My Experience of The Cherry Blossom Festival in Shillong
The beautiful Cherry Blossoms in India
When we think of Cherry Blossom, the first thing that comes to our mind is Japan. But Indians no longer have to visit Japan (or any other country for that matter) to experience the ethereal natural phenomena. Blanketed with a flurry of baby pink petals, Shillong was the place to visit in the country this November.
I first came to know about the Cherry Blossom Festival in the month of May. I learned from Google that Shillong is the only place in the Indian subcontinent where one can see the exotic Cherry Blossom. The capital of Meghalaya had celebrated its first Cherry Blossom Festival in November 2016, which was a big success. It was at that very moment when I had decided where I am going to head to in November 2017.
Organized by the Meghalaya government along with Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD), the festival focused on the cultural heritage of the state, especially the Khasi hills (where Shillong is located). Where the festival had attracted more than 30,000 people last year, this year it drew more than 50,000 people coming from all walks of life.
Being the only Autumn Cherry Blossom Festival in the entire world, there were huge expectations from it. A lot of people from different parts of the country had visited Shillong during that period, mainly for the highly anticipated Cherry Blossom Festival. But nature had a little different plan - to test the patience of the visitors.
There was a bevy of events planned for the festival, starting from a storytelling session and a beauty pageant for the first day to yesteryear western music and a display of different forms of martial arts practiced in Northeast India on the final day. Although the start was rather boring, the end was with a bang. In between, there were a number of events, including a football match, a rock show, a traditional archery competition, a DJ night, et cetera, which kept the audiences glued.
Rows of stalls were installed at two different parts of the city, which sold a variety of homemade wines, local handicrafts, sweets, food, et cetera. The highlight of the festival, however, was a musical performance given by Dr. Mukul Sangma - the honorable Chief Minister of Meghalaya.
The first two days did not live up to the hype that was created. A lot of people who had come from other parts of the country were disappointed to not see any tree crowned with baby pink flowers. The adventurous ones visited the upper part of Shillong to see a couple of Cherry trees.
I had met Dr. Albert Chiang - a Scientist at the Institute of Bio-resource and Sustainable Development (IBSD) - on the first day of the fest, at Ward's lake. On enquiring, I was told that the flowers had not blossomed by then because of the off-season rain in Shillong, just a week before the start of the festival. He could not even promise whether the trees would blossom in the coming days or not. That was disappointing to hear. Things, however, started to change on the penultimate day of the festival.
With the intention to promote eco-tourism, the festival brings all the eight northeastern states under the same umbrella. There were also folk dance performances, displaying the Jagoi dance from Manipur, Mask dance from Sikkim, Bihu dance from Assam, and Nongkrem dance from the host state.
On the 11th of November - the last day of the festival - I had woken up early in the morning. It was cold but peaceful. I came out of my room to do some stretching. I was about to start when I noticed something unique. It was a tree with baby pink flowers crowned on it. Then I saw another one, not so close to the first one. Exactly the same color. I took a couple of pictures of the trees. That was the beginning of a day when I got to see more than 50 Cherry trees with blossomed flowers. The entire city was dotted with hundreds of blossomed Cherry trees.
While there were just a few trees displaying blossomed Cherry flowers near my hotel room in Laitumukrah, there were a number of euphoric Cherry trees cloaked with pink flowers in and around Ward's Lake. The best of them I had spotted was inside the premises of The Shillong Club, adjacent to Ward's Lake.
Showcasing connotations of fragility and the sheer beauty of life, the flowers are of great cultural significance. For centuries, volumes of haikus and poems have been written by people on the beauty of the Cherry flowers in Japan. Now it is time for the Cherry Blossom in India to take on the global stage.
Overall, it has been a wonderful experience at the only Autumn Cherry Blossom Festival on the planet. With the festival being in its early age, it will only get better and more attractive in the years to come.
Footnote - I returned to the city, five days after the festival. To the delight of my eyes, the city is now highlighted with even more fully blossomed Cherry trees.
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