Imphal -1 : The Floating Island

Some invitations come unannounced. And, this was one such reason to take-off to Manipur. This years, my trips to Assam and Mizoram, made me aware about North-East India. I was to participate in an event in Imphal, Manipur. It was a short trip; but exhilarating. Before, the aircraft landed on Imphal’s table-top runway, I saw that the airport was small, homely and had a Pagoda-style roof. Before, we touched the runway; I had a grand-stand view of Loktak Lake. This sweet water lake is also used as a source of potable water, irrigation and livelihood for fishermen and their families living in the surrounding areas, in huts, shacks or homes built on the lake’s floating islands, where rain-water harvesting is also done. It is an amazing expanse of water, divided into artificially created circles, squares and rectangles for fish-farming, which is done by co-operatives. These islands are created by soil, organic matter, overgrown mass of vegetation, wild rice, floating plants, which almost reach the base of the lake. Innumerable islands are spread over Loktak Wetlands, as they remain stationary or float over the water. These islands are homes to families, who live on the islands in shacks or stilt-huts. They make a living by rowing canoes in the lake, catching fish or fermenting fish on home-made coal or wood-fire stoves and sell, both fresh and fermented fish to vendors of Imphal, while keeping some for their own kitchen, as their homes rock, lightly on the lake. Fishermen row their canoes over the lake; to reach the banks of the river, if they have errands in neighbouring villages or Imphal. Loktak lake has floating villages, with fishing nets and canoes tied to the hut, along with defined circles for fishing. In fact, they appear to be sailing like magical islands on the lake, which also has the only floating wild life sanctuary of the world, known as Keibul Lamjo National Park. As the vegetation in Loktak lake is dense and holds everything together, the park looks like a dense forest, which rests on the lake and is home to the endangered Eld’s or Brow-Antelered-Deer or Sangai Deer, which is also known as the Dancing Deer and is a protected species in Manipur.  A motif of the Sangai Deer also appears on Manipuri shawls. This deer is a little smaller than the Sambar, as the male has a brown coat, while the doe is smaller. Herds of Sangai Deer live on Loktak Lake along with Sambar, Barking Deer, Wild Boar, Gibbons, Macaque, Civets, Marbled Cats, reptiles like Pythons, water birds, migratory birds; like ducks, Teals, Cranes, Ibis and Geese. While some birds fly over the lake or up above in the sky, often swooping down to capture a fish from the lake and take wing.

The entire panorama of Loktak lake looks like a magical world. One often assumes the floating world is up and above in the skies, somewhere above the clouds, here. Hut, here it sales on the surface of Loktak lake. Everything moves here, as the wild life sanctuary appears to be anchored almost at the base of the lake, which is not so, and lends a fascinating dream-like quality. It is an Utopian world, where nothing needs to be anchored, yet lives and survives during various seasons; the various seasons, like a beautiful mobile landscape, which appears to be rooted, but is not, yet it roots the people, animals and birds living on the lake…forever moving, floating; as the waves carry them forward; into a dream world…which has all the elements of a fairytale….

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