By Grace Jajo
Manipur is a State with mushrooming potential for tourism to exhibit its exotic landscape and lifestyle. While the rich cultural heritage of the State has received some visibility other aspects of its people and places continues to attract the craving of the inquisitive tourists. Perhaps Ukhrul District is one such destination with its green foggy mountains enthralling and hypnotizing travellers with fantastic views.
Khankhui Mangsor/Cave is one such enchanting limestone monument which has awed both tourists and researchers with its striking structures and location. The surrounding villages are inhibited by Tangkhul Naga tribe. Tangkhul are agrarian/agricultural based community. Their lives are adorned with festive celebrations based on the agriculture calendar. Most of the erstwhile ceremonies and rituals are fading with the adaptation to Christian faith and the onslaught of modernity.
Presently the popular festivals of the Tangkhul Naga are Luira Phanit/seed sowing festival, Yarra/peer group celebrations, Mangkhap Phanit/post seed sowing celebration, Mahat (Thareo) Phanit/ Post harvest festivals.
In the past Tangkhuls are known for practicing Head taking and constantly exhibiting their physical power. However historians described them as contented people within their own system of hunting and gathering food from the forest. Jhummias belt with their rich four tier system of organic farming guided by traditional knowledge and norms sustained their forest as one of the biodiversity hot spot today.
The twentieth century was a transition from the traditional towards modernity initiated by Christianity and western education several decades before present administration rooted in. Presently it is supposedly one of the most advance hill districts in the State.
Khangkhui Khullen Village is about 99 Km from Imphal via Ukhrul and takes about 4 hours in the winding road. Buses and shared taxi services @ 150 are available throughout the day for reaching Ukhrul.
From Ukhrul local shared taxis @ 70 will reached you to Khangkhui Village. The route to Khangkhui village from Imphal starts with the seamless stretch of paddy fields in the valley. Yaingangpokpi is a confluence of three districts namely Imphal East, Senapati and Ukhrul. The road towards Ukhrul starts climbing the winding road from there.
There are several Kuki villages on this stretch till Litan, the ultimate cosmopolitan town. From there the temperature drops and the freshness of the mountain breeze starts soothing your senses with an added fabulous view.
It is punctuated by an army post at Lambui which reminds the traveller of the conflict political situation and the intimidating sight of armies among civil population screening all travellers with mandatory registrations of vehicle details.
After ten minutes of driving you are enveloped by the fog in a welcoming note. You passed a cross road named after a British ‘Fins corner’.
From here it is a gentle downhill drive to the Nungshang Kong/river.
In the autumn you will see the cosmos blooming all over the roadside in different soft hues of white and pink, besides the rows of paddy terrace fields on both sides of the road. It takes another 30 minutes from there to reach Ukhrul passing the lines of bright brown sand quarries on the mountains.
The road from Ukhrul to Khangkhui village follows the NH 150 for about 8 km and takes a right diversion on a mud road for another 7 km to Khangkhui Khullen via Choithar villages. During the monsoon it is motorable only by 4×4 vehicles however in the dry season even bikes and other vehicles can reach the village.
There is a guest house in the vicinity meant to facilitate tourists which has not been managed well by the Tourism department. But the village has been extending its hospitality to all the travellers for both home stay lodging and fooding to experience the organic rural life.
Kangkhui Cave which is the biggest caves in Manipur is situated about 2 km away from the village habitat among the dense forest. Vehicles can reach upto the foothill. From the last 150 yards, a well maintained footpath leads to the cave opening area. Intriguing mystery that surrounds the cave and the scenic beauty of the vicinity can be mesmerizing.
The Limestone Cave has two openings, while the northern side is coarse the other is visibly smoother. There are several compartments/chambers inside including an upper chamber above the cave too. Some of the openings are spacious while one of the narrow openings leads much further inside linking to several sub openings/tunnels.
