by Mehak Chowdhary
Move your finger over the map of India, and keep going towards the right hand corner, until you find the tiny state of Manipur. The dot that is Imphal — has it ever been on your travel plans? Understandably not, I guess. Militancy has long cast a shadow over Manipur's mesmerising beauty. A Google search yields frustratingly little on the region, and even less about Sekmai, where I'm about to lead you. But take it from me, do: if you can brave the constant news from the state, and the stopover in Kolkata or Guwahati en route to Imphal, then what lies ahead defines a true Indian journey. Don't expect to find glorious ruins or rich historical inscriptions; not because there aren't any, but because they aren't well-maintained.
Don't go expecting anything, except simple pleasures that pack a mighty healing punch. The incredible markets of Imphal will fill your shopping bags with tribal treasures, and the gardens sprinkled all over will fill your heart with serenity. Refreshed thus in senses and soul, it's time to take a 16-km trip to the exquisite Sekmai river. You could — and should — book a tour operator for your visit to Sekmai, but the experience would be double the fun if you have a local contact. Once you hit the highway, the hillocks start appearing. And then you come upon the cool, soothing waters of Sekmai River, cutting across the village on its banks. Pitch your picnic tent here, and live like the locals for a while.
Guess what — they use the water from the river to make a distilled rice-based spirit that has a close reflection to regular vodka. You can enjoy it as is, or try out the lovely fruity flavours — pineapple, grape and orange — all free from preservatives, colouring or the usual additives.
A handful of makeshift eateries dot the countryside. Vegetarians may not expect a royal spread, but the chicken and pork dishes cooked in the true oriental way are hygienic and highly popular. The best time of the year to enjoy an outing there is in winter. Wake up to golden sunlight washing over the east-facing village, take a walk by the shallow river after a meal or just idle around.
Travel Secrets, photos by journey basket, March-April 2013, Price: Rs 70