours. Just as it was about to get dark, we started on our way back to the homestay and Mr. Maipakchao asked us if we had any specific preferences for dinner? We told him anything homemade would do.
The weather had become cold and I was glad the blanket in my room was cosy. At the homestay, the lady of the house gave us tea with a distinct flavour and we all thanked her. At dinner time, the Israelis sang Hanukkah songs and lit up candles and performed a small ceremony. The food was freshly cooked and was very tasty. We ate like hungry beasts! It felt quite wonderful to experience a properly run homestay in the far away ends of Manipur.
During the after dinner walk, when it was pitch dark streaks of lightening flashed across the sky. I wasn’t quite sure if I had seen that for real or it was something else.
Check some other memorable posts from the North east :
Turns out that I was witness to the Geminid Meteor Shower on that cloudless night on Loktak Lake.
Dreams do come true.