These multiple inside openings of the cave continues to intrigue the adventurous people to explore further and farther. While some might remain content with the magnificent view from there across the beautiful terrace fields and the fresh clean air that soothes the senses, some will definitely want to discover more of this mysterious dark caves.
There is a natural spring flowing to a crepe like structure. It is said that the water neither overflows nor dries throughout the year.
Another small stream flows out from the cave.
Here is also a fable that a dog lost its way inside and found its way out in the Mangva cave near Nungshangkong. Implying that one of the narrow openings might lead further south to this adjoining cave.
Some says during the Second World War the whole village cattle were lodged inside the caves for months but the deity fed them and they later emerged healthy. Folk lores and folk songs exhalt the presence of a deity in the caves.
According to Mayaso Shongzan in his book “A portrait of the Tangkhul
Nagas, anthropologies found historical artifacts that belong to the Paleolithic age. Whether the same race had continued to live on through the ages to become the present Naga people is unknown.”
He goes further to say, “There is also a fable of the Mangsor Deity having two wives –the first wife, being from Shirui peak, lived in the larger hall, and the second wife from Koubru Hills lived in the southern hall, which was smaller.”
Several bats whizzes inside the caves as the sound of the flowing water haunts the place. Yet the Jhum belts on the eastern range, the lovely grassland/meadows on towards Choithar village adds to the beauty of the Khangkhui Caves.
Harva Khangai or Point 7378. This grassland/meadow that is locally named Harva Khangai lies on the eastern side of Khangkhui Khunou Village. Harva literally means a cock in Tangkhul language and this hill top supposedly resembles a cock’s head. Here was the first ever battle of the Second World War fought on the Indian soil. On 18 of March 1944, 200 Japanese Troops had reached Pushing village which was just 3 miles away on the eastern side. The Japanese had come crossing the Chindwin River following the Chamu old jeep tract route. The following day on the 19 of March 1944, the British troop under the command of Major Fuller’s ‘C’ Company with 150 soldiers was defeated in this first battle in the Indian soil in a battle that lasted more than 24 hours. Major Fuller along with his second in command Capt. Roseby were wounded after twenty hours of exhaustive retaliation and died shortly. Lt. Easton along with a few wounded soldiers escaped through the thick jungle. The Japanese also suffered immensely in this battle. The dead bodies of the soldiers from both sides are believed to have been buried in the foothills there.
Such is the historical significance of this place which is been recognized as part of the War Tourism in Manipur State now which is merely 4 km from the habitat. It takes roughly one and half hour trekking to reach Harva Khangai from Khangkhui Khunou village. People prefer trekking through this green wilderness even if there is a motorable road till the foothill.
Picnickers would reached the place ahead of the sunrise and enjoy setting the traditional fire for breakfast at the hill top as they awaits the beautiful sight of sunrise.
The sunrise view from Harva Khangai is breathtaking. Many travellers have compared the sunrise view from here with the sunrise view from the famous Tiger Hills in Sikkim. On a clear autumn dawn, the emerging visibility of the view on all sides can mersmerised any nature lover. On the east, the visibility from there would reach till the Chindwin River in Burma across the Angou hill range. The left showcases the majestic Shirui peak before the late morning fog envelops the whole range. The south stretches in its endless thick green forest with its richness in flora and fauna.
The Harva Khangai is considered one of the best sunrise view spot in Ukhrul District fanned by a good wind speed. The locals have constructed a watch tower to facilitate the inquisitive travelers.
Organic farms adorn the neighbouring hillocks where the tastiest cabbage and wild apples adds to the scenic beauty.
Khangkhui village falls under the Ukhrul block. For health facilities it has PHC in its own village. The nearest hospital is located at Ukhrul which is 15 km away. The experience of visiting this village with its natural richness is the kind that imprints in the memoirs of every traveller.
This article is a compiled work as a part of the `World Tourism Day Media Fellowship` awarded by Manipur Tourism Forum.