The Jewel of India
Blessed immensely by nature and spoilt tremendously by the people, the land known as the Jewel of India today struggle to make its identity in the history. Manipur literally means “A jeweled land” which is beautifully justified by its breath taking scenic beauty. Surrounded by blue hills with an oval shaped valley at the centre, the state nestle deep within a lush green corner of North East India. Its beauty has mesmerised many who out of inspiration like Mrs. St. Clair Grimwood described it as ” A Pretty Place more beautiful than many show places of the world”. And India’s late prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru paid a tribute by describing it as the “Jewel of India”.
Geographically Manipur is bounded by the Indian states of Nagaland to the north, Mizoram to the south and Assam to the west. The state also borders Myanmar to the east. The capital city Imphal lies in an oval-shaped valley of approximately 700 square miles surrounded by blue mountains and is at an elevation of 790 metres above the sea level. The slope of the valley is from north to south. The presence of the mountain ranges not only prevents the cold winds from the north from reaching the valley but also acts as a barrier to the cyclonic storms originating from the Bay of Bengal. There are four major river basins in Manipur State, the Barak River Basin (Barak Valley) to the west, the Manipur River Basin in central Manipur, the Yu River Basin in the east, and a portion of the Lanye River Basin in the north.
Manipur may be characterised in two distinct physical regions – an outlying area of rugged hills and narrow valleys, and the inner area of flat plain, with all associated land forms. These two areas are not only distinct in respect of physical features but are also conspicuous with regard to various flora and fauna. The valley region would have been a monotonous, featureless plain but for a number of hills and mounds rising above the flat surface. The hilly regions are all rich with forest covers and natural resources. Forest provide many rich plantation of woods, medicinal plants, vegetation, and an abode to various animals. Jhuming cultivation is carried out in most hilly regions that causes rapid deforestation in large scale. Also since hunting is a means of livelihood for most of the population in the hilly regions, various animals are alarmingly decreasing and may soon face extinction.
Ideally the rich biodiversity should represent the state’s importance and popularity unlike the political and social problems that the state usually project to the world. The state is blessed with an amazing variety of flora and fauna, 67% of the geographical area of Manipur is hill tract covered forests. The varied climatic condition that varies from tropical to sub-alpine breed and support diverse flora and fauna. Coveted the world over as some of the most beautiful and precious blooms, the state has variety of orchids that exhibit an aura of exotic and mysteries about them. There are 500 varieties of orchids which grow in Manipur of which 472 have been identified.
The state boast of having the only species of flower in the whole world called ‘Siroi Lily’ that now face the danger of extinction even before it could get its due place in the ecological world. Besides Siroi Lily which is the only terrestrial lily grown on the hill tops of Siroi hill, Ukhrul, the Hoolock Gibbon, the Sloe Loris, the Clauded Leopard, the Spotted Linshang, Mrs. Hume’s Barbacked Pheasant, Blyths Tragopan, Burmese Pea-Fowl, four different species of Hornbills etc. form only a part of the rich natural fauna of Manipur.
Another pride of the state and the nation as a whole is the unique dancing deer, the ‘Sangai’. The ecosystem that sustain the survival of this only species of deer in the world is of greater interest. Loktak Lake, the largest freshwater lake in northeastern India, also called the only Floating lake in the world due to the floating phumdis which are heterogeneous mass of vegetation, soil, and organic matters at various stages of decomposition on it. The largest of these phumdis now known as the Keibul Lamjao National Park is the last natural refuge of the endangered Sangai or Manipur brow-antlered deer.
Besides ensuring the survival of Sangai, this ancient lake plays an important role in the economy of Manipur. It serves as a source of water for hydropower generation, irrigation and drinking water supply. The lake is also a source of livelihood for the rural fisherman who live in the surrounding areas and on phumdis. Currently human activity has led to severe pressure on the lake ecosystem threatening its ecological balance.
The Keibul Lamjao national park has eighty per cent of its flora submerged and the vegetation forms a 90-120 cm. thick cover on the water surface. About half a century ago, the predominant plants used to be tou (45 per cent), singut (25 per cent) and khoimom (15 per cent). But the composition of the vegetation has undergone rapid changes and the plant cover, at present, is estimated to comprise of equal proportions of hoop Leersia hexandra and sing kambong Zizania latifolia, a protein-rich plant, often used as food (about 24 per cent).
Other than the Sangai, some very rare animals may be seen in and around this wilderness. Different species of deer like the hog deer, sambar and muntjac are also found. One of the most primitive primates, the slow loris occurs in scattered pockets on the hills. Assamese and stump-tailed macaques and the Hoolock gibbon are restricted mainly to the western hills. The Rhesus monkey is found ubiquitously around the park. The large Indian civet Viverra zibetha and small Indian civet Viverricula indica, common otter Lutra lutra and wild boar Sus scrofa are some of the large mammals found in the area. Some rarely seen wild cats like the marbled cat and Temminck’s golden cat may be sighted occasionally along with the Himalayan black bear and the Malayan bear.
A variety of rare birds occur in Keibul Lamjao and the Loktak Lake. The avifauna consists primarily of the smaller reed-dwelling species. Waterfowl, which were unfailing winter migrants to the lake, are becoming more rare because of the lack of open water surfaces. The Hooded Crane may be seen in the Manipur valley. The Black Eagle and the Shaheen Falcon are some of the raptors seen here. The Eastern White Stork, Bamboo Partridge and Green Peafowl are also found here. Some of the species of hornbills found here include the Brownbacked Hornbill, Rufousnecked Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, the Pied Hornbill and the Great Pied Hornbill.
Though surcharged with nature’s pristine glory, the state faces dual challenge of development and political stability for bringing the desired development. The state rich biodiversity is fading under the pressure of negligence and indifference of people towards the environment. The birth place of many rich culture like the game of Polo and the famous Ras Lila classical dance, Manipur has yet to wake up to see and need to protect its environment.