Looking at Loktak from different perspectives
- Part 2 -

Oinam Nabakishore Singh *

 Loktak Lake - Largest Fresh Water Lake in North East India :: First Week of June 2013
Loktak Lake - Largest Fresh Water Lake in North East India :: First Week of June 2013 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

Loktak lake being connected to the sea, Bay of Bengal, via Chindwin and Irrawaddy rivers in Myanmar,before blocking of water-flow of Manipur River by Ithai barrage, had its share of marine fish or life. State fish of Manipur, Pengba, Osteobramabelangen (scientific name), which has now almost disappeared from Loktak. Pengbais found in Chindwin river also. It is one of the tastiest fish found in Manipur. Apart from being expensive, it is served in local feasts, celebration among friends and relatives. It is offered to UmangLais to propitiate them.

The art of catching Pengaba in Loktak is quite unique and interesting. In our childhood, it was known that fishing people of Moirang had special skills to catch Pengba. Fish nets having heights of about six feet and larger mesh are used. Pengbas move in shoal. Catching of Pengba also require a team effort.

A few fishermen would come together to Loktak, especially in deeper areas, and quietly watch the presence of Pengba. A few fish nets are laid in semicircular shape and fishermen in their canoes close from the other semicircle and disturb the water to direct Pengbas towards the net. If lucky, a good catch of several Pengbas by the group happened.

Traditional Pengbas used to weigh upto one kilogram and they had green shining scales on dorsal side. After disappearance of traditional Pengbas, Fishery Department of the State has successfully produced Pengbafish fingerlings and promoted its culture by the local fish farmers. However, the size and taste of such cultured fish are inferior to that of traditional Pengba caught in Loktak.

Several other local and traditional fish found in Loktak are no longer available in good quantities now. Ngaton and Tharaks are also tasty varieties of fish. Their disappearance from Loktak may be attributed to Ithai barrage, pollution of Loktak and change in its ecosystem.Loktak has become more polluted now due to various reasons. The number of fishing people living in huts made on Phums or Phumdis in Loktak increased over time, andthey do not have proper and hygienic sanitation. Their daily excreta are directly discharged in the lake. Besides, the fishing community from neighboring villages toouse the lake for open defecation while on the lake as they come out of homes in early hours.

Many rivers and streams falling into the Loktak also bring residues of chemical fertilizers and pesticides used in the river basins since the nineteen sixties when high yielding paddy became popular in the valley. It is also common knowledge that Nambul river, which falls into Loktak, has almost become a sewer line, discharging untreated pollutants from homes and establishments along the course. Many aquatic organisms, fish and plants of the lake have been subjected to pollutants and poisons continuously discharged. There has been a huge change in the composition of the plants and organism including fish.

There used to be huge growth of underwater weeds, locally called charangs, which were not only a good source of food for fish, but they provided shelter protecting the fish from sunlight, etc. Water plant, locally called, Yena, which covered the entire lake when rain begins in March-Aprilhas disappeared from the lake now. While Yena was extensively used in dishes and shingjus, its fruit, Heikak(water chestnut), was harvested in plenty to serve as food item taken alone or mixed with rice (carbohydrate) in the most part of last century for poor people.

I recall that Heikak was collected from the ground surface of the lake in winter too by using a special bamboo net. We saw piles of Heikak being sold in Nambol Bazar and Imphal Bazar to meet the requirement of food of the poor people, who could not afford to buy rice at the then price of Rs.1.00 per kilogram.

Apart from abundant fish, the lake also nurtured fresh water snails and oysters, which are good source of protein. Fresh water eel fish too is also found in Loktak lake. The lake also supported many wild lives including wild boar. Once during the flood,when Phums/Phumdis floated towards our village, Ningthoukhong, a big wild boar strayed into the lakeside. Wild boar is considered as very dangerous as it is powerful, runs fast and has sharp teeth/tusk. Water mongoose are also common in the lake. They are good at diving and catching fish.

