Touring Japan’s WWII ‘Greatest Defeat’…in India?

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“The Japanese regard the battle of Imphal to be their greatest defeat ever,” said Robert Lyman, author of “Japan’s Last Bid for Victory: The Invasion of India 1944.” “And it gave Indian soldiers a belief in their own martial ability and showed that they could fight as well or better than anyone else.”

So goes the captivating NYT article A Largely Indian Victory in World War II, Mostly Forgotten in India. WWII sites have been amongst my most moving trips, such as Peleliu and Solomon Islands.

I had never heard of the Battle of Imphal, yet the Japanese 15th Army lost of much of its 85,000 man force and ended their push into South Asia. Complicated history on the role of Indians on both sides has kept the battle’s memory isolated, even on it’s 70th anniversary.

The article highlights the work of historian and tour operator Hemant Katoch and his Battle of Imphal Tours. Sign me up.

Imphal and related site Kohima are in India’s Northeast States that are complicated for foreign tourists to visit. To generalize, each state requires some form of Protected Area Permit (PAP) / Restricted Area Permit (RAP) that generally need to be obtained in advance and often require several people to a group, with not all authorities willing to overlook phantom group members. There are other areas with similar but more flexible systems like the Andaman Islands, Kashmir and Sikkim, while my recent visit to Lakshadeweep took a lot of follow-up and every day prior to trip to get the permit. For the Northeast States, it is best to engage a competent tour agency (and may be ruquired anyway) unless based in India or have a high tolerance for bureaucratic hassle and uncertainty.

There is tremendous natural and ethnic diversity in the Northeast States, and they are so little visited, that I shouldn’t need this extra incentive to visit.

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