Pale bluish pink petals from bell-shaped bloom quiver as dew drops leave as soon as sunlight hits them; gently the misty morning turns into a bright sunny and pleasant morning. The entire hillside is now a flush of pale pink blooms. No, this is not Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand, but the higher ranges of the Shirui Hill in Ukhrul district in Manipur. Lilium Mackliniae or the Shirui lily is as rare as they come. The plant species is endemic to this region alone, sitting quite comfortably and cold at an elevation of 1,730-2,590 metres above sea level. Discovered in 1946 by Frank Kingdon-Ward, Shirui lily gained popularity after several failed attempts by the British to grow it elsewhere. The move from it's home base, that is, Shirui Hills, just didn't work for the lily. Thus stories short and tall began to appear related to the lily, for some it was a goddess and for some it was the sad story of a couple who made a fatal leap off the hill. Whatever that was, the Shirui lily grabbed the attention and got itself on the postal stamps and was named as the state flower of Manipur.
But Shirui lily now face the danger of extinction. Rapidly moving towards becoming endangered, the Shirui lily has fallen prey to irresponsible tourism. Dumping of waste and plant destruction, these are just few of the issues hovering around these beautiful and fragile blooms. Ironically, in 1982, the location was declared a national park--Siroi National Park.
On May 2017, the state celebrated the first edition of Shirui Lily Festival in Ukhrul. This year things are a bit different though, the third edition of the festival will take place from October 16-19. The time of the year won't give you any blooms but apart from that, there are just about everything fun that one can expect from a festival. Offbeat yes, but it is the fun kind. From traditional shows to great food and music, the festival is not only to spread awareness about the fragile condition that the lily is in at present but is also a grand way to learn more about the vibrant culture of the Tangkhul Nagas. Apart from the Shirui Lily Festival, a quick trip to the Kangkhui lime caves and Longpi village sounds like very good options. Kangkhui lime caves for its association with the Stone Age and Longpi village for the very popular black pottery crafts. The clay that is used is known for its medicinal properties. These pots are known for their durability.
Go and explore the region, we say. Get to know this rare plant species while you still can.