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Ukhrul is the highest hill district of Manipur in Northeast India
Ukhrul is the highest hill district of Manipur in Northeast India|EastMojo image
DOCUMENTARY

Made in Ukhrul: How this Manipur district is becoming startup hub

Once tainted with security issues, this picturesque hill region of the Northeast is now slowly but steadily creating an army of young and energetic entrepreneurs

Vangamla Salle K S

Vangamla Salle K S

Ukhrul: Manipur is a diverse land with vibrant cultures and traditions; it was once tainted with security issues and was known as a hive of insurgency. While many are still living with the scars of that era, Ukhrul -- the highest hill district of the state -- is moving on to show a different aspect of the people, especially when it comes to the youth.

Located about 84 km from capital city Imphal, Ukhrul is slowly but steadily creating an army of young and energetic entrepreneurs working towards a ‘new Manipur’. The launch of the ‘Startup Manipur’ initiative by CM N Biren Singh is giving further impetus to this growth story.

Ukhrul native Tuingam Louzha Angkang, 23, is making headlines in the state with her first cosmetic line -- Secrets Cosmetics
Ukhrul native Tuingam Louzha Angkang, 23, is making headlines in the state with her first cosmetic line -- Secrets Cosmetics
EastMojo image

The district is now brimming with youth who are making their own mark. EastMojo interacted with a few and found their change stories. One such duo is Leiyolan Vashum and Zeinorin Stephen Angkang, the first chocolatiers of Manipur and proprietors of Hill Wild Chocolate, based in Ukhrul district.

The two young minds, despite coming from different backgrounds, came together and re-christened the whole meaning of entrepreneurship, bringing sweetness into people’s lives through their chocolates.

Sisters Sovi Shaiza and Yungreiwon Ragui run Handmade Cottage in Ukhrul district of Manipur, where they make dolls for a living
Sisters Sovi Shaiza and Yungreiwon Ragui run Handmade Cottage in Ukhrul district of Manipur, where they make dolls for a living
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Founded in November 2017, the duo’s exotic chocolates come in six different flavours: king chilli, roasted pumpkin seeds, rums and raisins, wild apple, perilla seeds, and heimang seeds. These unique flavours are not just a hit in the market of Manipur, but across cities in the region. The duo said, “The market responses have been amazing. We are selling all over Northeast as well as other cities.”

Along with their line of chocolate products, they have also launched their first cafe called ‘Yazun Sinshim’ in the heart of Ukhrul. The eatery is also providing employment to as many as 12 youngsters, who are also getting trained in the art of chocolate making.

Leiyolan Vashum and Zeinorin Stephen Angkang, the first chocolatiers of Manipur and proprietors of Hill Wild Chocolate, based in Ukhrul
Leiyolan Vashum and Zeinorin Stephen Angkang, the first chocolatiers of Manipur and proprietors of Hill Wild Chocolate, based in Ukhrul
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Another entrepreneur whose work is being admired and appreciated across the state is Aleks Vashum, a vintner of the town. His brand Misty Hills: Thapo’s Wine has an indigenous touch, as, in Aleks’ word, the wine recipe has been passed down from his father. Ever since he mastered the winery technique out of locally-produced plums, Aleks, a software engineer-turned-entrepreneur, is striving to improve the taste of his wine into an adorned bottle of world-class plum wine.

On the name of his company Aleks said, “The reason why I named my company as Misty Hills is because plum fruit, which is the main ingredient of my wine, is harvested during monsoon season. Ukhrul, my home town, itself becomes a misty hill during this time.”

However, with the lack of proper equipment and non-availability of plums during off-season, Aleks laments that he cannot continue his work round the year.

Similar is the case for many budding entrepreneurs in the state whose journeys are constantly hindered. But with their strong willpower and creativity, they are creating a niche for themselves.

Sisters Sovi Shaiza and Yungreiwon Ragui are the co-owners of Handmade Cottage, a perfect example of people shaping their career based on interests and not on the traditional education system. Making handmade dolls for a living was never their dreams, as both the sisters are trained nurses who realised that their skills lie in an artistic world.

They said, “We were inspired to make handmade gifts because handmade gifts are very rare. When you gift someone [something] which you’ve made yourself, it is unique and more special.”

Aleks Vashum, a vintner and owner of Thapo’s wine in Ukhrul, Manipur
Aleks Vashum, a vintner and owner of Thapo’s wine in Ukhrul, Manipur
EastMojo image

However, Sovi recounts their childhood days of how they used to play around with their mother’s unused clothes and stitched clothes for dolls. And today, when crocheting has become the world for these sisters and a means of empowerment.

Similarly, 23-year-old Tuingam Louzha Angkang is making headlines in the state as she ventured into the glam industry with her first cosmetics line -- Secrets Cosmetics. The USP of her brand is that it is 100% vegan and made with locally procured herbs. Since its inception in December 2018, Tuingam has already launched 12 nature-inspired flavours of lip balms and lipsticks.

With the success rate of her two products, this young cosmetologist is setting an eye on launching her own line of eye make-up and skincare soon. Inspired by Kendall Jenner, world’s youngest self-made billionaire, Tuingam aims to strive harder in excelling in her work and serve society.

The whole of Northeast including Manipur is an untapped hub of resources. These young minds are utilising the idle resources and making a difference for themselves, and the locals; leaving the horrors of the insurgency era far behind.