A sweet anecdote about Imphal
A charming exchange takes place early on in Imphal, a seminal book on the Second World War’s Battle of Imphal by Geoffrey Evans and Antony Brett-James. It dates back to 1942 and involves a British Army matron on her way back from a break in Imphal and a group of Royal Engineers heading in her direction:
‘Where have you come from?’ was their first question.
‘I’ve come from Imphal,’ she replied.
‘Oh! Wherever is it? We’d never heard of the place, and we’ve already been on the way from Bangalore for ten days.’
‘Well, you’re not far away now.’
‘Good! That’s a relief! But where is it? What is it? What do we find when we get there?’
‘You’ll find a little paradise on earth.’
In some ways, the above still rings true – most people in India and the rest of the world know little, if anything, about Manipur in India’s North East and Imphal, its capital city. Of course, one might be a little hard pressed to describe present-day Imphal, or any modern Indian city for that matter, as a ‘little paradise on earth.’ But once you land here you begin to realise what may have inspired that British matron’s remark over 70 years ago.
The state of Manipur, of which Imphal is the capital, lies in the extreme eastern side in the map of India. Situated in a beautiful valley, Imphal is surrounded by bluish-green hills on three sides. The Kangla Fort, at the heart of the city, was the seat of the ancient Manipuri Kingdom for an estimated 2,000 years. One of the most important historical sites in Manipur, the over 200 acre Kangla Fort Complex is today an oasis of calm in an ever busier city. Nearby is the Mapal Kangjeibung, arguably the world’s oldest polo ground where the game is still played, and a reminder that modern Polo originated in Manipur. And then there is the famous Khwairamband Keithel, or Ima Market, said to be among the largest such markets in Asia run exclusively run by women.
Imphal’s environs were also the scene of bitter fighting between British forces and the Japanese and the Indian National Army (INA) during the World War II. Indeed, the Battle of Imphal of 1944- together with the Battle of Kohima- is today recognized as Britain’s Greatest Battle and as Japan’s greatest ever defeat on land.
Throw in to the mix one of India’s least known and tastiest cuisines; festivals and traditions that are yet to suffer from over-packaging and exposure; a very comfortable climate; a people proud of their culture and history; stunning landscapes that are never more than a 15-minute drive away; the thrill of having an international border with Burma/Myanmar; and what you have is a place just waiting to be explored.