On March 8, the Battle of Imphal, which saw the United Kingdom and British India take on the Japanese and the Indian National Army (INA), completed 70 years.
Though there were heavy casualties on both sides, the British-led Allied forces emerged victorious in what is now considered as one of the turning points of the Second World War. So much so, that in April 2013, the National Army Museum in the United Kingdom named the Battle of
, along with the one fought in Kohima, Nagaland, as the British Army’s greatest battle.
Yet, in Imphal and other parts of Manipur, where this extraordinary conflict took place, memorials, museums and airfields dedicated to the bitter battle go unnoticed. We are the only visitors at the INA Memorial Complex at Moirang, where the in-charge is surprised to see people walking in. The India Peace Memorial, not too far from the complex, needs maintenance while the Japanese memorial just nearby could do with some sprucing up as well.
But for a state combating modern-day insurgency, along with other issues like an increasing feeling of alienation amongst the locals and rising unemployment, promoting tourism is the last thing on its mind. In 2004, The INA Memorial was damaged in an insurgent attack when the statue of the Springing Tiger at the entrance was blown up. Several monuments and temples still house soldiers from the armed forces, while others can be seen patrolling the city streets at night.
Yet, for tourists looking to commemorate this anniversary, there are activities planned till July, the month when the Allies emerged victorious in 1944. Some tour operators, like the Eastern Heritage Trails, are planning The Battle of Imphal tours that allow people to relive history. Visitors could head to the Khurai Thangjam Leikai Memorial, the site of an air bombing in April 1943, or visit the Koirengei Airfield, which was the most important of six airfields constructed in the Imphal Valley during the war.
Incidentally, the world will mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in August 2014. Across the globe, millions will introspect on the lessons learnt, relive the victory and reflect on the loss of human lives. Several will visit sites that were once battlegrounds and where history was written. But unless we make it a point to celebrate it, the Battle of Imphal may just remain a chapter in history books.
Getting there: There are regular flight services from Mumbai to Imphal. There are several budget hotels available in the city. Veg and non-veg food is easily available.