Manipur state, in its entirety, has got to be one of those places in India that most people don't know about and may have notions about it being less than attractive (or even unfavourable as a tourist destination). What if I were to tell you otherwise?
The diverse topography of Manipur–a mix of thick forest, rolling hills, wild rivers and valleys–makes it a choice destination depending on how one would like to explore. In Manipur, the hills are undulating, forest virgin and sometimes treacherous, but nonetheless, a destination perfect for an adventure junkie. My first real experience of the state was in 2003 when an unplanned trip to Tamenglong district ended up in a five-day jungle trek, visiting meadows of Bamgaizang, hiking to five out of seven high-altitude lakes viz. Zeilad, Guiphuapzei, Nrouzei, Guiluaizei, and Napsaamzei and crossing a flimsy rope bridge to get to Khouduang waterfalls. Some may think it's just lakes and some random waterfall, but here's what made me go there in the first place. The largest of all seven lakes, Zeilad lake is locally popular for its beauty and abundance of wildlife. What attracted me were the local tales I heard from my relatives that Zeilad and other lakes, though located at a great height, never experiences change in the water level–come rain or shine! I wanted to see for myself. Water level was soon forgotten when after a tough hike through the deep forest, we came across Guiluaizei (Guiluai=water buffalo; zei=lake). We were not prepared for the scene at the lake in front of us–hundreds of wild water buffaloes at the lake, just swimming and exploring the meadow! Why they were there, I still don't know, but years later when I revisit that place in my head, natural salt-lick comes to mind. Similarly, Nrouzei (Nrou=foliage; zei=lake) surprised us with a very thick layer of dried leaves atop the lake surface that was sturdy enough to hold an adult person's weight! Guiphuapzei (Guiphuap=turtle/tortoise; zei=lake), though we didn't see any turtle that time, is known to have hundreds of turtles. These lakes, for sure, were not just randomly named. I am yet to explore all seven lakes, but I don't see why one should not visit these places. If not for the natural beauty, explore for the old local tales.
Khouduang waterfalls is a must-visit because here you will find massive hollows on the rocks created by the fast-flowing Barak river. One can't help but feel small looking at these concave cut-outs of rocks and the massive flow of white water. (Rafting is NOT recommended here)
Moving on from the forest to the meadows and hillocks, Dzukou Valley, Buning Meadows and Shirui Hills are next on the adventure hotlist. Most people know of Dzukou Valley as a must-visit destination when in Nagaland. What if I were to tell you that the famous picturesque valley is shared by both Nagaland and Manipur? One can also visit Dzukou from Senapati district in Manipur. The five-hour trek from Mt. Isii in Senapati is treacherous without a doubt but it's worth it. Layers of rolling hills with wild flowers will welcome a weary trekker any time of the year. But when in Dzukou, one should look for the endemic Dzukou Lily. The flower grows nowhere else but here! When the hills are green and dotted with tiny brooks here and there, it makes for a great visual and feel. In winter, the valley is a frost wonderland.
Similarly, Buning Meadow located in Tamenglong district offer similar fantastic views of rolling hills. The beautiful meadow, especially after the rains, looks spectacular with ferns, wild orchids, lilies, among many other flower variants. How does camping by the clear brooks sound to you? These places are untouched and as a responsible traveller, we should not let the aesthetic change. The places are beautiful now because of less human intervention, but should you travel, travel responsibly. I guess this goes for every destination, everywhere.
Shirui Hills in Ukhrul is a tough trek, especially if you want to go see the rare and endemic Shirui Lily. The cold and rain seem to be harsh and relentless. And also, one will have to tread slippery and muddy slopes to reach to the top where the lily grows. Did you know that Shirui Lily has its own stamp? Recently, Manipur Tourism started organising Shirui Lily Festival which can only mean one thing–go visit the place!
Adventure in Manipur is incomplete without climbing atop a waterfall (not recommended for beginners) and caving. Tharon caves in Tamenglong and caves of Khangkhui Mangsor are for those interested in caving. The limestone caves of Khangkhui Mangsor dates back to Stone Age and evidence of Hoabinhian culture were found in Tharon! If that does not sound interesting enough to pack yours bags for Manipur, I don't know what will. But in the excitement of exploring these least-explored caves one must not forget the fact that these gems are as raw as they come. It is important to remember to keep safety in mind while exploring, especially in the rain-soaked virgin forests of Manipur.
Now you know where to go when the adventure bug bites you.
How to Reach: The capital city, Imphal, is accessible by air via Guwahati or Kolkata. By road, you can reach Imphal via Guwahati and Shillong (Guwahati being the most convenient point for flight, train and bus).