Imagine an old palace crumbling around a remote civilization; the ruins of temples, lotus ponds scattered through the compound, sculptures of mythical beasts rearing up through the foliage, the statue of the goddess of war still standing in a shrine … you’d think you have to go to a different kingdom.
Well, you sort of do – but though the kingdom resides in the past, the fort and ruins are intact and accessible! In fact, they’re within flying distance from most anywhere in India … and you don’t even need a passport.
Right in the heart of Imphal, the capital city of Manipur, stands the living testament to a dynasty of rulers who established a kingdom as far back as the 12th century.
The kingdom of the Metei rulers was originally called Kangleipak and was established in the year 1110. The word Kangla means dry land. The new name, Manipur, which means abode of jewels, was adopted only in 1724.
The Kangla fort and palace complex, however, is said to date back to 33 AD and supposedly the kingdom, which at its peak included more than 450 villages, grew up around it. The Metei ruled the land, sometimes even making inroads into neighboring states, until 1819, when the Burmese captured it and ruled for seven years. When they were finally routed, the King shifted the capital to Langthabal, about 8 km from Kangla Palace.
But, in 1844, the reigning monarch shifted it back to Kangla and from here the state was governed until 1891, when the British marched in and took over. After independence, in 1949, it again changed hands. While there was a titular monarchy in place, the fort was occupied by the Indian army’s Assam Rifles regiment.
There aren’t many places in the world where you can experience history as a living, breathing monument to such a long tradition, but Imphal and its crown jewel, the Kangla Palace, are definitely on that list.
The fort and palace grounds are too good to be missed. Start with the moat and you’ll pass the Kangla Sha, the horned lion and dragon that have been painstakingly restored after they were destroyed by the British. You can see temples, original structures and halls, as well some displays like the original royal serpent-like boats.
Don’t miss the restored Govindajee temple, which was damaged in an earthquake. Another odd but beautiful spot is the shrine to Nunggoibi, where the goddess of war was worshipped. Visit also the numerous ponds, including Nungjeng Pukhri, one of several ponds, but the most important site for processions on festive seasons of the Meitei Calendar.
Manipur is supposed to be the birthplace of polo, the sport, and Manung Kangjeibung, their polo ground, is in immaculate condition.
It’s quiet and peaceful now, we promise, but do visit the Manglen, the original cremation site of the Manipur kings, that dates back to 1738. Before this, all the kings were buried when they died and you’ll be able to see a number of graves in the corner.
Don’t miss the Kangla Men Surung, the chambers where the official coronation ceremony, called erat-thouni, was conducted for each successive ruler, and the ruins of the Uttra, the coronation hall, of which only the steps and foundations remain.
There is also a small museum on the premises as well as structures from the British occupation and post Independence.
Where: Imphal, Manipur
Timings: The palace grounds are open to all tourists from 07:00 hours to 17:00 hours.
Cost: INR 2.00 for entry
How: You can fly to Imphal from most major cities in India
When: Any time of the year, but note that while it never gets too hot, Manipur does get heavy rainfall in the monsoon
#ProTip: The grounds can easily take three hours to explore. Do carry water and a hat.
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