The rains had played havoc, turning the ground in Shirui village into a river of molten chocolate, but that didn’t dampen the spirit of the locals who turned up in large numbers to celebrate Manipur’s state flower–the Shirui Lily—at the eponymous festival this year. Believed to symbolise a kind and protective spirit, the flower is revered by the people of this region.
Every year, for a short period before the monsoon, the delicate pastel pink lily blooms on the slopes of the Shirui Kashong or Shirui peak. The people of the hill district of Ukhrul have been celebrating the flower for years, but for the first time, the whole of Manipur was partaking in the festivities. A change in the state’s leadership and a reopening of dialogue between the ruling party and the people of Ukhrul, had added extra cheer and attracted many more visitors to the festival, including me. Until a few months ago, people from the valley would seldom venture into these parts owing to political tensions.
Over a five-day period, elaborate cultural events were held across two venues in Ukhrul and one at the base of the Shirui peak. The opening ceremony showcased the tribal culture and heritage of Ukhrul’s inhabitants Tangkhul Nagas. Traditional games, tribal music, dance and martial arts were on display. At the fringes of the festival ground, makeshift stalls did brisk business, selling fiery buffalo meat, buffalo skin and locally brewed rice beer.
Then both young and old attempted a four-hour trek up the hills, punctuated by mossy overgrown forests, which led to the peak where the Shirui Lily blooms. While I panted my way up, local lads ran past me as part of a competition to determine who could run up and down the peak the fastest. Come nightfall, Ukhrul then came alive with the sound of music at ShiRock 2017, a rock concert held as part of the festival. As crowds poured in huge numbers, some of the best north eastern talent, including Guru Rewben Mashangva, Soulmate and Tetseo Sisters, put on a show to remember.
Shirui Lily The peak season for the flower lasts from May 15th to June 5th, and the five-day festival is held in the middle of May.
Getting there There are direct flights daily from Kolkata and Guwahati to Imphal. Ukhrul is 108 kilometres away from Imphal and the journey can take upwards of 3 hours because of poor road conditions.
Stay Ukhrul has a few basic hotels and home stays. 25 Degrees North hotel is conveniently located and has a good restaurant that serves delicious Chinese food (25 Degrees North, second floor, Behind Viewland Church Gate, Gandhi Circle Lane, Phungreitang; 8794955844; doubles from Rs900 excluding breakfast)
Chaitali Patel is the former Associate Editor, Special Projects at National Geographic Traveller India. She's partial to nature, history and the arts. She believes that every trip is as much a journey within as it is one outside.