The Loktak Lake in Manipur is not just a wetland of international importance but also a habitat for both man and the beast
The north-eastern State of Manipur is usually known for its culture, festivals, exotic food and music, but it mostly boasts being the place where polo was born. As a matter of fact, Manipur also houses the oldest polo ground in the world, dating back to AD 33. However, there is also a lesser-known gem in this State which dazzles travellers on first sight – the Loktak Lake.
An interesting, picturesque eco-system, Loktak Lake is a paradise for travellers. Approximately 52 kilometers from Imphal, it is the largest fresh water lake in north-east India. The drive to the lake from Imphal is scenic, punctuated by emerald fields of paddy and other vegetation. The change in landscape is dramatic as one approaches Loktak, meaning ‘a place where streams end’, Lok meaning ‘stream’ and tak meaning ‘the end’. White tufts of clouds descend and embrace the hillocks which are draped in vivid layers of green and blue in complementary hues.
The glistening blue waters are separated into little lakelets by cluster of matted weeds called phumdis, mixed masses of vegetation, soil and decomposed organic matters. Imagine standing on a piece of land that floats on water, that’s exactly what these phumdis are.
WORLD’S ONLY FLOATING PARK
Loktak is a revelation all the way. On its fringes lies the Keibul Lamjao National Park, a 40 sq km sprawl which was declared a Ramsar site in 1990 (a wetland site designated of international importance). Apart from being the world’s only known floating national park, it enjoys the place of pride for being the world’s lone habitat of the Sangai, the jewel in Manipur’s crown. The Eld’s Deer or Brow-antlered deer, the Sangai is an endangered species, and Manipur’s state animal, held in great veneration by the Manipuris for whom it symbolises their rich heritage. For them, it is the sacred soul harmonising Nature and Man, and hence, killing it is deemed a sin beyond reprieve.
LIFE ON WATER
It is evident that Loktak is the nerve centre for the villagers who inhabit it, and enjoy a laidback existence, revelling in the mundane. While it is a source of water for hydropower generation, irrigation and drinking water, the abundant fishes that dwell in its depth, provide a source of food and livelihood for villagers who have constructed thatched huts on these floating weeds. They also use canoes for transportation. Meanwhile, these floating weed rings have naturally formed large, circular ponds which the villagers fish from.
The sight of fisherwomen netting fish and deftly lowering it into a bucket is fascinating. For these women, who live with their families in floating huts on the phumdis, the lake is their temple and deity. Equally amusing is the scene of youngsters ingeniously using slippers as oars to navigate the lake. Loktak is not just about serenity and splendorous vistas, it lures adventure seekers with vast scope for trekking, boating, rafting, angling and bird watching.
As you polish off plates of hot pakodas, and drain down steaming cups of tea and coffee, one sits entranced, fascinated by the knowledge that he/she was in a restaurant that was actually perched on a huge phumdi island! As you ponder over nature’s strange ways in meditative silence, a riveting sunset splashes the sky in boisterous hues of red and orange, adding to the beauty of Loktak. In the evening, dusk merges into darkness as a delicate crescent moon appears over the now shadowy ranges.
For an avid traveller, it is hard to move on from this destination as he/she is still mesmerised by its pristine water, sylvan surrounds and labyrinthine boat routes.
Text: Chitra Ramaswamy