The banner signboards at the entrances of the Kangla announcing the name “Kangla” to onlookers and visitors are too cheap, if not ridiculous: as if anybody would mistake the citadel of the erstwhile kingdom of Manipur for anything else. Today no doubt it is an archival complex with immense historical and cultural significance and no longer a living monument where daily businesses of governance of war and peace are conducted, but this does not mean it must be robbed of its dignity. Leaders of the state as well as bureaucrats would have seen how things are done in historical sites all over the country and the world. None of them do it the way it is done at the Kangla. Imagine the Taj Mahal, Qutabh Minar, Red Fort, Humayan Tomb etc with similar signboard across their gate, as if these were some popular circus grounds. Normally a granite plaque with a brief history of the monument is erected in a neat and well kempt corner of the entrance areas so that visitors can read and get the basic information of what they are about to witness or are witnessing. We wonder how the difference in the aura and dignity in the manner these other monuments are announced to visitors and the way it is done to the Kangla is not noticed by our leaders, especially those in charge of the upkeep of the complex. It is not too late yet, let the government remove those ugly banners and do it the way the rest of the civilised world do it at the soonest.
We also wonder whatever has happened to the drive for restoring the Kangla. The government has been going about on a demolition spree everywhere in the city, but is still not able shift (after suitable compensation of course), a few families living inside the complex, who were once the temple keepers while the Assam Rifles was occupying the complex. It may be recalled troops moved out and the Kangla handed over the people by the Prime Minsiter, Manmohan Singh in 2004 following widespread street agitation against the Assam Rifles in the wake of the alleged rape and custodial murder of a young woman, Thangjam Manorama. It may also be recalled that much earlier the Kangla came to be garrisoned after the British defeated and took over the Manipur kingdom in 1891, and much of the symbols of the state, in particular the two Kangla Sha the mythical beasts which have since become the state emblem, at the entrance of the Darbar Hall were destroyed. After the British left, the troops stayed on. The two Kangla Sha have been restored since along with some other historical structures within the complex. It must however be said the restoration work, while commendable at places, at others are at best kitschy. For evidence, take a look at the gate of the Dubar Hall. It looks like one of those hastily made entrances to some cheap stalls at circuses and fairs which visit the state occasionally.
As suggested for the gateways, we wonder why the government has not thought of erecting granite plaques with histories and descriptions at each of the many interesting sites within the complex. The two restored Kangla Shas will be a prime candidate for this. The Durbar Hall, the Manung Kangjeibung which is possibly the oldest polo-ground in the world, and where modern polo took birth, the ruins of the Govindaji temples, as well as the newly constructed indigenous Sanamahi temple etc are some of these. On the northern side of the complex are also another set of very interesting monuments and sites. Some of the cottages sitting aside sprawling lawns lined with flower beds are of profound historical significance too. The cottage where Field Marshall Sir William Slim lived and planned his “Defeat into Victory” strategies against the advancing Japanese Imperial Army in alliance with the Indian National Army, INA, of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, being the most significant. Why cannot similar granite plaques with explanatory notes be erected at these sites as well? Today, for the uninitiated, touring the Kangla complex is like scanning an album of interesting photographs but without photo captions. Visitors often are left bewildered at trying to identify the monuments, even the modern classic the Slim Cottage, for adjacent to it are other similar cottages. The Kangla undoubtedly will be a major attraction for tourist once Manipur becomes a tourist spot as so many wish for today. If the law and order situation improves, we see no reason why it cannot be buzzing with tourists of all kinds too. Kathmandu is advertised as a valley in which adventure tourists can head in any direction and find a good trek. We see why Imphal valley, surrounded by hills all around cannot acquire the same unique selling point, or as this proposition is better known, the USP.