Ex-Switzerland : Manipur Tourism
- Part 1 -

S. Kunjabihari Singh *

Closing Ceremony Manipur Sangai Festival at BOAT :: Nov 30 2015 .
Closing Ceremony Manipur Sangai Festival at BOAT on Nov 30 2015 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

The October 30 issue of the Assam Tribune carried the news, "Manipur Tourism Fest Next Month", slated for 21 November. The name is christened as "Sangai Festival", perhaps after the unique brow-antlered deer--Sangai, available only in Manipur. The chief references are traditional food stalls, adventure sports, handloom, handicraft and art & culture. Sadly still, there is again, no item for package-tours—a kind of a customised programme where tourists are taken to 5 or 6 sites or places of attraction over the day or half day, as per preference of the tourists.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in his first visit to Manipur in 1953, seeing the then glorious greenery all around the state, the rows of banyan and kabulia trees on the roadsides of Imphal, in particular the forest- covered mountains all around the valley, the pleasant salubrious climate then obtaining in the state, the decent demeanor of the people, was adequately temped to nickname Manipur, the Switzerland of the East. Plus, Nehru was a politician and mastered the art of appeasing the natives with pleasantries and knows how to garner support. For otherwise, where was Manipur and where Switzerland?

Switzerland, a petite country of 41,285, around one and half times the area of Manipur, is often known as a land of breathtaking, snow- capped mountains, magnificent water areas and vast parks. The more famous city of Geneva, embedded between the Alpine peaks and the hilly terrain of Jura in the bay where the Rhone River leaves Lake Geneva, is a world famous tourist destination. Of course, the Manipur of those years half a century back, should be adequately captivating comparable to those of Kashmir. In the late eighties, when I happened to be in a course in Kashmir, my mates from other states wondered where the charm of Kashmir was, having come from Manipur. That was it those years without a trace these days.

The news caption of 30 Oct, Assam Tribune, encapsules, "Sangai festival an annual event organized by the State Tourism Department to promote tourism by showcasing the virgin lands, hills, culture, handloom and handicrafts and the rich art and culture of Manipur slated to run from 21 Nov. to 30 Nov. The main items are so-called traditional food festival, dance and cultural troupes from the hills and the plain, trekking, water sport, zorbing games .It is ironic that any mention of Sangai(Ruvus eldi eldi Mc Clelland,1842), or visit to Sangai habitat was conspicuous by its absence, despite the festival being dubbed, "Sangai" Festival.

Which tourists from other states, let alone the foreigners, would be interested to waste 3-4 days in a festival of the foodies, handlooms, a little bit of cultural programmes, however traditional and ethnic they maybe? Similarly, where is the attraction to the water sports in rustic surroundings at Takmu travelling on the bumpy, dusty road all along for one and half hours? Added to the sad distraction, there won't be any food-joint of acceptable cleanliness or variety on the way to and in and around the venue.

Had the Shendra Tourist lodge been done up with attached restaurant, had a component of trip to Keibul Lamjao National Park, for a chance -encounter with Sangai, the brow-antlered deer, the same evening or the wee hours of the following morning with facility for a moderate accommodation, things would look totally transformed. The tourists would cherish a visit to the floating habitat of phumdi( water weeds, mass of vegetative growth thickened over the decades to sustain and bear the weight of the fleeting or grazing deers ), a natural habitat of the brow antlered deer, the only variety in the universe, in the only kind of floating expanse of 40

A mention of the rich flora and fauna allegedly available in the floating national park, professionally showcased would add to the attraction. The best month for such a visit is said to be October to March, and thus suits the timing of the Sangai Tourist Festival, during late Nov. Ironically, having christened Sangai Festival, and forgetting Sangai habitat in totality not even an oblique association with it, smells fraud. This reminds one of the Hornbill Festival of Nagaland, in December every year, where though all hornbills had already been eaten up without a trace left for the visitors to sample, and yet, the Hornbill Festivals keep coming.

The tourists whether domestic or foreign come on leisure trip, to unwind, to see something new, something pleasant. They want to relish the stay that includes the luxury of the amenities, the food and other concomitant conveniences. Last year in January, I happened to be in Kaziranga National Park. I didn't go for the more expensive cottage, but for the moderate ones. Good enough for a stay of two nights or so; the wash room was tidy; the food was simple though with only two choices. Still better in the midst of the forest.

Years back, in the early eighties, I was arranging the visit of two VIPs for a night stay in the midst of the tranquility of the Loktak Lake. They perhaps dreamt of a family outing in the splendor of the eye-catching beauty and serenity of the vast expanse of Loktak water. The two-- Mr P.H.Trivedi, Chief Secretary, Meghalaya, and, Mrs.P.P.Trivedi, Advisor (State), Planning Commission. Mrs. Trivedi was a big name, a real big boss those days; she was practically the Executive Supremo, whose favor or otherwise could make things different in the allocations of plan funds.

