Sikkim's flower power: Gangtok blooms in exotic colours
By Madhusree Chatterjee, Gangtok, Feb 24 : Daisy, pansies, peonies, exotic seasonal blooms and orchids are the colours of this picture-postcard capital of this Himalayan state that opened its door to visitors with the inauguration of the International Flower Show 2013.
Nearly 80 exhibitors, including eight foreign ones from Europe and US, are taking part in the five-day show (Feb 23-27) that aims to push Sikkim's flower power as a potential tourism and revenue generating option to the world.
Floriculture contributes to just about a meagre one percent of the state's revenue or even less despite the immense possibility it offers as a lucrative economic activity.
"Sikkim, together with Himalayan states like Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir that are located 3,500 ft above sea level, are conducive to floriculture," Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling said.
These states have the potential to meet the country's demand for flowers. Countries like China, Thailand and the Netherlands flood our markets. It could become an attractive trade sector and as a profession," Chamling said.
The chief minister's wife, an expert flower grower, leads the flower movement in the state. Her nursery is known for its wide variety of orchids across the state and outside.
The venue of the International Flower Show is the Saramsa Garden, nearly 14 km from the Gangtok city in the outskirts.
Flanked by lush Himalayas and watered by the gushing Ranikhola stream that drains into the Teesta river, the garden spread across 10 acres serves as a picnic spot-cum-floriculture showcase, hosting the colourful fauna of the state.
The garden has been given a face-lift for the flower-show.
The manicured lawns have been divided into segments for separate exhibition of rare orchids, smaller flower bed blossoms, herbs an international exhibitors section and a culture stage.
The theme of the fair this year is the cymbedium, a sturdy velvety orchid in mustard and pink that can live in vases for more than a month.
The decorative bloom occupies a pride of place in the state's flower roster along with another mystical Himalayan bloom, rhododendron.
On day one Saturday, the mood at the Saramsa Garden was one of revelry. Visiting delegates and local flower lovers pored over stands of flowering pots on display to identify them and then photograph the exhibits.
Discussions veered around flowers to sounds of ethnic hill music from the culture stage. Strange fragrances from assorted collections of lilies and roses vied for attention.
"This is the time of the year when the number of visitors peak. We have seen a rise in foreign tourist footfall during January-February since the first international flower show here in 2008," Sonam Lepcha, a nursery and restaurant owner in Gangtok, told IANS.
In a radius of at least 2 km of the Saramsa Garden, shops and eateries have decked up in floral finery.
Strands of orchids, gladioli and lilies hung on door frames and at the outdoor cafes which were crammed with young people out to savour the spirit of the unique exhibition.
"No one knows what happens in Sikkim during the flower show. We have such a low presence on the national psyche of India," Sushma Tsering, a post-graduate student of the Sikkim-Manipal Institute in the state capital told IANS.
"This state like other northeastern states must be spoken about in the national and international media. Great things are happening here. We are building a new airport, new schools and fighting to save the environment," she said.
The government has banned cattle grazing, hunting in wildlife reserves and use of toxic plastics.
Five years ago in 2008, the government decided to promote floriculture with a platform for "knowledge sharing, sensitising farmers, to explore the potential for high value floriculture, provide an umbrella to stakeholders and enhance investment in the sector to push flower trade", an official of the state's horticulture department explained.
This year, the fare on display is more lavish and attractively curated with textual identification and related information.
A break-up of Sikkim's floral wealth reveals that the state a treasure chest to 600 varieties of orchids, nearly 250 species of trees, 150 varieties of gladioli and nearly 50 strains of rhododendrons.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)