Bhubaneswar: The Cherry Blossom or ‘Sakura’ is the national flower of Japan. The cherry blossom festival in Japan is an annual event that celebrates the blooming of the cherry blossom trees. The festival usually takes place beginning in mid-March or early April. A similar festival is celebrated in some northeastern states of India in the month of November, thanks to the efforts of Odisha-born marine biologist Dinabandhu Sahoo.
Sahoo is the Director at the Centre for Himalayan Studies under Delhi University. He identified the tourism potential of cherry blossom in India and due to his sustained efforts, cherry blossom is now available in six of the eight northeastern states, excluding Assam and Tripura. He was instrumental in launching India’s first Cherry Blossom Festival in Shillong. India became the 28th country in the world to be included in the Sakura map.
Also, a new Cherry Blossom plant species — Prunus Dinabandhuana — has been named after Sahoo. He has been conferred with this year ‘Green Globe Award 2022’ for his contributions in the field of biodiversity, conservation and Himalayan ecosystem.
It was in March 2014, when Sahoo was in Shillong in Meghalaya to deliver a TEDx talk when a tree caught his attention. As he was familiar with the sakura tree from his frequent visits to Japan, he identified it to be a species of cherry blossom. He found it to be a specimen of prunus cerasoides, a cherry blossom tree found in the Himalayan region. With visuals of Japan in his mind, Sahoo thought the tree could similarly generate tourism and promote livelihood opportunities in the north-east.
During his next visit to Meghalaya, he approached the State Government with his idea. In May 2015, he along with Chief Minister of Meghalaya and other Ministers started planting cherry blossom trees in Shillong through a proper ceremony. That led the foundation of India’s first Cherry Blossom Festival. After learning about it, around 25 Japanese came to India in 2016 and joined the festival giving a boost to the idea.
Sahoo organised India’s first Cherry Blossom Festival in November 2016 in collaboration with Government of Meghalaya. A large number of people from both India and abroad participated in the event. In 2017, he approached the Chief Minister of Manipur and organised the first Cherry Blossom Festival in Manipur in 2017 with the help of local people. It became a State Festival which is celebrated every year in Mao area of Senapati district.
Subsequently, people in the area started planting cherry blossom and it helped them earn a livelihood through tourism. Sahoo is to expand his project to Uttarakhand. He has also plans to introduce the cherry blossom to Odisha but awaits support of the State Government.
Talking to Ommcom News, Sahoo said that Odisha has a lot of tourism potential. There are two types of tourism prevalent in the State, one is marine tourism and other is religious tourism. But Odisha also has a lot of beauty and natural resources. Cherry blossom trees can be planted in Daringbadi or Koraput, as the plant requires a cold climate. It will attract many tourists from both within and outside the State. However, it requires the Government’s involvement.