Saturday, 17 December 2016

The Ephemeral Cheery Cherry Blossoms

Kohima Delight: Of Cherry Blossoms at Catholic Cathedral

“Are these Cherry Blossoms?” I blurt out to nobody in general. The pink jewel like flowers adorning the branches of this tall tree have left me stunned. Transfixed to the spot, I stand with my mouth agape.

A mother-son duo is passing by. The little kid is bouncing along; like kids do, instead of walking.

“Yes, they are Cherry Blossoms!” The toddler chirps with a twinkle in his eyes. The mother smiles proudly.

The Ephemeral Cherry Blossoms of Kohima
Now I am smiling too. For a minute, I take my eyes off the jewel studded tree and shake hands with the little guy. It is my first day in Northeast India and I am already in love with the beautiful and smiling people. The mother and her son walk away, waving at me as their smiles light up this beautiful crisp winter day.

This is the beauty of India. You can prepare as much as you want, but there are always pleasant surprises that no amount of research can ever prepare you for. All I remember is seeing some photos of the beautiful Cherry Blossoms or Sakura flowers of Japan. Kohima has a painful association with Japan when some of the fiercest battles were fought during World War II between British India and Japanese troops right here in the hills. Today, I just found the most beautiful association. The cherry flowers seem to be Nature’s way of applying a soothing balm on the now healing wounds. 
The Twinkling Stars - Cherry Blossoms
The Catholic Cathedral of Kohima, Nagaland
To this day, I am still bewildered, how my brain was able to dig out the name of these glorious flowers from the deep recesses within, when the only flowers I can possibly identify are the roses! Maybe that is the magic the blossoms cast on the onlookers. I am walking from the Minister Hill to the Aradura Hill that houses the grand Catholic Cathedral when I encounter my first cherry tree and the kid. Little distance away, the church premises have more cherry trees blossoming. 

Britain says that in the history of British Army, the greatest battles of WWII were fought right here in Kohima and Imphal during the spring of 1944. Walking on the Aradura Spur today, I can only imagine the scenes of bravery and horror that were played out and inflicted upon. Thankfully, the guns have fallen silent now. The pleasant looking imposing Cathedral is built in the traditional Naga style and is the main Church of Nagaland. At sixteen feet, the crucifix carved out of wood is India’s biggest crucifix. The church commemorates the fallen soldiers during the battles. An inscription here says that the church has been built with the contribution of Japanese survivors and bereaved families who lost their loved ones during the spring of 1944.
The Cathedral during the blue hours
Today the church premises resemble a wonderland. Set against the cobalt blue skies are the pink jewels shimmering in the sun’s rays. It is not easy looking up the cherry trees so I lie down on the embankment to better admire nature’s miracles. Now that I realise, I haven’t seen such blue skies in a long while. Delhi gets such skies maybe five times a year while for the rest of the year they remain grey and forbidding. But then Delhi has its own flowery marvels when you discovered the evanescent Silk Floss flowers last autumn.
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The smile continues to play on my face. The gentle sun’s rays dance through the swaying branches as I am treated to a celestial event. The flowers high up don several avatars; sometimes they look like jewels and pink snowflakes and then they twinkle like stars.

In Japan, the Sakura (Prunus serrulata) blooms in April for about two weeks. The entire country waits for the whole year looking forward to the annual spectacle.  And when the trees finally bloom, Japanese families gather around the Sakura trees to participate in an ancient ritual called Hanami, which basically means flower watching. Here in Kohima, the cherry tree is a deciduous tree (Prunus cerasoides) which is found in Himalayas and Southeast Asia and flowers in autumn and winters. To me the flowering time seems to be perfect as it coincides with the Hornbill Festival which starts the next day. I will soon discover that the Hornbill Festival, just like these cherry blossoms, is nothing like I have ever witnessed before.

Below the pink cherry blossoms, the red and vivacious poinsettias smile in their full glory. God has intended my first day in Northeast to be full of wonderment. After soaking in the cherry blossoms, I walk around the lawns of the church. The maintenance is immaculate and it seems there is an entire world of flowers here. Tomorrow, Kohima will treat me to more cherry blossoms at the WWII Cemetery and in Kisama.

Up here, on top of the Kohima city, away from the noise and dust, it is absolute bliss. Tiptoeing around the beds of flowers I am reminded of the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand. Fresh looking pink and white cosmos flowers seem to be basking in the soft sun. First it was stars on the trees and now among the cosmos flowers, I seem to be walking in the cosmos itself. The contrast of the tender cosmoses with the vibrant poinsettias is breathtaking.
The City of Kohima spread on the hills
Walking around the Church I come to the edge of the hill. Another exhilarating scene comes into view - Kohima city is spread out below.  This is surreal. Descending rows of flowers seem to meet the city just beyond. The views, the blue skies and the cherry blossoms all combine to give me the delicious feeling that I have ascended into the heavens. This is the place to enjoy the evening and see the sun go down. 

Evening comes early in Northeast. The western skies are inundated with clouds that change their shapes even as the skies take on different hues every passing minute. Every sunset offers two views: one view is looking towards the red ball of Sun sinking into the ground and the other view is right behind as the landscape gets doused in the golden colour with Midas busy touching and turning everything into molten gold. Another wonderful day is coming to an end in this ephemeral life.

Cherry Blossoms, while exhilarating us with their sublime beauty, also teach us something profound. Cherry Blossoms are known to be ephemeral and transient. They teach us that things in our lives that we take for granted are essentially transient. We might think we are immortal but we are not. We get arrogant with the seemingly perpetual love, wealth or power we possess but just like the cherry blossoms, our lives and everything around us, is in fact, fleeting and deciduous.  Our lives are unpredictable – one moment we could be like the cherry trees, beautiful and abundant and next instance we could be forlorn and sparse. Let us live our lives to the fullest, sparkle like the stars and jewels and show people around us our inner beauty and humanness. When we are gone, like the cherry blossoms petals spread on the path, we will be remembered for our goodness and beauty and people will long to meet us and see us, in the next year and in the next life.
A version of the story appeared in the December 2016 issue of magazine Discover India's Northeast

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  1. Omg omg wow! What splendid photographs and spellbinding narration Nirdesh ji



    1. Hi Shubham,

      Thanks Much!!!

      The blue skies and crispy cool air of Kohima seems to far away from these melting summer days with sad grey skies of Delhi! I want to be back lying on the grass under the Cherry Blossoms.

      Cherry Blossoms in India were a huge surprise - hope to see them again sometime.

      Thanks for reading.