Exploring Imphal and Loktak Lake, Manipur
India’s northeastern state of Manipur, home to the stunning Loktak Lake, lies on the border with Myanmar and is mainly inhabited by the Meitei people. Other tribes such as the Nagas and the Kukis call Manipur their home and live in the hills surrounding Imphal Valley. Manipuri is the main language in Manipur, although English is spoken widely especially in Imphal, the state capital.
It is important to note that many foreign advisories classify Manipur as an area of high risk and advise against all travel there due to potential insurgencies. Although we felt pretty safe traveling in Manipur (perhaps because we were lucky), the risk of traveling to Manipur should be properly evaluated and considered before planning a trip there.
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Tourist places in Manipur
After commuting from Nagaland’s state capital, Kohima, we settled down in our hotel to take note of the tourist places in Manipur. We had already heard about Loktak Lake, Manipur, and we had decided that the lake was surely going to make it on our itinerary, but we knew very little else about the stage.
We quickly found out that there are not too many tourist places in Manipur, and some locals also informed us about a tourist circuit restricting the places foreigners are allowed to visit in Manipur, although we do not think that this was enforced in any way.
Had we registered our stay once we crossed the border, perhaps we would have been better informed about this, but since our shared taxi driver seemed unwilling to make the stop (see our post about traveling from Kohima to Imphal), we never got to do that.
Eventually we figured out that the most popular tourist places in Manipur were Imphal itself, Loktak Lake and the Keibul Lamjao National Park (which is right on the banks of Loktak Lake, Manipur), Ukhrul for the Sirohi National Park, and the border town of Moreh (for a daytrip into Myanmar).
We had no time to go to Ukhrul, and we weren’t too interested in a day trip to Myanmar seeing that we were planning to travel around the country for the second time after having left India, so we settled on exploring Imphal, Loktak Lake and Keibul Lamjao National Park during our time in Manipur.
Things to do in Imphal
Imphal, Manipur’s state capital is the largest city in the state and its least rural area. The roads are wide and comfortable, and the city exudes a rather relaxing vibe, though we were warned to stay alert for ‘disturbances’ during our time there. As mentioned earlier, the risk of visiting Manipur should be carefully considered.
Just like Nagaland, Manipur is a dry state so you won’t find any shops selling wine or beer, although local alcohol may be available if you know where to look for it.
Eat Manipuri Thali
You may have had your fair share of thalis if you’ve been traveling around India for a while, but none will have been quite like an authentic Manipuri thali! We tried both the veg and the non-veg Manipuri thalis at Luxmi Kitchen and Hotel Imoinu.
Rice and daal were served with about 10 other different dishes, including fish curries and fried fish for the non-veg, and vegetable curries for the veg version. I sincerely wish to have figured out what each dish was, but it was all delicious! Black rice pudding, included in our Manipuri thali is a specialty too!
Thalis cost Rs140 (about €1.80) each at Luxmi kitchen, whilst that at Hotel Imoinu was similarly priced. Highly recommended and one of the best things to do in Imphal!
Visit the Ima Keithel (Women’s) Market
The Ima Keithel is perhaps the most vibrant and colourful place in Imphal. The market has been running for 500 years and is managed exclusively by 3000 women. Women from small remote villages display their wares in the market, which range from dried fish, chili, and locally grown vegetables to clothes and houseware. Another area is dedicated to local handicrafts.
The Ima Keithel is not simply another market but represents the strong role of women in Manipur’s economic growth and visiting the site, is not only one of the best things to do in Imphal, but also one of the best places to visit in Manipur!
Take a walk around Kangla Fort
Kangla Fort, located right in the heart of Imphal, was the former seat of the traditional Meetei rulers and a symbol of Manipur’s former glory. It has no great attractions but the pleasant walk along the curated grounds is well worth the Rs 50 (€0.65, Rs 10 for Indians) entrance fee. The lake and gardens provide a very peaceful oasis in the heart of a bustling city and the leisurely walk around the fort grounds is one of the best things to do in Imphal.
