Since 2010, the Northeast Indian state of Manipur has been celebrating the Sangai Festival. Starting from the 21st of November and lasting till the last day of the month, the festival is rated to be the second most popular cultural festival in the north-eastern part of the country. The festival is named after the state animal of Manipur - Sangai, a brow antler deer - which is found exclusively in the state.

Since its first edition, which was held seven years ago, the festival has grown manifold in terms of popularity across ages. Showcasing rich tradition and culture of the state and providing a huge platform for the locals to display their talents.

Inaugurated by the honorable President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, the festival was spread over ten eventful days.

I got the opportunity to attend the festival in 2017. The festival highlighted a variety of art forms, ranging from musical gigs, dance performances, indigenous and adventure sports, et cetera.

Add to that, a bevy of stalls selling local handmade products as well as local food and beverages. There was also a temporary camp set-up by the Indian Armed Force, which displayed a variety of the modern and vintage artillery (including some of the arms and the ammunition that were used during the 2nd World War at The Battle of Imphal by the British Indian army and the Japanese army (and INA).

Following is a list of ten reasons why I absolutely enjoyed the Sangai Festival, 2017 -

1. The Tribal Themed Huts -

One of the most appealing attractions was the section allocated to the tribal-themed huts housing people (men and women) from every single Manipuri tribe. While they spoke about their own tribes at great lengths, they also happily obliged for pictures every single time someone approached them. One could enter each of the huts to get a glimpse of a typical tribal hut and its traditional architecture.

10 Reasons Why I Loved Manipur

2. The Dance Performances -

Coming to the performances, each tribe displayed its rich culture in the form dance performances and folk songs. But the stage was not just set for the Manipuris. The festival saw performances by various tribes coming from different parts of Northeast India. From Sikkim to Mizoram, every state had sent its local troupe(s), but the performance that gathered the maximum eyeballs was the world-famous Ras Leela - Manipur's classical dance form. Another highly appreciated performance was the Bamboo Dance, performed by the dance troupe from Mizoram.

10 Reasons Why I Loved Manipur

3. The Musical Gigs -

When one is in the Northeastern part of India, one can rest assured about the quality of the music. Acting up as a hot mixing bowl of various genres and cultures, the Sangai Festival aced with its musical gigs. From folk songs to rock bands, the musicians made sure to keep the audience's feet tapping. My personal favorite was Manipuri Qawaali, which acted as a perfect fusion of classical Qawaali and Manipuri style of music.

10 Reasons Why I Loved Manipur

4. The Indigenous Handicrafts -

An array of the state's indigenous handmade products and handlooms - many of which are not widely available outside the state - were also brought into the public limelight. I really liked the Manipuri Shawls - a dying cultural product - made by the elderly women and the glasses made of bamboo trees.

10 Reasons Why I Loved Manipur

5. Polo -

It is believed that the modern sport had originated in Manipur and went by the name 'Sagol Kangjei'. The event saw seven teams from six different countries (India played two teams). Watching the exciting sport for the first time from the stands was a surreal experience. I watched the semi-final clashes between team Argentina and team England as well as team India (B) locking horns against team USA. Argentina and India (B) were the winners of their respective matches. In the finals, which took place the following day, the home team went down against the Argentine team after putting up a valiant effort.

10 Reasons Why I Loved Manipur

6. The Venues -

This year saw additional venues for the festival. Keeping in mind the exorbitant amount of footfall, the activities and the events took the center stage at different venues. The venues for the festival were -

a BOAT (Bhagyachandra Open Air Theatre) and Hapta Kangjeibung (Palace Compound) were the main (twin) venues.

a Khuman Lampak Sports Complex for adventure sports and activities.

a Takmu Water Sports Complex at Loktak in Moirang for indigenous activities and water sports.

Trade & Permanent Exhibition Centre at Lamboi Khongnangkhong which hosted several stalls and cultural programmes.

7. The Traditional Sports -

Manipur's traditional sports such as its popular Martial Arts - Thang Ta (a combination of Spear and Sword skills), Mukna Kangjei (a sport that combines hockey and wrestling), Yubi-Lakpi (a sport played with greased coconut - similar to modern day rugby), and Cock Fight (individual sport involving humans and not cocks). I personally loved the boat race - Heikru Hidongba - in Moirang comprising of women participants only.

10 Reasons Why I Loved Manipur

8. The Adventure Sports -

One of the major attractions that managed to pull huge crowds were the adventure sports. Amidst adventure sports such as Mountain Biking and Trekking, there were Hot Air Ballooning and Paramotoring as well. Although the venues were scattered around the state, there were a number of participants and spectators cheering all the while. It was not grand in this aspect, but it has the potential. Since it was the first time that such things were introduced to the Sangai Festival, it would, in the coming years, be bigger and better.

10 Reasons Why I Loved Manipur

9. The Scrumptious Local Food and Beverages -

Not enough can be said about Manipuri cuisine. There were several food stalls installed across the capital city - Imphal - selling lip-smacking food and beverages. A taste of the local cuisine was possible at a number of stalls. Eromba (a dish prepared with fermented fish and boiled vegetables), Nga Thongba (fish curry), Bora (a kind of Pakoda), Singju (a hot, spicy salad), Paknam (a traditional cake) were the most liked dishes by the visitors. On the personal front, I really liked Kelichana Angouba (one of the few vegetarian dishes in the Manipuri cuisine) which is made up of soaked peas, chopped onion, and additional seasonings and spices.

10 Reasons Why I Loved Manipur

10. The Locals and their Hospitality -

Before visiting the state, my friend and I were a little skeptical whether we should visit the festival or not, considering the terror attacks which are quite frequent in Manipur. But when we reached the capital, we realized how friendly the locals were. Starting from the hotel staffs to the army personnel stationed at every part of the city to the locals, we never felt we were in the Manipur which is in the news mainly for the wrong reasons. I felt as safe as I did in Meghalaya or Nagaland. Add to that, I also hitchhiked multiple times in and around the capital city.

10 Reasons Why I Loved Manipur