Manipur stretches along the border with Myanmar and centres around a lowland area watered by the lake system south of the capital Imphal. The Manipur valley is home to a unique version of Vaishanavite Hinduism, practised by the Meitei people. The Manipuri hills are home to the state’s interesting mix of tribal cultures including Nagas and Kukis. While Manipur has many interesting things to offer, there are concerns about safety since it periodically witnesses ethnic strife and insurgency -- the Indian Army has a strong presence throughout the state.
Imphal is connected by air to Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Aizawl and Silchar. The nearest railhead is Dimapur in Nagaland, 215km away. Buses ply regularly between Dimapur and Imphal (nine hours).
There is much to see in the city of Imphal and you can start your explorations from the Royal Palace and the Shri Govindaji Temple located nearby. The temple has a large assembly hall and shrines of Krishna, Balaram and Jaganath. The temple is the home of the stylised Manipuri dance form called the Ras Lila. In the town centre is the Khwairamband or Ima Market, which is the largest women’s bazaar anywhere in the country. An excellent place to buy fish and vegetables as well as handlooms and handicrafts. As many as 3,000 are said to gather here everyday and unlike other bazaars the sellers here will get offended if you try and bargain. They pride themselves on selling only the freshest and best. The Konghampat Orchidarium, about 12km outside the city, is home to over 120 species of the flower (best during April-May). There are also two beautifully maintained war cemeteries -- one on the Imphal-Dimapur road and the other on the way to Ukhrul. There are several hotels in Imphal, the biggest is Hotel Imphal (0385-2220459). Hotel Prince (2220587) also has clean rooms.
One of the biggest freshwater lakes in the northeast is Loktak, just 45km outside of Imphal. You can watch the fisherman harvesting water chestnuts on the floating islands called Phumdis or take a leisurely boat ride. The Sendra Island Tourist Bungalow (0385-2220802) offers stunning views of the lake and its rich plant and avian life. On the southern tip of the lake is the Keibul Lamjao National Park, home of the endangered sangai deer.
Also on Loktak is Moirang, which hosts the Lai Haraoba dance festival every May. The flag of the Indian National Army was first raised in Moirang and you’ll find plenty of INA memorabilia at the INA Museum. Stay at the comfortable Tourist Lodge here (Rs 200; 0385-2224603).
And of course there is Ukhrul, the most popular hill station in the region also famous for its Siroi lilies. The lime caves of Kangkhui are a little outside the city and definitely worth a visit. The area is also home to the Tangkhul Nagas. There aren’t many places to stay in Ukhrul and your best bet is to stay in Imphal and take a day trip here.