TODAY -

Ex-Switzerland : Manipur Tourism
- Part 2 -

S. Kunjabihari Singh *



I remember during a trip to Gangtok, the first day in the evening, the taxi driver was asked to take us to a place just for a fill. He suggested MG Road, less than half km from my hotel, in the heart of Gangtok. Reaching there, we found a small stretch of shopping area, longish, with rows of shops all along the two sides of the road. The road is kind of brick floored, with makeshift garden in the median, intermittent with3-4 water fountains here and there, large electric bulbs in the midst.

The main attraction was the rows of two-seated or three-seated benches laid intermittently on both sides of the median where the shoppers can straighten their tired legs after a bit of window shopping, over a cup of hot cappuccino coffee or better still, hot French fry, or a combination from around the place.

Imagine the kind of luxury-coefficient, simple and yet, pleasing to the eyes, an attractive ambience with little bit of amenities. The tourist come for leisure, don't mind a dig at their pocket, all that they look for, is comfort to unwind the stress loaded over the years. Our first impulse on reaching the entrance of MG Road was to grab the camera, unintentionally; there was a kind of spontaneity, to click a few shots.

Mind you who wishes to click a shot in whichever part of Imphal or even Kolkata; I mean the charm, the eccentricity and the lust are simply not there .It was different, in any area in Dubai or Singapore and yes, for sure, in MG Road, Gangtok, too. The place reminded us of our stay in Perth, a relatively small city in Australia in 2006, where too, we enjoyed similar amenities in the market places.

This little paradise on the earth is no more adorned with the round- the- year- greeneries of the fifties, surrounded by the lofty hills with the eye-catching visual retreats on the ways to the rejuvenating hill stations. Gone are the days of salubrious climate, clean surroundings in the heart of Imphal, the recreational lakes, if not resorts, the retreats at Loktak with its fresh water expanse over 230 sq km, a natural habitat of flocks of migratory winter birds from as far a distance as Siberia.

Worst still, it is awfully pestered with a fast -deteriorating sense of insecurity where after nightfall, nobody even the locals, feel safer within the confines of the security of home, let alone the tourists, domestic or foreign. Plus, the poor civic amenities, be they roads, power, water, other recreational facilities like parks, gardens, water areas, moderate quality restaurants, you mention any, simply are not to be seen.

Why then tourists would take the trouble, more so, take the risk at great expense; what they long for is leisure, recreation, exciting holidays to rejuvenate? At the Ziro Festival of Music, in Arunachal Pradesh, there was absolute mayhem off-stage, because most artists were drunk silly on rice beer. Some of them reportedly woke up in the adjoining forest next morning with no recollection of how they got there. This is the kind of frenzy many tourists long for, to spend the entire weekend with fresh, likeminded people, fancy food, beverages and adventure, away from the trappings of civilization.

The state can still attempt few initiatives. The first and foremost thing could be an appropriate projection to the Central Ministry and the Planning Commission. The most vital ingredient could be fund, the scarce fund for a few select initiatives which essentially have to be investment- oriented. I recall those initial years when the Hotel Imphal was run by Tourism Department largely to cater to tourist requirements.

The relatively small Department was not represented by any Director or Secretary. The then Chief Secretary, Mr L.B.Thanga, who had to be in Delhi for the afternoon wrap-up discussion, volunteered to cover the Annual Plan discussion. I was asked to be around. The meeting was chaired by Ms. PP.Trivedi, Advisor (State Plan), Planning Commission. A Chief Secretary of a State is always placed in great esteem and the discussion on the need for additional funds took off in good humor. It turned out, however, to be only a lull before the storm.

Ms. Trivedi, in her characteristic stance of dominance, wanted occupancy- rate for the Hotel Imphal before any additional funds for expansion were approved. Mr Thanga didn't have the figure but wanted his way through with the Chief Secretary -Tag; also we people were (perhaps still also), less serious and often lack comprehension .A rather heated argument ensued and Mrs.Trivedi looked casually at her watch and uttered, "We are wasting our time".