Visit the Shri Shri Govindaji Temple
Located on the East side of Imphal, the Shri Shri Govindaji Temple, with its two arched golden domes, is built on a platform and is of special importance to Hindus. It was almost empty when we visited except for a one man who came to speak to us readily, and to our surprise, knew exactly where our home country Malta was located (a rarity)!
Turns out that he was a scholar researching the history of arms and weapons, and we spent an interesting while listening to his detailed explanations about a subject he was obviously passionate about. This may not be one of the best places to visit in Manipur unless you are religious, but if you’re in the area, it is definitely worth seeing.
Take a look at the Royal Palace (from outside)
Unfortunately, the Royal Palace was closed when we visited although we did manage to get a good look from the outside. We later realized that it is not open to the public and cannot be visited, but it is only a few metres away from the Shri Shri Govindaji Temple, and worth taking a look at if you’re around. There are guards at the entrance gates, but they didn’t mind us looking at the attraction from outside.
Related: Explore Bomdila and Dirang
Walk around the Imphal War Cemetery
This may be a sobering ‘attraction’, but together with the Kohima War Cemetery, bears testimony to what is described as one of the greatest battles in history. Though a bit tricky to find, the site is well-maintained and very peaceful and well-worth some of your time, making it one of the best things to do in Imphal, especially if you’re a history lover!
Hotels in Imphal, Manipur
Hotels in Imphal, Manipur are not plentiful and as in most of the other Northeastern states, tend to be more expensive when compared to those in ‘mainland’ India, as the rest of India is called by the northeasterners.
We stayed at two separate hotels in Imphal, where Phou-Oi-Bee was definitely the better option and highly recommended. If you do not wish to travel around Manipur independently, Holiday Scout can help you get around and will assist you in booking your hotels in Imphal as well as in other places in Manipur and the rest of Northeast India.
The staff at Phou-Oi-Bee Hotel were incredibly nice and helpful and had no problems with storing our backpacks for a couple of days whilst we traveled lightly to Loktak Lake carrying only our daypacks.
What is Loktak Lake?
When we first heard that Loktak Lake was one of the best tourist places in Manipur, we didn’t know what to expect since so very little information was available about it, and the few photos we saw online seemed to show a lake which was far too pretty to be so unknown around the world.
We were told that Loktak Lake, is one of the largest in all of the Northeast and that it contains little islands called phumdis, spread all over it. The little islands are actually clusters of soil and vegetation which have formed naturally, floating around the lake. The lake itself is also home to several species of aquatic plant and animal life, amongst which are the Sangai deer of Keibul Lamjao National Park.
There is very little international tourism in Manipur and although Loktak Lake is one of the best places to visit in Manipur, tourism infrastructure is very poorly developed, even if the lake has the potential of becoming a very popular spot.
Indeed, we felt we wanted to spend a lot more time in the peaceful environment than the two days we had allocated! If you’re planning a trip here, consider staying for at least 3-4 days to take in the slow, easy vibes!
Where is Loktak Lake?
Loktak Lake is located near the small town of Moirang in Manipur, around 50km away from Imphal.
Imphal to Loktak Lake, Manipur
It is very easy to travel from Imphal to Loktak Lake. A private taxi will take you straight to the Lake, and is the most convenient option.
Alternatively, using shared taxis is the most affordable option and simple enough, especially if you follow our tips!. Here’s how to travel from Imphal to Loktak lake using the shared vans (taxis) which are so ubiquitous of northeast India:
- Take a tuktuk to the shared taxi area opposite Luxmi Kitchen. Cost Rs 50 (about €0.65)
- Hop on a shared van or sumo headed to Moirang. The starting point and final destination of the sumo is usually written prominently on the windscreen, though any driver will gladly indicate who of his colleagues is driving the route if you get confused. Cost Rs 60 each (about €0.78).
