Gateway to Paradise: Imphal, Manipur

Imphal is the capital city of Manipur, a state in North East India.  Imphal is situated at an altitude of around 2450 feet above sea level and is the entry point to this naturally gifted land.  

Getting to Imphal is relatively easy with travellers having three options. The first one is to take a flight straight into Imphal. There are direct or one stop flights via Guwahati in Assam from all leading metro cities in the country.  

The second option is taking a direct overnight bus from Guwahati. This is a more affordable option but also time consuming as the bus takes around 14-16 hours to reach Imphal on an average when the road conditions are good.

The third option travellers have is to take a intercity train from Guwahati in Assam to Dimapur in Nagaland and then a shared jeep (pay per seat) to Imphal. This is only a recommended option if you plan on exploring Nagaland and then intend on continuing your journey to Manipur.  It takes six hours by train and then another seven hours by the shared jeep.

Once in Imphal, the city has a pretty pleasing vibe. It’s nothing like what you hear or read in the media, it’s actually a bustling city which is more or less like any other small town in India.  Everyone is smiling and cheerful out here and always willing to help travellers get around.  

Most of the younger generation in Imphal can speak fluent English so getting directions to go anywhere is not hard. All you need to do is just ask and you’ll surely get more than one person who will come out of their way to help you.  People are extremely warm and friendly.

Getting around the city is best on foot for all the places near by which is around the city centre. To reach places a few kilometres from the city centre, one will find plenty of shared autos which run every five to ten minutes up and down every road possible in Imphal. This is a great way to meet more locals and get a better experience of what the local way of life in the capital city of Manipur is like.

Imphal has quite a lot to see and do, starting with the Kangla fort which is located in the heart of the city and is a must visit. To explore the fort the authorities have provided cycles and even a small tramcar to go around and explore the complex of Kangla fort.  Inside the fort, every tree and plant that’s growing has been named along with numerous small ponds and temples.  There is even a cafeteria which serves very basic food and drink. Bora, a local Manipuri style of fried veggies which is served with chutney is a must have while visiting the fort.

The next place to visit is Ima Keithel (mother’s market) a short 150 metre walk from Kangla fort.  The market is a must visit and one of the few if not only places in India where the entire market which is spread across two blocks and holds around 3000 ladies selling various kinds of things.

One building has ladies all the daily necessities from vegetables, meat, fish and fruits. While the other building has plenty ladies selling Manipuri handlooms and artwork. Bargaining is a skill which will come on very handy while shopping at this market.  

Accommodation options in Imphal are limited to just luxury hotels and the lack of real budget backpacker friendly home stays,guest houses and lodges is one of the major reasons why tourism hasn’t really boomed in this state.  There are a couple of home stay options but those are a good six to eight kilometres away from the city centre.

Food options on the other hand are in plenty with a range of restaurants serving both local Manipuri dishes as well as western. A must try in Imphal thali which is basically fish curry, rice, veggies cooked in their traditional style and dried fish salad.

The best time to visit Imphal is during the dry winter months of mid October to end of March.  During the winter months, it’s advisable to carry light woollens since the mercury level in the night tends to drop well below 10c.

When it comes to cell phone connecting and ATMs Imphal is very well connected with 4G network coverage all over the city and ATMs at every nook and corner.

The city of Imphal has great tourism potential but plenty of infrastructure needed in the form of homestays and guest houses. Tourism is clearly one area which has been neglected by everyone here and a change in outlook will surely bring in a lot of prosperity to the city and state.

Imphal is the kind of city you can easily spend a couple of days just relaxing and unwinding while soaking in simple lifestyle of the Manipuri people.  It’s definitely a must visit place for everyone who considers themselves a nomad.

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