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India's Manipur shows new face to the world

Tourism picks up as the northeast state emerges from a violent past

Local ladies dressed in traditional ethnic garb were a common sight at Imphal's Hapta Kangjeibung, one of the Sangai Festival's main locations. (Photo by Kit Yeng Chan)

IMPHAL, India -- The soldiers stationed on street corners in Imphal, capital of the Indian state of Manipur, are keeping their rifles low. The town is abuzz for the second edition of the Sangai Festival, a 10-day extravaganza of cultural events, performances and commercial expositions. After decades battling separatist insurgency, the soldiers have no need to worry: The most disruptive aspect of the festival, which celebrates Imphal as a rising tourist destination, is likely to be a little more traffic than usual.

"Before 2012, Manipur was a hotbed of unrest and violence," said Milan Sanji, a government worker and part-time manager of a homestay business, who has been helping intrepid foreign travelers visit his native Imphal for nearly a decade. "Many people were killed in the crossfire between the army and the separatist militants," Sanji said. "The Sangai Festival is a good step toward helping Manipur emerge on the global tourist map."

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