Perched atop the hill ranges in the northern part of the State of Manipur, at an elevation of about 2020 metres above sea level, is a small hill station called Ukhrul, the land of the Tangkhul Naga tribe of Manipur.
The Ukhrul town is located 84 kilometres from the State capital Imphal. A good metalled National Highway 150 connects Imphal with Ukhrul through a picturesque hilly area.
On our journey, halfway from Imphal, we reached a village Litan where a lively cluster of small shops and hotels (which are actually small tea stalls and not the regular lodging ones) are strategically located offering a stopover for refreshment. After a hot cuppa tea and some snacks, we resumed our drive which then began the climb with incredulous twists and turns. Although the road was metalled it was treacherously narrow and winding for one to have a comfortable drive.
The popular Siroy Peak, the actual name of which is Shirui Kashung Peak stands at an elevation of about 2,835 m. The peak is famed for the ‘Siroy Lily’. Locally called as ‘Kashongwon’ and scientifically named the ‘Lilium Mackliniae’, Siroy Lily is a special variety of Lily that grows only on the Shirui hill. The discovery of the rare variety of Lily endemic to the Shirui Hill is credited to an English Botanist and explorer named Francis Kingdon Ward aka Frank Kingdon-Ward who is known for his expeditions (reported to be more than 25) hunting flowers in the region around Tibet, North Western China, Myanmar and of course the Northeast of India. He had come to Ukhrul in 1946 with Jean Macklin (who became his second wife) and on discovering the rare species of lily named it after her. Once known to bloom wildly across the face of the Shirui hill during mid-May to early June, the environmental changes have shrunk the natural habitat of the rare flower to the top of the hill. A National park was set up in 1982 for the preservation of this rare flower. My visit being off-season, I did not get to see the famous Lily of Shirui, the State flower of Manipur, yet.
I have visited Ukhrul for professional purpose. Some of the images are imprinted on my mind like the thick blanket of clouds hovering below the town. It looked like a fairytale village on top of the clouds, a sight I could never forget. To me, it was indeed the Switzerland of Manipur.
Ukhrul, beautiful as it may be, has spread all over, the core area of the town is unrecognisable with every inch of space being crowded up and the fringes expanding. It is a totally new place to me. The market of Ukhrul has also expanded beyond the original Wino Bazar, Phungreitang becoming a major landmark. The hustle and bustle are quite invigorating with some very interesting stuff.
Although existing beyond recognition, the town still had the old rustic charm of a tribal village. The most alluring part of Ukhrul is the mesmerizing hills. Gentle and rolling, covered in a thick blanket of evergreen forest dotted with patches of human settlements on the lofty hilltops, the hills offer a pleasant view filling the onlooker with a sense of calmness and gratification. It is a beautiful gift of God indeed. How I wish we humans would stop being so greedy and selfish, and instead focus on preserving and developing the bounties of nature that God has laid on our laps.