Northeast India’s largest freshwater lake, with its extraordinary archipelago of floating green islands, is the most striking sight you will see from the air while flying into Manipur. Technically, these aren’t regular ‘islands,’ but floating biomass with rich nutrients for plant growth, locally known as ‘phumdis’.
Considered a lifeline for the people inhabiting the surrounding areas, Loktak Lake and its countless phumdis support not just birds and rich aquatic life, but also thousands of fishermen, who have developed an entire way of life on these floating islands, navigating through them on narrow boats, easily turning landmasses into waterways whenever needed, to negotiate their way through them.
Likewise, they have also learnt to ingeniously join phumdis together to create fishing coves in the middle of the lake, and again dismantle them to create different shapes whenever needed. Sailing through the phumdis of Loktak with a fisherman, you will find that all the lines—between land and water, transient and permanent, stable and wobbly—are negotiable, an oddly refreshing sensation. The distinctive topography and ecosystem here have shaped a man-nature interaction that’s as exceptional as the landscape itself.
Among Loktak’s many phumdis is Keibul Lamjao National Park, the world’s only floating national park, and the last natural refuge of the critically endangered Sangai deer, Manipur’s state animal. Though there are very few Sangai left, the chances of spotting one here are pretty high. The ‘park’ can be accessed by road or on foot, but it’s best entered by boat, after getting some Forest Department permissions.
Every inhabited island at Loktak has its own story, but more than any tour or sightseeing choices, how and where you decide to spend the night at Loktak is what will finally decide your experience. Most visitors stay at the many hotels and homestays at Moirang, but for the authentic Loktak experience, it’s best to stay on the lake, or better still, on one of the floating phumdis, with the local fishermen.
There are, of course, comfortable options with a view like Sendra Park Classic Resort on the higher end, but for travellers seeking the ‘real phumdi experience,’ Loktak’s new ‘floating homestays’ are the way to go. They are a relatively new concept, and the existing options have yet to crack an ideal formula between cost, comfort, rustic appeal and overall aesthetics, but they’re getting there.
In these basic-yet-quaint traditional straw huts, built on floating phumdis, you can stay right in the middle of the lake and set off on daily boat rides with your fisherman host, enjoy home-cooked Manipuri food—the freshest fish you will get anywhere—and escape the stressful reality of urban life.
THE WORLD’S ONLY FLOATING SCHOOL
Started by the All Loktak Lake Area Fishermen’s Union with the support of an NGO on a phumdi at Langolsabi Leikai of Champu Khangpok village, this school served both children and adults.
WORLD WAR 2
The original structure of the Indian National Army (INA) Headquarters is still intact at Moirang. The INA war museum stands where the Indian tricolour was hoisted for the first time on 14th April, 1944, well before the official Indian Independence. Red Hill, en route to Imphal from Moirang, is the site of a war memorial and a bloody battle between the Japanese and British during WW2.
Though nowhere near the scale of the world-famous Ima Market in Imphal, Moirang’s traditional market, also entirely run by women, is certainly worth exploring.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Loktak Lake is accessible through Moirang town, and less than an hour away from Imphal airport and Imphal town. Buses, cheap share-taxi vans and taxis routinely operate between the two towns, but take longer than a private vehicle. Getting a knowledgeable local guide is highly recommended.
WHERE TO STAY
Maipakchao’s Homestay run by Mr Maipakchao, a knowledgeable man who’s associated with the local ecotourism board who also runs a conventional homestay by the banks of the lake, is a popular choice here. Book your floating homestay well in advance, especially during the high season (winter).
If staying on phumdis isn’t your thing, the most conventionally comfortable option would be Sendra Park & Resort, a high-end resort with a great view of the lake.
For more information: Manipur Tourism