Floating islands on Manipur's Loktak Lake are nature's work of art

Picnic memories in Manipur are incomplete without a page dedicated to Loktak Lake. It was the only place in Manipur where during the height of insurgency against the Indian government and its military, the people of the hill state went to experience a sense of calm.

A dusty road, now paved, cut through the lake and led to a hillock where a dilapidated inspection bungalow stood, now taken over by a private hospitality firm and converted into a resort with cottages built on the hillside. To the west of the lake in Moirang district, 50 kilometres from state capital Imphal, is a national park that is home to the almost extinct Eld's deer, also known as Sangai deer; about 200 of them are left in the world, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Loktak is one of the largest freshwater lakes in India, and a distinctive feature of this lake in the north-east is the presence of what is known as "floating islands". Locally known as "phumdi", it is a large piece of hardened algae and water vegetation, whose thickness underwater varies but is usually not less than a metre; it is strong enough to hold a light structure. The fisherfolk build huts on them. If they are not anchored, often with bamboos, they may drift in the wind, hence "floating island".

All through the 1990s, some parts of Loktak Lake and the adjoining Keibul Lamjao National Park were known to be infested with insurgents. In 2009, the Indian Army launched Operation Summer Storm and cleared the lake and surrounding villages of all insurgents, eventually opening the way for development of Moirang district and renewed conservation efforts at the national park.
Loktak Lake is in a much better shape today, though to strike a balance between tourism, the interests of the fisherfolk and the environment will always remain a big challenge.
A good way of enjoying a visit to Loktak Lake is to head straight to Sendra Park and Resort, run by Manipur’s first big hotel chain The Classic, which sits atop a hill and gives a good vantage point to see the entire lake. Some parts of the hill are off limits for people who have not booked at the resort - similar to the process followed by Neemrana Fort-Palace - but an old shed at the highest point on the hill is open to visitors.

Loktak Lake as seen from an old inspection bungalow on top of a hill, now converted into a resort.

A tea and snacks place built on a "floating island" or phumdi.

Women sell dried and smoked fish near Loktak Lake. Fish is Manipur's favourite food.

Diesel cans to power boats for tourists.
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