It’s November. A time when Meghalaya merrily mocks the rest of India with her pretty-in-pink blooms. The Himalayan cherry blossom (scientifically known as the Prunus cerasoides) lights up parts of the East Khasi Hills and state capital Shillong to mark the start of India’s version of autumn.
Chances are that even if you haven’t come across a cherry blossom tree before, you’re familiar with what it looks like. How can you not be, when the popular flowers are all over Instagram and has a festival dedicated to it? It is well recognised as Japan’s favourite—but not, we clarify, the national—flower, and is seen lining Washington DC and Brooklyn in the US, as well as parts of Paris and Spain.
The difference is that while Japan’s street corners are painted pink in the springtime, in Northeast India, the colours arrive a tad earlier in November. Due to the unpredictable nature of these blooms, cherry blossoms in India always take residents by surprise, often either turning up a weeks earlier than anticipated or much too late for comfort.
This year too, the blooms have already begun dotting Shillong’s wavering landscape, a few weeks earlier than anticipated. The blooming of the flowers is an event in itself, and in a country where celebrations are second nature, the blossoms are welcomed with a festival in its honour. The Cherry Blossom Festival saw its first chapter in 2016, and has been held every year since. The third edit of the festival is being hosted from November 14-18, 2018 as the world’s only autumn cherry blossom festival.
While the city will be scattered with wispy pinks and whites, the best way to enjoy the season is hanami, a Japanese concept that means “flower-viewing” or looking at flowers. There will be events held around the bloom: a Japanese tea ceremony, a run along the Cherry Blossom trees, a few music concerts. There will also be activities such as sky Diving, a dog show, film screenings and archery competitions. What one thing has to do with another may be someone else’s guess, we’ll take what we get.
While I vicariously write this, I have neither the means nor the vacation time to take off to Shillong this time around. In the meanwhile, I take out my cherry blossom hand lotion and pacify myself with thoughts of next year.
Get more information about the festival here.