- Once at Moirang, the sumo will stop you at the shared taxi parking spot. From here get out of the parking lot and turn left. Walk down the market and then turn to the right. Shortly afterwards, you will notice a group of smaller tempos on your left. Ask for the tempo headed to Thanga. Hop on one of them for a cost of Rs15 (about €0.20) each.
- Tell the driver to drop you off at your accommodation, but also consider following the route on a GPS. We stayed at Maipakchao Homestay right on the lake bank. Most tempo drivers are aware of it.
Getting back involved doing the same route, although this time the trip was a little more adventurous. We set off late morning after having visited Keibul Lamjao National Park, and waited on the main road just outside Maipakchao homestay for a tempo to pass by and take us on. Every single tempo that passed by was full up though, and the drivers grinned whenever they caught sight of Nikki’s large frame, as if to say, good luck getting a lift!
Finally, we decided that we had enough of waiting and started walking towards Moirang. It wasn’t very far off (about an hour’s walk) but we were experiencing really hot weather and our daypacks (we had left our backpacks in Imphal) felt super heavy! Just as I was about to faint of dehydration and sunstroke, a tempo stopped and told us to get on. Since there was absolutely no space inside, Nikki joined some other commuters on the roof and I stood on step at the back and held on to the rails. Cheers to commuting in true India style!
Where to stay in Loktak Lake, Manipur
As mentioned above we stayed at Maipakchao Homestay which we really enjoyed. We were apprehensive that there would be no electricity or running water, but there was both, although the huts were very basic consisting of two single beds covered by mosquito nets and the private bathroom consisted of a toilet, shower and sink, all of which were fully functional.
We had our meals with other guests on a communal table. The food was basic but delicious, and we also enjoyed the company of the other guests from the ‘mainland’. For dinner we had rice, daal, fish and some curries followed by black rice pudding which we so loved! Lunch was noodles, and breakfast included eggs, bread, fruit and tea. The cost is Rs 1200 (about €15.60) per person including breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Other accommodation options near Loktak Lake Manipur, include the Sendra Park and Resort by The Classic, and Loktak Aquamarine which is described as a floating homestay and campsite and seems to be located on one of the floating phumdis. During our boat ride on the lake (more on that below), we came across another floating homestay which we visited (and loved). We were told that the price of staying at this homestay is of Rs1500 (€19.50) per person including the boat ride from shore to the homestay and meals.
How to visit Loktak Lake, Manipur
Of course, the lake is best visited on a boat, although the views of the lake from a hill above the lake are pretty awesome too! We asked our homestay to organize a boat ride as soon as we arrived and we set off right after we had lunch. We can happily tell you that the experience exceeded all our expectations.
The blue waters dotted with phumdis are gorgeous, though it must have helped that we had amazing sunny weather. Perhaps the lake might not have dazzled us in the same manner had we had gloomy and grey weather.
The boat ride set us back Rs 1200 (about €15.60) and lasted almost two hours. Our boat men very kindly stopped whenever we wanted to take pictures and also provided two conical hats, a welcome gift given the strong sun! They took us around different areas of the lake where locals were fishing for eels and other fish, which would probably make up a substantial part of our dinner, later that night. Some comparisons to Myanmar’s Inle Lake were inevitable. We also stopped at a floating homestay for tea and biscuits.
We initially wondered whether the conical hats typical of Asia were ‘photo props’ and weren’t too keen on wearing them, but then remembered that we were in Manipur, Northeast India, and although Loktak Lake is one of the most popular tourist places in Manipur, tourism and Instagram have not infiltrated in the same way as they have in other regions of Asia. Actually, the hats were instrumental in preventing a potentially very bad sunburn since we were experiencing very clear, sunny skies at that point.