A visibly upset Mr Thanga folded up his papers saying, "If my presence is wasting your time why should I be here". Mrs.Trivedi, however acted tactfully, that she didn't mean it and asked if the CS would like tea or coffee. The point is, we the Manipuris are not serious enough and in the bargain lose precious funds at the expense of development. This was not all in the line of fire. Not many years back, in the usual Annual Plan Discussion session, a local officer who was holding dual post of Secretary and the Head of Department of a certain Department was representing the Department in the discussion.

The sad news was, this representative couldn't satisfy any query of the Chairman of the Working Group. The gap was so wide, and the Chairman, a Mizoram cadre IAS officer, was so upset, he reportedly asked our representative why he had come at all if he had not prepared. In such a scenario, how could we expect adequate fund for our development programmes? Naturally, the state loses precious funds over the years and the ramifications are aplenty in and around.

Mother Nature has not been gracious to Manipur. It is not bestowed with natural beauties; we have no sea -front, no bay, no back water like in Kochi, and no coconut grove like in Assam, Vizagapatam or Kerala. Our Kings and Princes, of which we are so proud of, didn't have any taste for developing any palace, any monument, any stretch of park or the like. Despite these apparent shortcomings inherent in our society, our successive governments too had been far less farsighted and hardly attempted anything worth towards beautification of the tiny city of Imphal during 63 years of planning.

Even the Tripura kings did develop beautiful palace complex which is now being converted into a museum. Even the ones which could be portrayed as something unique of ours, like the Ima Market Complexes which are only 3 or 4 years old, have been reduced to a set of Urban Refuse, unhygienic segment of modern slum. Our city remains unplanned, there are no tree-bordered roads, unlike in other states, say like in even portions of Guwahati, or Chandigarh, the garden city, a city planned by the famous French urban planner, Le Corbusier in the fifties.

Our units of Capitol Complex are widely scattered( or is it planned to be so) and thus loses the expected charm and attraction of a unified complex of three majestic architectural pieces placed close enough to have a focused composite look.

Not to worry. We can still think of customized trip to Loktak, a visit to INA museum at Moirang, Takmu water -sport site, to Keibul Lamjao, one or two hill stations or to Moreh, the border town Tamu,in Myanmar for a bit of shopping, , Ima markets, sangai festval stalls, historic Kangla fort, ISKCON complex, Mahabali temple, a cultural evening of music and dance at Chorus Repartee run by internally- acclaimed, drama personality Ratan Thiyam and the Dance College and for a little touch of painting, to RKCS Art Gallery and the like.

We can think of motorized boat rides in the lake for 2-3 hours if properly planned. All these of course, need careful planning and professional execution. The Public Private Partnership (PPP) model can come into play; it's too delicate for the public sector alone to handle. Nagaland has gone one step ahead of us. The Dzuko valley and its lily, our Tourist Policy referred to so passionately, has already been roped in and managed by Nagaland; approach roads have been laid 3-4 years back, the site has been done up with budget accommodation cum dormitory facility. In addition, they have pressed into service helicopter ride throughout the 7- day Hornbill-carnival.

A sustained effort at brand building to showcase Manipur's unique culture and heritage, its traditions that includes its rich haul of arts, dances, the infamous martial arts, the historical sites (not necessarily to have world heritage tag) etc.The psyche of tourists has necessarily to be won, be influenced by words and visuals presented with certain panache.

These need funds and foresight. For the more conspicuous state, with a little bit of persuasive zeal, the Union Government has plans to fund for development of quality tourism infrastructure at select tourist destinations in the States and UTs. One can think in terms of deputing select film personalities of Manipur Film Industry, as brand Ambassadors of Tourism, call on the recently inducted Union Minister of Tourism ,Padma Bhushan Dr K.Chiranjeevi, who himself was a renowned Mega-Star for, generous central support towards improving Manipur Tourism.

With a little luck, we may end up getting a favorable nod from him. But, luck favors the prepared! Over 50%of Ministry's expenditure on Plan Schemes has been increased during the 12th FYP, specifically for such pioneering projects. What is needed is awareness of the existence of such schemes, followed by preparation of self-contained Detailed Project Report (DPR), further following up with a mission full of passion.

Concluded....


* S. Kunjabihari Singh,(IAS) wrote this article for e-pao.net
This article was originally written on 12 November 2012
The writer can be contacted at kunjabiharis(AT)rediffmail(doT)com
This article was posted on February 09, 2016.


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