After being a part of Army life I have been making a bucket-list for every place I get posted to. And I made one for Manipur too though I was not very sure if it would be possible, the place being inflicted with so much insurgency. But a trek to Shirui Hills had always been on the top of the list! May be I will sometime write a blog on how this place totally changed my mind and made me fall in love with it… But for now… I am in Ukhrul, in my guest room, tucked in blanket and sipping on some hot soup and writing about how this small district town made my wish come true.
– Ukhrul –
Ukhrul is a district in the north-eastern state of Manipur, India. It lies about 90 kms north of Imphal.
How to reach :- By Air – The nearest airport is Tulihal Airport in Imphal.
By Road – You can drive down from Imphal taking NH-202.
By Rail – The nearest railway station is Dimapur, which is in Nagaland. And is about 330kms away.
– A lil about the place –
Ukhrul is a land of beautiful mountains interspersed by numerous tribal inhabitants echoing with the rhythms of tribal cultures and rich wild life. Besides the serene environment, the ways of life of the simple and friendly tribals who have been known for generations for their honesty and integrity leave one spellbound. The district is the home for a warrior tribe called Tangkhul Nagas. It is believed that the earliest home of the Tangkhuls, the great Mongolian race was the upper reaches of Huang Heo and Yangtze Rivers which lies in the Zinjiang province of China. Like the other desert areas of the world, the people including the Tangkhuls migrated from this place to different directions.
For me the people were bright, warm and always smiling! They were one of the most friendly people I have met in my life ( no exaggeration). There is something about that warm friendly smile that you tend to feel at home at the very first meeting.
We have been planning for a trip to Ukhrul for quite a while now and finally everything just seemed to fall into place for the trip. We had to meet an officer and his wife as they were getting posted out and the time was good for my Longpi Village trip and my Shirui Trek. And I jumped in at the idea!
I have been in Manipur for more than a year and unlike most ladies it was not the ‘temple border lungis’ , ‘the manipuri silk saree’ , ‘jewellery’ that fascinated me. In fact I haven’t bought any of them… what I wanted was ‘The Longpi Black Stone Pottery‘. I did pick up a few pieces from the Sangai Festival and I totally loved cooking in them.
What is this Longpi black stone pottery? What is so special about them ?
Longpi is famous for age-old pottery making locally called Longpi Ham. It is believed that Longpi ham used to be the main cooking utensil among the Tangkhuls before the advent of aluminum pots. Longpi ham as of today has attained national and international popularity. Longpi pottery is one unique art where the potters do not use the potter’s wheel. Longpi ham is made from a mixed paste of ground black serpentinite stone and a special brown clay. As claimed by the locals, the clay is native to only Longpi village. After the pots are shaped, polished and sun-dried they are heated in a bonfire and thereafter polished with a special tree leaf locally called Chiron ni. The black color of Longpi ham is a result of polishing the heated earthen pots with the tree leaf.
It is really amusing how this really tiny village has acquired admirers from all over the world! And when you start reading how they started to gain acknowledgement in front of the world, there is only one name that pops up – Machihan Sasa
A National Award winner, Mr Sasa says, ‘‘the government have entrusted me to train the art of making Black Pot to my villagers. Now 200 to 300 people from my village have started making pots and they are earning for a living. Now our village has two more National award winners on the same art. My youngest son is running a pottery shop at Vasant Kunj, since 2005. The powdered raw materials from Nungbi, Ukhrul is sent off to Delhi and groups of skilled potter who are five to six in number make the Black pot and other designs which is a big demand in the National Capital. Shop owners use to buy in bulks. The sale range from 200 to 500 pieces in one buys and the price is good. My 33-year-old son is doing good business promoting the black pot and meeting the demands of the ever-increasing buyers”
Due to his efforts, Longpi Pottery has gained popularity not only in the country but also attained admirers from countries like Australia, Sweden, Germany and the United States.
But today it’s really disheartening to see this wonderful artist, striving to live with bare minimum he has. The government has given him awards and certificates but nothing has been done to give the man and his family a better life! It’s a shame that this man has given so much to the country, does not have money to paint his house. We have failed him! Like we have failed numerous other jewels of Indian art and craft Industry! It’s a shame!
After the Longpi village visit, I visited the vibrant little Ukhrul market. If you want to pick up traditional Naga shawls and souvenirs, this is a good place.
The day ended and I came back to the guest room feeling overwhelmed from all the experiences I had. Being an art lover myself, I had always wanted to meet Mr.Sasa in person and it was a dream come true moment for me! A fan moment that I shall cherish for life.
We ended the day early thanking God for all the wonderful things that had happened that day and praying for a clearer weather for tomorrow. Yet another adventure waited for us the next day… Another dream was to come true! <3