Fishing - A way of life around Manipuri Villages
Updated: Nov 17
In the northeast Indian state of Manipur, the abundance of freshwater sources surrounding the valley of Imphal is imperative to the tradition of fishing in all its surrounding villages. Fish forms an important part of regular Manipuri cuisine.
As a tourist to the state, the largest water body that I witnessed while flying into Imphal, the state capital was the vast stretch of Loktak lake. Of course, my limited knowledge source from the internet then did tell me that Fishing was widely practised as a livelihood in the Loktak lake but little did I ever know that fishing was a passion beyond the boundaries of Loktak Lake.
To my amusement, the Meitei's, a community dominant in the valleys of Manipur, are as obsessed with Fishing as a game of football.
On our excursions around the villages surrounding Imphal, I would often notice the Meiteis chasing fishes in canals, water-logged paddy fields, family ponds, streams, lakes or just anywhere they found water as though they were chasing a football. (Manipuris are die-hard fans of the game of Football)
One afternoon we drove around the Thoubal district and reached the village of Tokpaching to witness vast spans of ponds divided among various owners who reared fish in these ponds as a source of livelihood for selling in the nearby markets or just for personal consumption. On befriending the villagers, he took us on an excursion to see his fish farm. While he tossed fish food into the pond, a school of fish jumped and pounced to grab their shares. The fisherman shared, how the previous year, a group of 15 people from the city landed at his pond for a fishing session where they promised to pay him INR 1,60,000 if he allowed them to fish all afternoon at his pond. He was elated to inform us that even if the group fished around for the whole day, the amount he received was much higher than what they fished. Such is the craze of people around fishing in this part of the country.
Yet another day, we stopped by Bishnupur where the Loktak lake water outlet flowed calmly. The cemented bank along this water stream of Loktak has designated space for fishing. As the afternoon sun mellowed, we saw women folk at these spots with their traditional fishing nets known as khu-inchingba where the fishing nets are lowered by the support of one's knee. These fishers lowered their nets in unison which amazed us. The process was manual and slow yet the women sat there for their traps, with sandalwood paste smeared on their cheeks and nose to protect their skin from the afternoon heat.
As we moved around the villages surrounding Loktak lake, there was a commotion of all fishers returning with their fresh catch for the day. The commotion that seemed like an emergency to my eyes was just discussions about the day's fresh catch on their way back! If you happen to visit by afternoon or early evening, this is the best time to experience fishery in the islands and villages around Loktak. The fishers return with their tiny boats stocked with baskets full of fish.
Loktak lake, the largest freshwater lake in India is a major hub of fisheries in the region. Various traditional fishing methods are practised here by the villagers that have settled around it. The phumdis formed by floating biomass and vegetation tied together into circular structures are used for fish rearing or trapping of fishes in these phumdis. Many fishermen and women sail around the Loktak lake in narrow boats with their nets and catches. However, of all the traditional fishing methods, one that caught my attention was the scenes at Loktak after dusk. The night fishing technique is widely practised here.
We took a late evening boat ride towards the Karang Island of Loktak when we noticed tiny fluorescent lights coming up in the lake after sunset. We learnt this was yet another technique of fishing widely practiced in the region. These little battery-operated lights are hung on poles with the support of smaller phumdis. The high-intensity lights attract insects to these poles. The fishes which feed on insects come near the poles for their prey but are instead trapped in the nets that are laid below these poles thus making the task much easier for the fishers. When many such bulbs light up in the Loktak lake around Karang Island, the illuminated lake appears like a galaxy of stars from a distance. I would highly recommend this experience over Loktak lake.
Talking of fishing, it's not just limited to adults, kids too wander around little ponds or shallow waters to catch fish at playtime. Never had I imagined kids fishing as a playtime activity except in some western movie scenes.
While driving around the Riha village which has a lake formed by the construction of a dam over the Maphou hill trail, we found little boys indulging in fishing over this lake. They played in the water and stood over bamboo rafts by the shore to catch tiny fish with their fishing rods. The boys collected their catch in small baskets hung on their backs. There were serious fishers as well who rowed through the lake in rafts and spread their long nets which mostly seemed to be for commercial purposes.
Here are some suggestions of places around Imphal Valley that are best to experience Fishing.
Places around Manipur to experience its Fishing Culture -
1. Loktak Lake and its surrounding villages - About 38 km from the state capital of Imphal, Loktak lake is the largest freshwater lake with a pulsating area of 250 sq. km. Loktak lake is a major hub of fisheries in Manipur and also the largest source of the state's fish requirements. Loktak lake is formed by the Manipur river and its tributaries flowing into it. Fish from all these rivers are accumulated in this lake thus making it a source of various unique species. Exploring the fishing villages of Loktak can give you an idea of the various fishing methods being used.
Karang Island is an option to watch night fishing after sunset.
Look for the side of Loktak which contain the circular green rings (known as athaphum) created by the fishers for fish culture.
Villages like Moirang and Bishnupur also could be good choices for places to explore fish farming.
2. Outlet of Loktak Lake - The Ungamel Channel (also known as Ithei Barrage) is the only outlet of the Loktak lake where the water of the Loktak lake flows out at a pace controlled by the NHPC power plant. One can sit at the bank of this outlet while women fishers use their traditional nets to catch smaller fish.
3. Kakching / Tokpaching - Around Thoubal district, Tokpaching is a fishing village where locals passionately rear fish in their ponds. Walking around these ponds you could find people leisurely enjoying fishing sessions.
4. Maphou Dam - The trail along the Maphou dam has emerged as a picnic spot in recent hours for the locals exploring the outskirts of Imphal just a short drive away. The construction of this dam has created a lake close to the Riha village in the foothills of Ukhrul. This lake has emerged as a fishing spot for locals who lay their nets in this lake and sail around it in bamboo rafts. A sunset over the lake is a sight to enjoy while fishers go along with their life.
Lastly, what is better than just going driving on the outskirts of Imphal city? You will find someone sitting with nets or fishing rods along the canals adjacent to their paddy fields. How about striking up a conversation with them about fishing?
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