Loktak lake is also closely connected to the unique deer, Sangai, an endangered subspecies of brow-antlered deer found only in Manipur. It is also the state animal of Manipur. Its common English name is Manipur brow-antlered deer or Eld’s deer and the scientific name is Rucervuseldiieldii. The habitat of Sangai is floating Phum/Phumdis on Loktak on its north eastern side. Phum/Phumdis is a soft compact decomposed biomass of different weeds found in Loktak over a fairly long period. It covers a good area depending on the depth of lake.

A large variety of plants grow on the Phum, which support Sangai as food. Being isolated from the habitation, Sangai thrive on the Phums, without much disturbance from predators. Sangai also adapt to the wet and soft surface of Phum/Phumdis over a long period.

Recognizing the uniqueness and endangered status of Sangai, the habitat of Sangai is categorized as a National Park, “KeibulLamjao National Park”. Now, with better awareness of the importance of Sangai by the people living in the adjoining villages and Sangai protection and preservation measures of the Forest and Environment Department of the state government, the endangered deer flourish in KeibulLamjao National Park.

On their return from neighboring Myanmar after visiting Inle lake in Shan State, the team of journalists narrated about the tourist facilities and economic importance of that lake to the people living near the lake. The local people easily turned into entrepreneurs by providing home-stay accommodation to visitors of Inle lake. The local artisans all along the lakeside find ready buyers of their products. Resorts of different categories of luxury are also available there to provide accommodation and hospitality to the visitors.

The journalists found a lot of similarities between Inle and Loktak. Apart from similarities of lakes, we have similarities in many aspects-appearance, handicrafts and handloom, art and culture, food, etc., that a foreign tourist likes to collect and see. What we can do with Loktak, from tourism point of view, is unlimited and it depends on our imagination. It is a huge water body suitable for different water sports including adventure sports.

We see a lot of water scooters or jet scooters on the water near the beach driving at fast speed by both local and outside tourists at Pattaya, Goa, etc. We also see parasailing or paragliding by tourists using a boat with flat deck and speed boat. Scuba diving is also possible with or without oxygen cylinders. In Sydney harbor, we enjoyed jet boat, which accelerates fast, suddenly stops and change direction. It is, indeed, exhilarating. Simple boating by using, not so expensive, paddle boats let the tourists enjoy at their own pace.

Sub-marine boats to see the under-water plants and fish, as done, in Gold Coast in Australia can be a new avenue. Takmu in Loktak is already earmarked for water sports. Canoeing and kayaking can be practisedin Loktakby sportspersons. By laying beach sands along the shores of Loktak, it is possible to have a long lakefront having appearance and feel of see beach. Tourists can have recreation and relaxation all along the lakeside as seen in the see beaches.

A number of resorts and hotels can come up along the lakefront as seen in Goa, Bali, Maldives, Pattaya, etc. Loktak can be an alternative tourist destinations for both domestic and foreign tourists. A multi-pronged and integrated approach is required to clean, preserve and benefit fromLoktak. Pressure on Loktak from various quarters have to be identified and minimized if not removed completely. A fresh look at the social and economic cost benefit of Loktak power station needs to be done in the light of present and future scenarios of power generation and trading.

A new and alternative livelihood for the fishing community in the tourism sector will not only lessen the pressure on the lake, but we will get cooperation of the community in implementation of programmes. Burning the huts of fishermen in the lake is not a solution. We have to have an empathetic approach to the problem.

The Loktak Development Authority has several roles to play and it is high time to empower it to take a leadership role in many aspects of Loktak. Research into social, economic, environmental and sustainable issues in respect of Loktak needs to done. Based on findings and recommendations, a time bound action should be undertaken by the State. Challenges and opportunities offered by Loktak are infinite.


Views expressed are personal.

* Oinam Nabakishore Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on 08 October , 2018 .

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