Conceiving the Concept of Street Park at Khwairamband Keithel

Come November and we have the biggest tourism extravaganza – the Sangai Manipur Tourism Festival 2017 – happening in our midst, with or without the desired charm and flavour. And in its wake, we have one of the most harrowing times in the year – traffic confusion or congestion; noise and air pollution; and wasted energy in negotiating through the maze of road blockades and diversions, finding space to park the car and manhandling by undisciplined police officers. There is, however, a slight deviation this time with venues being spread out further in other locations. This, hopefully, is aimed at redistributing the visitors load within Imphal city and in reducing the chaos within.

The Nupi Keithel at Imphal’s central Khwairamband marketplace is one of the favoured destinations for both domestic and foreign tourists visiting the state. It obviously is certain that visitors coming for the Sangai Tourism Festival will definitely make a bee-line to visit the popular marketplace run exclusively by the women. It, therefore, is imperative that the Government should be thinking of ways to face-lift the Nupi Keithel appropriately for the incoming tourists, in particular the foreign tourists coming for the Sangai festival. The suggestion thereof is to transform the confusion in the street at Khwairamband Keithel into an innovative street park that would serve the purpose of providing green space, resting area and leisure for the street-wary tourists.

Taking a leaf out of one of the most popular tourist destinations in India, we can pick on Gangtok and its famous MG Marg Street Park. Gangtok is a favoured place where both domestic and foreign tourists make a bee-line for a well spent holiday. Particularly for those who have to rot in sweat and dehydration in hot and humid weather at Kolkata, a breakaway to Gangtok in summer is like bliss. Even for mundane visitors from Imphal, which today is experiencing a somewhat similar situation like Kolkata and Guwahati during summer, Gangtok is a welcomed experience. The cool evening breeze recharges the body and mind, energizing the individual with a fresh lease of life. That is the feeling one experiences when we take an evening stroll along MG Marg and spending time relaxing in the cool, pleasant atmosphere in that stretch of MG Marg’s street park.

MG Garg was just like any other street not very long back. Vehicles drove past both sides, and there was rush of people in this busy, commercial area. It all changed when the Government of Sikkim decided to promote the idea of eco-friendly space for the hundreds of tourists coming to Sikkim every year. Gangtok is thronged by tourists, for this is the base from where visitors will move to different tourist spots like Kanchenjunga, Tsango lake and Nathula Pass, Rumtek monastery, or go for white water rafting. So, with the idea of making Gangtok more friendly to the thronging tourists, more particularly families who come in troops, the Government turned MG Marg into an environment-friendly zone where people can relax and cool their heels amongst fountains and flowering plants.

The concept is simple. Restrict the street to vehicular movement, and turn the street into a park. The meridian for the street was converted into base for flowering plants, water-fountains, fancy street lighting, and lined with benches for the people to relax in the park portion of the street. Non-commercial vehicles plying on the one half of the street are restricted from parking on the street. Vehicles can make brief stops for about five minutes only. They have to quickly move off or face the music. So, naturally, there is less vehicular movement on this stretch of street, and less of offending smoke and dust as one experiences in the Imphal streets.

So why not try out Gangtok’s MG Marg experience in Imphal? It would not hurt to replicate a good idea. The stretch of street from Khwairamband Keithel to Kasturi Bridge diversion is a one-way passage. The first part of the plan is to restrict traffic movement in this stretch and to allow only pedestrian movement. The second part of the plan is to develop the street park model as we see at Gangtok’s MG Marg - set up a median in the middle of street, wrap it up with water fountains, fancy street lighting, flowering plants and ornamental benches. That’s it.

It fairly is well agreed that the pollution level in Imphal city, considering both air and noise pollution, is quite high. The Manipur Pollution Control Board and the Department of Environment had done assessments of the pollution level, and the results were too loud to be ignored. Yet, nothing much has been done to ease the rising pollution level. Rather, we are experiencing an increase in noise and smoke pollution with the induction of hundreds of diesel operated Auto Rickshaws, Tata Magics and Tata Wingers on the streets in central Imphal, and of which most do not comply with emission regulations. There appears to be no proper mechanism to control commercial vehicles on the streets. In actuality, there is hardly any emission check-points in Imphal and so polluting vehicles go scot free.

Hundreds of people visit the Khwairamband Keithel every single day. Domestic and foreign tourists also come to see the marketplace managed exclusively by women. It is both a commercial and a tourist hub. Yet, there is no space where people can relax for a while after having toured the Keithels and laden with goods after a tiring shopping. There is no breathing space where people, say a visiting family with kids, can relax for a while and enjoy an ice-cream or some fresh hand-made Kabok. Rather, there is confusion everywhere.
The point, then is, why not turn the Khwairamband Keithel portion of Thangal Bazar into an environment-friendly and tourist friendly space? There has, of course, to be strict regulation on restricting traffic movement and mechanism for crowd control in this stretch of street park. There has also to be some functional mechanism for controlling the random solid waste disposal on to the street. The two halves of the street on the western and eastern sides of the median could be paved beautifully and lined with ornamental benches for the visitors to stretch their legs, interspersed with the water fountains, fancy lightings and the scented flowers.

This writer is of the view that the new look Khwairamband Keithel would become one of the most favoured parts in Imphal city, leisurely spent pleasantly in the evenings. Perhaps this would be an added valuation of the “Imphal Evenings” initiated by the Government recently along the Kangla Pat stretch of Asian Highway No.1. Considered that the idea takes root, it can be replicated in other parts of the city. Perhaps again, the proposers of Imphal Smart City and the Sangai Manipur Tourism brainwaves are listening!

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