Loktak Lake-Home to the Worlds Only Floating National Park
Loktak Lake in Bishnupur district, Manipur is the largest freshwater lake in Northeast India. It is located near Moirang, scene of battle between British Army and Indian National Army, where Indian tricolor flag was hoisted for the first time on Indian soil. Fed by Manipur and Imphal river and other small rivulets, it is prime source of irrigation, hydel-power generation, and drinking water in the region. The lake’s catchment area is around 980 sq.kms; mostly under paddy cultivation and forests. Spread over 287 sq.km, the lake got its name from ‘Lok’ meaning stream and ‘tak’ meaning the end. It is famous for phumdis or floating island, created as an assorted mass of soil, vegetation, and organic matter at various stages of decomposition floating on the lake.
Fishing, main livelihood of locals is centered around phumdis, also called phumshongs. Circular phumdis’ called athapums, artificially created for fishing purposes as well as fish hatcheries produce variety of fish including pangba, grass carp, silver carp, tharak, ngamu, ukabingaril, and ngashap. Largest phumdi on southeastern side of the lake is spread over 40 sq.km. Located on this phumdi, is Keibul Lamjao National Park, worlds only floating national park; and last natural refuge of endangered Sangai deer, the state animal of Manipur. The lake was designated as Wetland of International Importance under Ramsar Convention and under Montreux Record; due to its’ unique ecological characteristics. Ithai barrage is prime outlet for the lake.
Unlike neighboring Nagaland, Inner Line Permit is not required to visit Manipur. The lake located on southern part of Imphal valley; is ecologically divided into two primary zones, the 70.3 sq.km ‘Core Zone’ where no-development is allowed, and rest as ‘Buffer Zone’. Surrounded by hills and forests, the lake has open water patches intertwined with marshes and islands namely Phubala, Sendra, Thangav and Ithing. Geographically, the lake is divided into North, Central and South zones. North zone is from eastern side of Nambol river to Phabakchao. Central zone from Awang Laisoi pat to Laphu pat including main open water zone. Southern zone includes Keibul Lamjao National Park, Ungamel and Kumbi pats including Imphal river, which is linked by Khordak channel.
Many water resources projects have been built on Loktak lake, to meet irrigation, hydel-power, and drinking water requirement of people by Manipur government. These include Singda Dam Project, Khuga Dam Project, Thoubal Dam Project, Imphal Barrage Project, Sekmai Barrage Project and Loktak Multipurpose Project. The last one is controversial as it has reportedly affected hydrological regime of the lake; affecting its biodiversity. Water pollution, water hyacinth growth, and sewage disposal are also affecting the lake. This prompted the government to setup Loktak Development Authority with support from Wetlands International Asia (WISA) and funding from India Canada Environment Facility (ICEF).
Loktak lake is home to 233 species of aquatic plants, over 100 species of birds including water birds, wetland birds, waterfowl, ducks, hooded crane, eastern white stork, bamboo partridge, green peafow; making the lake, a birdwatchers’ paradise especially in winter. Birds of prey like black kite, shaheen falcon, and western marsh harrier are found on surrounding trees. Several hornbills species are also found in and around the lake. Keibul Lamjo National Park, is home to 249 species of vertebrates, 176 species of invertebrates including endangered animals like Hoolock gibbon, sambhar deer, hog deer, Indian python, and barking deer. Other animals found here include Asiatic golden cat, slow loris, marbled cat, wild bear, stump-tailed macaque, rhesus monkey, and Indian civet; making the lake a must visit for wildlife enthusiast. Numerous varieties of economic plants, food plants, and edible fruits are grown on the lake.
Tourist planning to visit Loktak lake must use Imphal, capital of Manipur 40 km away as base, which is well connected by road, air with rest of India. The lake can be used as base to visit other important locations such as Moirang, INA Museum, Red Hill, Chiru waterfall, Ukhrul, Moreh, and Yaingangpokpi Lokchao Wildlife Sanctuary. Suitable for two-day trip a year, except monsoons; tourist can stay and eat at resort accommodations at Sendra and Phubala islands. Tourist can roam around the lake on boats, ferry available at tourist boating centre.