India's international Cherry Blossom Festival begins in Meghalaya
The second India international Cherry Blossom Festival started here on Wednesday, even as the pink and white cherry blossoms are yet to bloom.
A botanist ascribed the late blooming due to climate change besides Meghalaya receiving prolonged rainfall this year, though the flowers in the high-altitude Upper Shillong and Laitkor area have started blooming.
"Cherry blossoms take time to bloom in low-lying areas but blooming first started in high altitude areas due to sunlight," the botanist said.
Nonetheless, the four-day festival is attracting tourists as it is showcasing Meghalaya's traditional arts, culture and cuisine to the naturalists and tourists.
"Cherry Blossom Festivals celebrated in Japan, US, Switzerland and (South) Korea have established intercontinental friendship. We are hopeful that in a few years, Meghalaya can get international recognition with the active participation of government departments and stakeholders," said state Forests & Environment Minister Clement Marak.
Noting that Meghalaya is the first in the world to celebrate autumn Cherry Blossom Festival based on local cherry trees which bloom uniquely in the state, Marak, while inaugurating the event, said it will further the government's commitment to promote tourism by showcasing the state's rich cultural and natural resources.
"By celebrating cherry blossoms, we are celebrating nature and therefore it is our moral obligation to preserve this rich biodiversity," he said.
Marak also appreciated the partnership with Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD) for joint conceptualisation and implementation of this humble yet successful start in putting Meghalaya onto the global tourist map.
The IBSD, a national institute under Central government's Department of Biotechnology, said the festival would not only bring socio-economic development in the region, but also promote peace, prosperity and sustainable development, which are the United Nations' sustainable development goals.
Though the cherry blossom actually originated in the Himalayas, it, however, did not get popularised in the Himalayan nations like India, Nepal and Bhutan.
However, IBSD Director Dinabandhu Sahoo said that unlike cherry blossom festivals in other countries which are borrowed from Japan, where the festival is most popular, "our festival is unique and we are organising the festival with our own ideas".
He said that after holding India's first ever cherry blossom festival in Shillong last year, "we have decided to go bigger this year".
The Shillong cherry blossom festival is also unique in the sense that, while in other countries, the cherry trees flower in March-June, here, they blossom in November.
"Though the festival is being held from November 8 to 11, the flowering will last for two weeks," Sahoo said.
Around 5,000 cherry blossom trees have been planted on both sides of the road leading up to Shillong from Umiam side, at the famous Ward's Lake, New Shillong and Mawphlang.
"Our target is to plant 20,000 so that by the time Meghalaya celebrates the 50th anniversary of its creation in 2022, Shillong will become a pink city unlike the traditional pink city that we know as Jaipur," Sahoo said.
During the day, Marak also released the special cover of the 2nd India International Cherry Blossom Festival Postage Stamp.