Published: 02nd November 2017
This professor from Odisha is the reason that Shillong has their famous Cherry Blossom Festival
Odisha-born Professor Dinabandhu Sahoo, the Director of the Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development, is taking cherry blossoms to different Northeastern states
The Ward Lake in Shillong, Meghalaya will be a sight to behold from November 8, as both sides of the lake will be flanked by more than 5,000 cherry blossom trees, each in full bloom. Yes, the same cherry blossom trees, whose blooming period is celebrated as a festival in many countries, thanks to the efforts of the Japanese government, who have promoted the cherry blossom as the symbol of life. The trees attract 1.2 million tourists to Japan every year and is a four-million-dollar industry in the US. "Imagine what that kind of money can do for the Northeast region, which can provide a conducive environment for this tree to grow," says the Director of the Institute of Bioresources and Sustainable Development (IBSD), Professor Dinabandhu Sahoo or The Crusader of the Cherry Blossoms — how we came to identify him after our conversation. But first, the backstory…
Watching the cherry blossoms gives one instant happiness and refreshes the mind
Professor Dinabandhu Sahoo
Professor Sahoo spotted a cherry blossom tree out of his hotel window in Shillong, where he was visiting to deliver a TEDx Talk in early 2014. He asked the locals and students around, but no one seemed to know what it was. He immediately recognised the ecotourism opportunity this tree offered and when he was appointed the Director of IBSD, he plunged head-on into his research of these pink and white wonders. Surprised yet delighted that the CM of Meghalaya was on board almost immediately, the ceremonial plantation went off successfully. And then, the Japanese caught wind of this. "They tracked me down and proposed to conduct an official Sakura (a variety of cherry blossom) Plantation Ceremony," says the professor, informing us that the Japanese were looking to make inroads into the country with regards to the festival for quite some time. In 2016, 30 Japanese in the traditional kimono participated in the plantation ceremony in Delhi and now we’re here, about to celebrate the second edition of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Shillong.
Along with: The festival is being organised by the Government of Meghalaya in association with IBSD and Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR)
Tides of change
The first edition of the festival last year aroused Shillong, a town that usually shuts down by six in the evening. But people were staying out until 11 pm, singing, dancing and making merry. “This time too, I hope to bring changes in the Northeast," says the 56-year-old, explaining that no industry can be set-up there due to it being a biodiversity hotspot. Responsible ecotourism is the only way the state can create avenues for employment. But doesn’t the rough terrain make it harder for tourists to commute? "When you come to the Himalayas, it has to be rough. Where is the challenge if the roads are the same as the ones in Delhi?" he quips.
Fashion show: A scene from India's first edition of Cherry Blossom Festival
Me too, me too!
While the typical Cherry Blossom Festival is held during March-April worldwide, here it will be held in the month of November, making it the first Autumn Cherry Blossom Festival in the world. While the avenues for hosting such festivals have opened up in other Northeastern states like Sikkim, Manipur, Mizoram and Jammu And Kashmir in the north, because they have the right climatic conditions (read cold!) for the flowers, even states like Telangana, Odisha and Gujarat have approached him. "But we can't do it there because it's just too hot!" says the Puri-born professor. However, he proposes that each state identify a unique natural bioresource of its own, which will, "not only lend it a unique identity, but also help promote ecotourism of that state."
First ever: When he was younger, Professor Sahoo was the first Indian student to be a part of the seventh Indian Scientific Expedition to Antarctica
This year, especially, they have a plethora of activities planned — stunt biking, a traditional archery competition, fashion shows, storytelling sessions and more — spanning across four days, from November 8 to 11. All this under the canopy of pink and white cherry blossoms, which bloom for about a week. The tree trunks all leaning towards the lake, heavy with the delicate cherry blossoms that bloom abundantly — is the picture that Professor Sahoo paints and we see it in our mind's eye. We are charmed by the beauty ourselves and fall under the spell of the all-pervasive appeal of these flowers. By 2022, Meghalaya will have up to 20,000 of these trees, "hopefully making it the new Pink City," says the professor.
Full bloom: Cherry Blossom Festival in Taiwan
Check them out at https://cherryblossomfestival.