The mesmerizing tranquility of the lake, the formation of unending gentle waves after waves of water, as far as the eyes can see, in the late evening and in the morning calm, not only must have unwound the stress and strain the couple were through in their hectic life, but also would remain a unique and refreshing memory over the years. Sadly, however, such facilities as provided to the VIPs could not be replicated to the common tourists and understandably no tourist desire to stay at the Sendra Lodge. How do then we attract tourists? The intricacies lies in that unless facilities and amenities from transport, from showing places of interest, are assured, why should any tourist come? Tourists come to spend, to enjoy, to relax. Fund would be immaterial, not much of consideration, for them.

What a grand idea, we natives of the state could never think of the luxury of such a leisure trip except, of course, once when two or three friends of my son in their school days, from Calcutta and Bhopal, visiting Imphal the first time, asked us for such a trip to Keibul Lamjao Park, and a halt at Loktak. Yes, we made out the trip; we missed though, any Sangai, saw the observatory minus Sangai, returned in the mist of dust and mud and stayed in the Shendra Lodge. We had to bear with the poor accommodation sharing bathrooms, had to arrange for our own food, though with the help of the few helpers attached, with appropriate appeasement, though, with a bit of inconvenience. The boys enjoyed the stay, so did we. But tourists from outside, more so foreigners, wouldn't be prepared to face the ordeal, for sure.

A look at the Tourism Department brochures, mentions about , " salubrious climate, mystique cultural heritage, sublime natural beauties, majestic Loktak lake, floating house, Keibul Lamjao National Park, Heritage huts near the lake, Siroy lily, Djuko Valley lilies, little paradise on Earth, Switzerland of the East etc and etc."The crucial question is if we want to seriously wish to attract tourists from other states and other countries; if we are keen to increase our income from tourism, come closer to the level of other states like Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Rajasthan, and West Bengal etc. we have to run tourism professionally.

We should have to do some soul-searching; we need professionalism in the system of managing tourist centers and enticing tourists. Rajasthan Festival in Jaisalmer goes in a big way to attract tourists to kite-flying, zorbing, sand surfing which can be closely associated with dry land, vast areas of sand etc. This 16-18, November, the state is holding first of its kind global music, arts and cultural festival nicknamed "Ragasthan".

One is welcome to camp, enjoy open air movie screenings, hot air balloon rides, shop dead at the nomad market, try a camel safari, sand surf and enjoy anything in tune with the vibrant sand dunes of Jaisalmar,in the midst of the expanse of Thar desert. Bihar, practically a non entity, in the realm of tourism, except mainly for the Budhist sites like Bodha Gaya, Nalanda and Vaishali, has been, of late, in the tourist map of the country. According to the Union Tourism Ministry survey, Bihar figured at seventh position among 10 states receiving foreign tourists last year.

Over 8 lakh foreign tourists, a third of Manipur's population, visited different historical sites of the state till Aug 2012.And where are we? One has to do a little bit of investment, apart from improving select tourists' spots, but also to look at prospects of a comprehensive marketing. The Bihar Government had the ingenuity and perspective to organize a road show at as far as Mauritius, ostensibly because of the island country's tourist crowd, during an international meet only last month. Going further ahead, Bihar is reportedly taking part in World Travel Market, 2012 meet from November 5-8 at London.

Look at the glamour- quotient of Bihar- tourism, not so-rich a state till a couple of years back. For, one has to showcase in style to earn revenue, however slow and long it may be. Out of 9 pavilions booked by India, one is reserved exclusively for Bihar. Objective; showcase its historical background to foreigners during the event. It costs certainly, but it is paying in the long run. Wow, Bihar, back up!

Gujarat another sultry state, running along the Arabian Sea, talks about its massive and diverse heritage, history and culture. They attempt to showcase, Navaratri festival, over a span of nine nights of fervent dancing in celebration of Goddess Shakti. Cities across the state come alive with enthusiasm in their favorite garba outfit –beautiful, intricate and mirrored chaniya cholis also called lehenga or gaghra for women and kediyus also called kurta, kind of short brightly colored pyjamas for men.

They offered 3N/4D package tour to relish vibrant festival of brightly colored swirling ghagras, clicking of dandiyas and passionate fervor that embodies mother goddess Shakti. Prima-facie, an outsider does not appear to see anything beyond traditional dances; but the way of showcasing is pure professional perfection, to woo the tourists from far and wide. Sikkim has nature-centric package—visit to natural lakes—like Dsomgo in particular, breathtaking mountain sites, a bit of waterfalls, gardens, orchidorium, monasteries, handicraft centre etc arranges, among other packages with night halt at a mountain station.

To be continued ....

* S. Kunjabihari Singh,(IAS) wrote this article for
This article was originally written on 12 November 2012
The writer can be contacted at kunjabiharis(AT)rediffmail(doT)com
This article was posted on February 06, 2016.

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