Cherry blossoms are infamous in Japan, where it is celebrated as a festival called sakura. Many other countries around the world have planted Japanese cherry trees for a cherry blossom festival that attracts huge revenue from tourists. Also, some countries in the world, such as Korea and China, have their native cherry trees, which bloom at the advent of spring. But all over the world, especially in the Americas and Europe, cherry blossoms are associated with Japan, and festivals are organized in parks around blooming Japanese cherry trees.
It is less known that in India, we have our own version of cherry blossom every year in many of our states. India’s own cherry tree, Prunus cerasoides, is native to Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, parts of Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Meghalaya, and have subsequently spread to other north-eastern states. Unlike Japanese cherry trees, Prunus cerasoides blooms in autumn. Autumn appears earlier high up in the Himalayas, so by mid-October, you can see the hills of Narkanda, Shimla, Kalpa, Dharamsala covered in a whitish-pink hue. By early to mid-November, cherry blossoms spread to other parts of the country, notably in Shillong in Meghalaya. Like Japanese sakura, the bloom occurs for a short period of only one or two weeks.
Like its Japanese cousin, Prunus cerasoides is considered sacred in Hinduism, and the flowers are used in worshipping Vishnu and Shiva. It is called in Hindi as padmakashtha. However, very little was known about it beyond its native range until 2016. Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD), a national institute under the Department of Biotechnology, in collaboration with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), took the first initiative to set up a cherry blossom festival in Shillong. Dinabandhu Sahoo, the director of IBSD, was particularly inspired by wild cherry blossoms in the countryside around Shillong and was keen to establish a festival of international standard like most other countries around the globe. India’s cherry blossom festival does not coincide with the ones in Japan, or other countries around the world as the blossoms arrive late autumn, making it a unique cherry blossom viewing around the globe. Notably, Japan is very interested in India’s cherry blossom festival and is looking forward to promoting it among Indians and abroad.
Like 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a drop in tourism in the north-eastern states of India. As such, no cherry blossom festival was held, but the flowers, in their usual might, bloomed in the second week of November. This year also no cherry blossom festival will be celebrated, though the flowers will bloom in time. However, when the pandemic eases out, it will surely be a hit among Indian and foreign tourists, who love to see the landscape turn green to pink. Ward’s lake in Shillong is the most popular site of the cherry blossom festival, though there is also Umiam Lake. We only need good promotion, a festive mood, tourism infrastructure, and most importantly, awareness to make our own cherry blossom festival a success.
So, have you seen cherry blossoms in India? Do let us know in the comment section below.
Written by – Himadri Paul