The much-hyped India International Cherry Blossom Festival got underway on Wednesday at the 5th Ground, Polo Grounds, Shillong, on a colourless note as the flowers on the trees show no signs of bloom. Meghalaya Minister for Forests & Environment, Clement Marak, inaugurated the four-day festival.
Marak, in his speech, noted that Cherry Blossom Festivals celebrated in countries like Japan, USA, Switzerland, and Korea have established an “intercontinental friendship”, and voiced hope that in a few years, Meghalaya can get international recognition with the active participation of government departments and stakeholders.
The Mukul Sangma government has been facing criticism for the extravagant spend on the four-day “multi-crore” festival at a time when Meghalaya is reeling under financial crisis. But with tourists from around the country and abroad making a beeline for Shillong, the government has decided the show must go on, blossom or no blossom. “The dates for the festival will not be shifted as the tourists are already here,” confirmed Aldous Mawlong, secretary to the Government of Meghalaya, yesterday, while acknowledging that “one cannot force the nature.”
Some feel that prolonged rainfall in the state is partly to blame for the delay in blooming of cherry blossom trees but there is optimism that Shillong will be painted in pink and white hues by the last day of the festival. Cherry blossoms at Upper Shillong and Laitkor, located at higher altitudes than the venues of the festival, have begun blooming according to reports.
The first cherry blossom festival in Shillong was held in 2016 but this year, the Meghalaya government decided to make it an international event this year.
Skepticism around the festival can be gauged from a Facebook post by senior journalist and columnist Patricia Mukhim, on Tuesday, in which she writes, “Dear Cherry Blossom tree you have proved to the world that when humans and Govts begin to capitalise on your gracious pink blooms then it’s time to disappear and come when you will. But I miss you dear Cherry Blossoms. You adorned my surroundings last year and the years before. Goodbye Cherry Blossom Festival. Welcome Cherry Blossoms…”
In the absence of cherry blossoms, tourists will have to find joy in the plethora of events lined up over the four days of the festival. Guided night walks, traditional folk music, unplugged western music and dance performances, a beauty pageant, and stalls showcasing the cuisine, wine, arts and craft of the region are part of the Cherry Blossom Festival.
The festival is being organised by the Meghalaya government in collaboration with the Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD), a national institute under the Department of Biotechnology, and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
(With inputs from Samagnee Baruah)