Manipur, India

Stretching along the border with Burma, Manipurcentres on a vast lowland area watered by the lake system south of its capital Imphal. This far corner is home to the Meithei, who despite their own fascinating version of Vaishnava Hinduism, remain resolutely independent in their thinking. With its myriad tribes, including Naga, Manipur feels closer to Southeast Asia – and you can indeed cross into Myanmar from here – than mainstream India and many locals speak neither English nor Hindi. Manipur’s matriarchal society means that women do most of the work and also champion political causees.

The best travel tips for visiting Manipur

The strength of Manipuri women is no better exemplified than by the universal popularity and success of the inspiring boxer and five-times World Champion, Mary Kom.

Although the vale of Imphal is now all but devoid of trees, the outlying hills are still forested and shelter exotic birds and animals like the spotted linshang, Blyth’s tragopan and even the clouded leopard, as well as numerous varieties of orchid. The unique natural habitat of Loktak Lake is home to the sangai deer – a symbol of Manipur.

Manipur became a fully-fledged Indian state in 1972, but it's history can be traced back to the founding of Imphal in the first century AD. After long periods of independent and stable government, the state was incorporated into India at the end of the Indo-Burmese war in 1826, before coming under British rule in 1891.

During World War II, much of Manipur was occupied by the Japanese, with 250,000 British and Indian troops trapped under siege in Imphal for three months. Thanks to a massive RAF airlift, the Allies held out, and when Japanese troops received the order to end the Imphal campaign, it was in effect the end of the campaign to conquer India.

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Ujjayanta Palace, India © Shutterstock

Ujjayanta Palace, India © Shutterstock

What to do in Manipur

From browsing the largest female-run market in Asia to spotting cloud leopards, these are the best things to do in Manipur.

#1 Browse Khwairamband bazaar, the largest female-run market in Asia

At the heart of Imphal, the fascinating Khwairamband bazaar, also known as ima keithel (mother’s market), now rehoused in four buildings and spilling on the kerb outside, is run by more than three thousand Meithei women, making it the largest female-run market in Asia.

#2 See the ritualistic addressing of the deities at Shri Shri Govindjee

Southeast of Kangla, the Vaishnavite temple of Shri Shri Govindjee, where priests perform rituals addressing the deities according to the times of day, is well worth a visit. Go in the afternoon when you may be lucky to catch a glimpse of a Manipuri dance rehearsal in the hall opposite. Nearby lies the old Royal Palace, closed to the public.

#3 Pay your respects at the Imphal War Cemetery

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission immaculately maintains the Imphal War Cemetery, 500m north of the Tourist Lodge on Imphal Road. South of the city near Bishnupur, a Japanese memorial stands as a poignant reminder of the war.

#4 See the sacred fire of Andro burn at the Andro Heritage Village

Nestled in the verdant foothills of the Nongmaiching Hills, the ancient village of Andro has transformed into an interesting heritage village. The Meitei-styled temple to Panam Ningthou, the village's governing deity, is 1.5km from Andro Bazaar. It houses the "sacred fire of Andro", one of the Meitei's holiest sites, which has been kept burning since the 1st century AD.

The Mutua Bahadur Museum, a cultural complex established in 1993, has model houses of Manipur's various ethnic groups — including the Meitei, Kuki, Tangkhul, Kabui and Mao.

#5 See the Loktak Lake fisherman who live on floating atolls called phumdis

South of Imphal, Lotak Lake is home to a unique community of fishermen who live on circular floating atolls of matted vegetation, called phumdis. Much of the lake is taken up by the Keibul Lamjao National Park, a floating park located on the largest phumdis, home to the endemic and endangered sangai deer that live on the reed beds.

You can drive up to Sendra Island and get a boat to the national park and the phumdis. Avoid the hill at Sendra, which is now a paramilitary camp surrounded by litter. The park has a viewing tower on a hill with views down to the reed beds; it is a good 1.5km past the gate. You will need binoculars and lots of patience to catch sight of any wildlife.

Loktak Lake Manipur in India © Shutterstock

Loktak Lake Manipur in India © Shutterstock

#6 Visit Moirang, the traditional centre of Meithei culture

On the way to Loktak, the small town of Moirang is the traditional centre of Meithei culture, with a temple devoted to the pre-Hindu deity Thangjing. In April 1944, the Indian National Army planted its flag at Moirang, having fought alongside the Japanese against the British Indian Army for the cause of Independence. The INA Memorial Complex commemorates the event.

#7 See Neermahal’s red-and-white fairy-tale water palace

The red-and-white fairy-tale water palace at Neermahal stands in the waters of Lake Rudrasagar in Melaghar. The former royal palace, accessible by boat, was built in 1930 as a summer home for Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore, blending Hindu and Islamic styles. Today, the ravages of time are apparent on its frontage.

#8 Gawp at the medieval Shaivite rock carvings of Unakot at Tripura

Surrounded by Bangladesh on three sides, the lush mountains, hills and valleys of Tripura became part of India in 1949. Its fate and culture has been closely entwined with Bengal, while indigenous ethnic groups form around thirty percent of the population, mostly around the northern and eastern districts.

Partition and the subsequent creation of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1948, followed by war, famine and military regimes, forced millions of Bangladeshis to flee into Tripura. Indigenous people, such as the Tripuri (a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group), became outnumbered, causing resentment and conflict over the decades.

Today, Agartala, the capital, is a relaxed city with a palace and a few temples. A handful of wildlife sanctuaries, such as Gumti, Rowa, Trishna and Sepahijala, protect the state’s few remaining forests, while to the northeast the medieval Shaivite rock carvings of Unakoti are now accessible after years of strife.

