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In the land of the Giant Himalayan Lilies

Giant Himalayan Lilies bloom in Zhaimai village

The Giant Himalayan Lilies’ bloom is an asset well worth for an annual feature in the calendar, so much as the fabulous terrestrial lily blooming in the upper reaches of the Shirui-Kashong blue mountain is widely known across the country and in the world, and draws thousands of visitors each year.

By Salam Rajesh

Winding through the ferns and dwarf bamboo that throng the landscape of the imposing Heudu blue mountain above the Zhaimai village, and spreading as far as the eye can take in, the Giant Himalayan Lilies stood to welcome the trekkers sweating up the mountain side to get a glimpse of this enchanting terrestrial lily.

The Giant Himalayan Lilies (Cardiocrinum giganteum) is the largest of any of the lily plants, growing up to an impressive height of 3.5 metres, six to eight feet at the average, and is usually found in the Himalayas, China and Myanmar (Wikipedia).

Manipur, as is the other northeastern States of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, is geographically included in the Eastern Himalayan range and so it is quite understandable that this fabulous lily blooms majestically in the upper reaches of the Heudu blue mountain.

Botanically speaking, this tall, imposing terrestrial lily is a tuberous perennial with terminal racemes of up to 20 fragrant, trumpet-shaped flowers measuring up to 8 inches. The general information derived from the net says the lily may take up to 7 years to flower from seed, while the offsets may take 4 to 5 years to flower. At this time scale, it indeed is rare to witness full bloom in a fair season.

For the Poumai villagers of Zhaimai village, which otherwise is more popular as Liyai Khullen in the vernacular and in Government’s records, the fabulous lilies (‘Beivo’ in the vernacular) are an enduring asset of the village, now growing in popularity with each year as news spread around of the lily flowering between May and June each year. Visitors from Manipur and Nagaland are now making a bee line to the village to see the lily in full bloom. When the visitors reach the village, a small sign board saying “Way to Beivoli” directs the trekkers to the land of the Giant Himalayan Lilies.

Dk. Issac, the village chairman, is unhappy that the State Government is unaware of the huge potential of his village as a major tourist destination. The Giant Himalayan Lilies’ bloom is an asset well worth for an annual feature in the calendar, so much as the fabulous terrestrial lily blooming in the upper reaches of the Shirui-Kashong blue mountain is widely known across the country and in the world, and draws thousands of visitors each year.

Liyai Khullen harbours the source of the mighty Barak River which feeds a major portion of northern and western parts of Manipur, and the Cachar valley in neighbouring Assam State. It indeed is imperative that the State Government has a major policy in hand to protect, preserve and conserve the watersheds that nourish the origin of this mighty river, say Issac.

Taking this writer and his team around the village, Issac and his colleagues were unrelenting that the village still retains much assets that speak of the cultural and material heritage of the Poumai villagers, both tangible and intangible, stamped in the intriguing wood carvings of humans and animals, the lore of a past time engraved in the traditional dormitories which still upholds the values of their forefathers.

Zhaimai is located picturesquely along the slope of the Heudu blue mountain, overlooking the flow of the Barak River as it meanders along its flow south towards Karong town in Senapati District from where it makes a sharp bend west to flow into Tamenglong District and then down south to the Cachar valley in Assam, after again making a sharp bend near Tipaimukh in Pherzwal District (earlier Churachandpur District), ultimately joining with the Meghna River in Bangladesh to reach the Bay of Bengal.

With a rather big population of 13,000 and more in about 1260 households, Zhaimai is indeed one of the larger villages in the Paomata block of Senapati District. Currently in a position of being upgraded to a National Highway by-pass that would connect Tadubi with Ukhrul, it takes about four hours to reach the village from Imphal, at a back-aching stretch of around 120 Kilometres winding across the mountainous terrain. One has to take a right-hand turn at Tadubi junction on NH 102 to reach this village of the fabulous lily.

Apart of the impressive six-footer giant lilies, what draws the attention of the inquisitive visitor is the year-round flowing water unlike the parched situation in urban Imphal where every resident now has to purchase potable water at high price for everyday use. The spring water is as crystal clear as it can be, and there are five aquifers within the village that meets all of their needs – which indeed is envious for a person coming from Imphal where availing drinking water is now a huge issue.

The interesting aspect of the village community’s affords in preserving their water source is reflected in the village’s endeavour in protecting the forests that supports the springsheds. As Issac told this writer, the village has prohibited cutting of trees in the watersheds, having taken a resolution that says nothing doing till the year 2030. This, in itself, is a major step taken by the village community in realizing the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), and indeed deserves recognition by the State, national and international institutions.

Across the natural landscape where the giant lilies bloom, reaching to an impressive height of around 2500 metres and more, is a higher peak that in-houses a mountain river valley which is absolutely a smaller version of the famed Dzukou valley, typically similar in topography and in physical feature with rolling grassland and dense canopy in the upper reaches, and with an elongated marshy wetland in the midst.

Zhaimai has everything in its natural fold to draw the adventurous spirits to its call. Every element for infusing a biodiversity rich eco-zone is there, and every element to develop the area into a popular eco-tourism destination is there. What is needed is the supporting hand of the Government and whosoever is ready to take up the challenge of making Zhaimai another popular destination in Manipur’s tourist map.

The village community is already gearing up its forte to welcome visitors each May and June when the lily blooms. The making of a Giant Himalayan Lily annual festival is already there, with YouTubers uploading the essence of the village in their personal profiles.

Apart of this growing interest in focusing Zhaimai as a tourist destination, the more important aspect is its potential to develop as a ‘Green Village’ or as a ‘Carbon Positive Village’, so much as Phayeng Village in Imphal West District had got this significant tag. The achievement would naturally upheld Zhaimai to the status of a village having certain significance at both national and international standards as one of the more favoured green zones in the entire world.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be reached at [email protected])

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