The Sangai festival starts with such a bang and the best of Manipur- dance and music is put forward. The best performances were showcased on the inaugural day followed by cultural events in the evening at the open air theater. All the cultural events were very beautifully performed but the one that stood out among the rest was a group of young women showcasing their sword skills. The first day's events were so awesome that they should not be missed at any cost.
The venue for the festival was the massive city convention center and the entire ground was filled with stalls from every nook and corner of Manipur. There were exclusive stalls promoting indigenous products ranging from organic to agro based products to cycles made out of bamboo. Many stalls were dedicated to exclusive Manipuri cuisine, handicrafts, small scale cottage industries, highly skilled handmade pottery without the help of spinning wheel and hand woven textiles. There was also an international presence with stores from Thailand, Myanmar and Bhutan.
One of the stalls was put up by Indian post. With one of us being a crazy superstar fan, it was a goosebumps moment to see a postal card dedicated to the superstar 'Rajinikanth.'
Sangai festival was a perfect platform to introduce non locals to the traditional games where the younger generation were proud to keep the indigenous sports alive and kicking. Several of these traditional games were played on a daily basis with great fanfare. It was a proud moment to see the young folks showing their dedication towards sports that are so close to their roots and were interested in not letting the fire die down. The traditional games start at around 3.30 pm every day.
A section was dedicated to a heritage park where the tribal lifestyle of Manipuri people was portrayed in the best way possible. Different styles of huts that were completely made of natural material gave a total tribal tour. It also showcased how the indigenous people successfully used all natural material to go on with their daily activities. One particular tribe used crushed black stone to make utensils and other home needs.
Well renowned sand artist and Padma Shri Award recipient Sudarsan Pattnaik from Orissa had graced the festival with his presence and also left his mark with a sand art promoting a very important message- "Go Green."
Other highlights of the festival were Asian theater festival and the Maha Raas or Raas Leela that was performed on full moon day at Gobindaa Ji Temple. The city was beautifully lit up for the festival and all the lanes leading to the convention centre were decked up and were free of vehicular movement. Entry tickets were priced at Rs.20 per day and the festival was very efficiently organized. Also, do carry warm clothes as it gets cold post sunset.
The Government of Manipur also organizes an 8 day international polo tournament during the Sangai festival and teams from US, Australia, Thailand and England were the other participants. The first game of the tournament was played between India and USA. We are not going to pretend like we know or understand the game, all we knew about polo before entering the stadium was that horses were involved. We got to know later that the game played in Manipur is a little different as there are ponies involved and not horses.
It was so awesome to see the stadium packed and a jubilant crowd encouraging both teams and enjoying a good game. It was a neck to neck game between both teams. For majority of the game, US was leading by one goal but the table turned and with just minutes left on the clock our lads scored two quick goals to finish one up and won the game to the delight of the crowd.
One very surprising aspect about the game was that we did not have to purchase tickets. It was free for all. It was really nice to see Manipur carry on the legacy of Polo and host international tournaments and look beyond cricket. Almost all the matches were played in the afternoon between 1 to 4.30 pm.
Since we had arrived in Imphal way ahead of Sangai, we decided to visit Keibul Lamjao and Loktak Lake and come back to Imphal for Sangai. We were very keen to attend the festival on its inauguration. While we were at Loktak, we decided to leave for Imphal on November 21st to be able to attend the festival. We were not prepared for what was in store for us. Our journey of 50 km from Loktak to Imphal on the inaugural day of Sangai festival turned out to be a slightly risky but nonetheless a very exciting one.
We were unaware that a total bandh was called by a banned outfit 'United Revolutionary Front' boycotting Sangai festival. Businesses small and big were shut, state transport bus, private taxis and autos were completely off the road. The roads were deserted and gave us an eerie feel. We were still determined to reach Imphal to experience the inauguration of Sangai festival and the cultural events and therefore we took a chance.
After waiting for more than half an hour, one auto showed up and charged Rs.100 for a 3 km ride to Moirang. Normally the bustling Moirang market was totally deserted. The ever busy area with buses and shared taxis that are usually in abundance were missing with just one lone auto that was willing to drop us at Imphal at a premium price of Rs.700 whereas to reach Loktak, we spent only Rs.120 in total. However, it was worth the premium as we reached Imphal safely and were able to attend the festival. Some experiences surely are no match to any amount of money we spend.
During our stay we checked into Classic Grande a 4 star hotel. Generally our budget never permits us to stay in high end places but non availability of budget rooms put us in the lap of luxury. The hotel has a spa, swimming pool, fitness centre and all the bells and whistles. It is also conveniently located near all the attractions. Their restaurant serves excellent food and needless to say their service was extraordinary.