Being the largest fresh water lake in north-east India, Loktak lake is like an entire ecosystem in itself with a rich varied collection of flora and fauna.
In the north-eastern state of Manipur, lies the freshwater floating lake called the Loktak lake. Located in Bishnupur district, approximately 53 kms from Imphal city, this lake is an integral part of the Keibul Lamjao National Park, world’s only floating national park. Known for its picturesque floating swamps of land, it is a beautiful stretch of water resembling miniature islands.
Locally called phumdis (islets), the lake is full of such circular swamps of land pieces which grab the attention. These are naturally formed pieces of land comprising of a miscellaneous collection of soil, vegetation and decomposing organic matter. These take form when the foliage floating in the water piles up together over the course of many years.
Inhabited by the fishermen, the whole view of the freshwater national park turns into a paradise as soon as the sun sets. The aligned land swamps and the phumsangs (the huts on the phumdis) floating on the lake surrounded with the vivid scenes of birds under the vast empty sky, turns the place into a radiant scintillating and beaming legacy of the sun.
An ecosystem covering almost 240 sq km area, these phumdis are the lifeline of many people. They are a source of irrigation, drinking water and hydropower generation, other than fishing which is the major source of income for the people. The phumdis stay right below the lake almost like green icebergs, allowing the roots to reach the lakebed in dry weather. As monsoon arrives, the roots absorb water and then rise upto two metres, forming a safe base for the houses made on it.
An integral part of the Keimbul Park, it was initially declared as a sanctuary in October 1953 mainly to save the extinction of Sangai deer, a Manipuri brow-antlered deer habituated to walk around the phumdis in Loktak. In July 1954, hunting was allowed other than the part where the Sangai deer resided. The park was officially notified as a sanctuary in 1966 and nearly a decade later, in 1977 it was notified as a national park.
With the population of almost 100,000, Loktak lake also happens to have the first floating school in India called the Loktak Elementary Floating school. The school was inaugurated in 2017 providing elementary education from classes’ I-III.
The lake is a birder’s paradise, having sights of birds like the Burmese pied myna, east Himalayan pied Kingfisher, the northern hill myna, etc. It serves as a home to almost 233 species of aquatic plants, almost 100 species of birds and approximately 425 species of animals. However, the lake is in dire circumstances due to the numerous threats due of pollution, declining diversity and the construction of Ithai Hydropower Dam in the 1980’s. The land gradually kept changing and the water level started remaining high all year round, resulting in thinning of the swamps.
It is hoped that tourism can heavily change this scenario as it will bring Loktak the much emphasised attention and awareness. A documentary named Phum Sang, made by Hao bam Pawan Kumar examines the serious environmental challenges it is facing and also won the Golden Conch award for best documentary in Mumbai International Film Festival in 2014. Acknowledged by UNESCO in its tentative list of World Heritage sites, the Loktak lake is a blend of rich bio-diversity with the delightful landscape making it a must visit for any travel enthusiast.