Each spring, cherry trees burst into bloom throughout Japan. For the Japanese, the cherry blossoms are rich in symbolism, their short period of bloom—lasting only a week or two—serving as a metaphor for the transience of life and ephemerality of beauty. Thanks to the government of Meghalaya, such metaphysical musings do not require a trip to Japan any longer. Last year, it started India’s first cherry blossom festival in collaboration with the Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD), which does research on the rich biodiversity of the North-East.

The idea of a festival occurred to IBSD director Dinabandhu Sahoo during a visit to Shillong in 2014. A chance sighting of a single cherry tree through his hotel window set him on the path to discovering “hundreds of cherry trees growing randomly throughout Shillong and nearby areas". The wish to see an Indian festival celebrating cherry blossoms, just like it happens all over Japan, took hold. Hanami, or “flower-viewing", is a Japanese tradition to celebrate spring that has inspired similar festivals around the world.

With the government’s help, “thousands of trees were planted in Shillong in avenue style", says Sahoo. Avenue planting is still rare in Indian cities—this involves planting trees of similar height carefully on either side of the road, equidistant to each other, to create tree-lined avenues with aesthetic appeal.

“Why would you pay lakhs of rupees to go see cherry blossoms in Japan, Europe or the US?" asks Sahoo, adding with a loud laugh, “Just fly to Guwahati and take a bus!" The response last year was unexpected and tremendous and the festival is back this year with events planned over four days, from 8-11 November. They include storytelling sessions, music concerts and guided night walks under illuminated cherry blossoms.

The North-East has immense natural beauty and Sahoo believes sustainable ecotourism and a “bio-economy", which harnesses the area’s natural resources, could have a huge positive economic impact. With more plantation drives planned in Sikkim, Mizoram, Assam and Manipur, Sahoo wants “to bring peace and prosperity in the area" and change the face of the North-East, one cherry blossom at a time.

The India International Cherry Blossom Festival will be held from 8-11 November in Shillong. Click here for details.

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