The Unakoti stone carvings in Tripura © Shutterstock

The Unakoti stone carvings in Tripura © Shutterstock

#9 See the gleaming white Ujjayanta Palace at Agartala

Tripura’s capital Agartala is a laidback administrative centre. Its main attraction is the gleaming white Ujjayanta Palace, completed in 1901. Set amid formal gardens and artificial lakes, this huge building, now home to the State Legislative Assembly, covers around eight hundred acres. Across the road, one of many temples nearby and open to the public, the Jagannath Temple’s orange tower rises from an octagonal plinth.

#10 Try and spot a clouded leopard at Kamala Sagar lake

Some 27km south of Agartala, Kamala Sagar lake is overlooked by a small Kali temple. Twenty-eight kilometres along the road south to Udaipur, the Sepahijala nature reserve and botanical gardens is actually a vast zoo dedicated to the preservation of animals such as the Hoolock gibbon, capped langur and slow loris. With a bit of luck, you may spot clouded leopard.

#11 See the 6th century Boxanagar stupas

The red brick stupas of Boxanagar date back to the 6th century and are a well preserved, albeit remote, sign of early Buddhist influence over the region. You can visit and climb the base structure of two stupas, and peek across the nearby border into Bangladesh.

#12 Discover the holy Tripura Sundari

Of particular note in Udaipur, a town of lakes and temples, is Tripura Sundari, a sixteenth-century temple dedicated to Kali. It is also one of the shakti pithas, marking where Sati’s right foot landed when her body fell to earth in 51 pieces. Animal sacrifices are common.

Tripura Sundari Temple in Naggar © Shutterstock

Tripura Sundari Temple in Naggar © Shutterstock

Safety in Manipur

Manipur has been racked by waves of violence through insurgency, drug- and arms- trafficking across the Burmese border, and brutal factional conflict.

Some governments, including that of the UK, still advise against all but essential travel to the state (check advice from the UK Foreign Office); but at the time of writing, the situation has greatly improved and travel to the vale of Imphal is generally safe.

You can arrive by air or by road from Kohima and Dimapur without a permit, but your passport will be registered and stamped upon arrival at the airport or at road checkpoints. It is recommended you seek the advice of a local tour operator, and a local guide, if heading into the hills and border regions.

Best places to stay in Manipur

The best places to stay in Manipur are Imphal and Agartala and visitors will rarely stay elsewhere.

Imphal has a few decent hotels, where you will find the best restaurants, but there are no bars – Manipur is another of the Northeast’s dry states and everything, outside the hotels, shuts down around 7pm. Tripura’s capital has a number of efficient chain-hotels and good-value, comfortable mid-range properties.

Browse the places to stay in Manipur.

How to get around

Buses and unscheduled Sumos which leave when full will zip you across the state. Be warned: the going can be slow.

Winger-shared taxis (large vans) are fast than buses and Sumos, and ply round the clock between major cities. The tourist office (TTDC) can organize good-value car rental and multi-day tours.

Neer Mahal, a water palace at Melaghar, on the outskirts of Agartala, Tripura © Shutterstock

Neer Mahal, a water palace at Melaghar, on the outskirts of Agartala, Tripura © Shutterstock

How many days do you need in Manipur?

For the main highlights of Manipur, you'll need 3 to 5 days in the state. This is enough time to visit the capital Imphal and explore Kangla Fort, Shree Govindajee Temple, and the Ima Keithel (Women's Market). You can also visit the picturesque Loktak Lake and the unique phumdis (floating islands).

To delve deeper into Manipur's attractions, extend your stay by another 3 to 5 days to explore surrounding areas like Moirang, where you can visit the INA Memorial and Keibul Lamjao National Park, which is home to the endangered Sangai deer. This is enough time to venture into the surrounding hill districts of Manipur, such as Ukhrul and Senapati, and experience some tribal culture.

For trekking or bird watching, add on another 2 days.

Looking for inspiration for your trip? Check our India itineraries.

What is the best time to visit Manipur?

Weather conditions are best in Manipur from November to April, although the high-altitude areasare extremely cold by December, and winter fog can disrupt road journeys.

It rains heavily from May to the end of September, but travel during this period has its own charm. In major cities, accommodation rates are not affected by the low season, but the more remote parts of Manipur do offer off-season discounts.

Find out more about the best time to visit India.

Loktak Lake landscape in Imphal, Manipur, North East India

Loktak Lake landscape in Imphal, Manipur © Shutterstock

How to get here

Most travellers arrive via Imphal. Here's how to get to Manipur.

By plane

Imphal airport, 6km to the south, is well connected to Guwahati and Kolkata and sees a handful of flights to Aizawl. There are no airport bus connections to the city centre, use reserved taxis or shared autos. Foreigners currently do not need permits but must enter passport details at the desk just inside the arrivals hall.

By bus and Sumo

The AOC (Assam Oil Corporation) corner on Dimapur Rd is the main hub, with buses and unscheduled Sumos to Dimapur, the closest railhead (via Kohima), and Guwahati.

The roundabout across the bridge opposite Khwairamband bazaar has buses to Moirang.

By shared taxi

Winger shared taxis (large vans) are a bit faster than buses and Sumos, and ply round the clock to Dimapur and Moirang. Shared taxis to Silchar leave from Wahengbam Leikai Jiri parking.

Find out the best ways to get to India.

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Andy Turner

written by
Andy Turner

updated 06.07.2023

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