Sunset over Loktak Lake
Right after the boat ride, we scrambled to shore and ran towards the path leading up the hill to the sunset spot, where we hoped to catch a great view of the lake during the golden hour. It was already getting late and feared that we would not make it up in time, since we had been told that we might need to trek for an hour to get to the top.
In fact, we arrived to the top in about 10 minutes, hot and sweaty and with lots of grass stuck to our feet since we were wearing flip flops, just in time to experience the golden hues of Loktak Lake as the sun started to set (at around 16.10 in December when we were there).
It was immensely quiet and peaceful, a perfect place from where to experience the wonderful beauty around us, before it got too dark. No wonder that Loktak Lake is one of the best tourist places in Manipur!
We made our way back using our phone torches and were served teas and biscuits at the homestay before we had a shower and were called to dinner.
Keibul Lamjao National Park
The only floating park in the world, located on one side of Loktak Lake is one of the pretty places to visit in Manipur, especially since it is home to the endangered Sangai deer. The deer are best seen during the hours of 6.00-8.00 and 16.00-18.00 when they come out of the thick vegetation to feed, under which they are hiding at other times of the day.
Completely unaware of this information at the time, we rented bicycles from Maipakchao Homestay and cycled to the entrance of the park, excited to see the dancing deer as the Sangai are sometimes called. The entrance to the park is Rs 200 (about €2.50) and you are also asked to pay a camera fee of Rs250 (€.3.25). Our bags were not checked for cameras in case you’re wondering.
Related: Meeting the Greater One-Horned Rhino at Kaziranga National Park
The watch tower is about 1.5 km from the entrance and we headed right there, hoping to catch sight of the deer. Unfortunately, the only views we had were of the thick grass and some puddles. It was really hazy too, which to us was rather disappointing visually, though we should have really informed ourselves better about the Sangai’s feeding habits (our bad!).
Just as we were about to leave a guide of the national park came up to speak to us. We normally try to avoid impromptu guides since you can never be too sure whether you are casually being scammed, and they sometimes ask for money just for having imparted some information without you even having asked for it. Truth be told, the majority are helpful rather than sneaky, but we have encountered enough people demanding money to want to avoid such situations.
This guide was absolutely the genuine type though and laughed when we said that we came to see the Sangai, informing us that they were really hard to spot this time of day. He did however take a look around through his binoculars to check whether there were any around. He said ‘yes you are lucky, I can see four, but you may not be able to see them”.
Nikki immediately started to look through the zoom of his camera lens and managed to spot two, though they were carefully camouflaged, whilst I could see nothing but grass. After a while, thirst must have gotten the better out of one particular deer though, as it started moving cautiously towards a puddle of water and came out into the open, so that even I managed to get a good look at it despite my poor eyesight!
Other things to do in Manipur
Imphal and Loktak Lake are easily the two best places to visit in Manipur, although most of the few domestic tourists in Manipur like to take a daytrip to Moreh to cross the border into Myanmar and experience just a very small fraction of what Myanmar has to offer.
Although we did not do this ourselves, we imagine that the culture and ambience on the Myanmar side of the border must actually be very similar to that in Manipur, so we weren’t too excited about crossing the border on a daytrip, especially since we had already spent some time traveling in Myanmar and would be visiting again after having left India.
One of the tourist places in Manipur, which seems to be included on some itineraries is the district of Ukhrul, located about 80 km away from Imphal. Shared taxis leaving Imphal to Ukhrul are available. The villages around Ukhrul town are known to be rather pretty and it is probably a great place to trek if you have some time.
The best time to go is around May – July when the Shirui lilies are in full bloom. Since we were there in December, we decided on skipping Ukhrul, though we do hope to go back to Manipur at some point!
Although Manipur is completely off the beaten track, and many people traveling in India have never even heard of it, it was easily one of the highlights of our travels throughout Northeast India. If you like to meet local people in authentic surroundings, include Imphal and Loktak Lake, Manipur, on your Northeast India itinerary!