I had the occasion to visit the beautiful north-eastern town of Imphal in the summer of 2013. Those of you, who are interested in the World War II, would probably have heard of the Battle of Kohima & Imphal, which in 2013 was voted one of the greatest battles in history. The Battle is often referred to as the “Stalingrad of the East“.
As I keep saying, the north-eastern states of India are probably the most beautiful regions of the country; more so, because they are still relatively untouched by the onslaught of tourism. However, the lack of tourism is majorly due to the separatist movement which has ravaged these parts of the country.
Well, that is a long story and definitely beyond the scope of this post. I will stick to what I enjoy the most- sharing my experience through my photography.
The first thing which strikes you is the beautiful landscape surrounding the airport. The Imphal airport is surrounded by mountains. It is around 6 KM from the city and one usually takes an Auto-rickshaw (Tuk-Tuk) to cover the distance. On the way to the city, as is my habit, I started chatting with the young boy who was driving. The one thing I remember him saying is- Imphal is not a nice place, Sir. People here are not good!
I was dumbstruck. Nowhere had I heard people criticizing their own city! I remember replying- It is not possible for all the people in a place to be bad. Every place will have their share of good and bad people. Tell me, are all your friends bad?
I don’t know if he got my point but I still wonder what made him say that.
Another thing which I remember is the unnerving presence of military personnel in the city. Everywhere, you will find patrolling Army men thanks to the separatist movements in the state.
The city shuts down very early. So, by 7 pm most shops are shuttered and people are on their way back home. For someone who has grown up in a cosmopolitan city like Calcutta, this was very unusual. But, I had a nice time around the streets in the evening, after finishing my work. I visited the Imphal War Cemetery, which has 1600 Commonwealth burials, of the WW-II. After that, I walked around the city for some time. Old ladies were selling vegetables and fish and other items in the local bazaar. After walking around the city for couple of hours (which people had advised me against) I returned to my hotel.
I woke up around 5 a.m. and decided to get ready and go out for some street photography. That’s when I got my first surprise. There was no water in the tap! Not a situation you want to face early in the morning! 😉
I went downstairs to the lobby and found the night staff in deep sleep. Reluctant as I was, I had to wake up one of the guys, so that he would switch on the water pump! In a way, I felt at home! 🙂
After having gotten ready I got my second surprise. The main exit was locked. Because of the security situation, I learnt, the hotel keeps its main door securely locked. So, I did what was the only option left- I waited. I waited for 30 minutes till they opened the gate.
The city wakes up pretty early, and at 6:30 there was the hustle bustle of office hour traffic, as is to be expected in a small city. I walked to the main bazaar and photographed people going about their daily routine. With my camera backpack and camera, I was sticking out like a sore thumb.
I was walking around aimlessly, taking photographs, when suddenly I was accosted by an elderly gentleman. He asked me where I was from. On replying, he went on-
:You are a stranger to this place. Imphal is not the safest of towns. Why are you roaming about all alone?
: But, in the daytime, should I be scared, in the middle of the city?
:No, it is okay here and around the main city area. Don’t go alone outside the city.
I was really touched at the genuine concern shown for an absolute stranger. He even stopped another friend of his, who was passing by, and introduced me to him. We chatted for a while before parting.
Next I walked inside the bazaar where I found a group of middle aged ladies who were selling flowers and vegetables. Usually my camera is a great conversation starter, but in this case there was a slight hindrance. They knew not one syllable of the three languages I speak and I, not one syllable of the local language. But how could I let the small problem of language stop me from interacting with some absolutely charming ladies!
I don’t remember how I did it but I made them laugh and by laugh I mean actually L-A-U-G-H! Check out the photos and decide for yourself whether I was successful! 😀
Suddenly it started raining heavily and I had to take shelter under the flyover which is in front of the bazaar. Here, I had to wait for an hour while I chatted with a young boy in college about what his aspirations were. I wish I remembered what all we chatted about, but this was nearly two years back, and I did not take notes at that time (I really should have).
By the time we finished chatting it had stopped raining. It was time to walk back to the hotel and onwards to the airport for my flight, back to dreary life.
Do, let me know if you like the photographs. 🙂
PS: Imphal is not a tourist destination because of the political situation. But, my experience was very very nice and though I am not someone who likes to generalize, the people I interacted with were genuinely warm and friendly, something which we don’t always encounter in big cities, and of course contrary to what my young auto-rickshaw driver had to say about the people in Imphal!! I hope I can go back there someday.