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Smell of drought sours mystery bloom boom
- Jakhei flowers after 12 years

Shillong, Oct. 3: He waited for 12 years to experience the magical charm of the Sung Valley and the jewel in its crown, the jakhei. When the moment came, he was spellbound.

For Rolin and other lovers of nature, Sung Valley is nothing short of paradise with its canopy of blue jakhei flowers and chirping magpies and cuckoos.

The valley, 50 km from Shillong, shot into prominence after news spread that the jakhei (strobilanthes sp) flower had bloomed there after a gap of 12 years. And if there are flowers, can the birds and bees be far behind'

A profusion of birds and insects have set up home in the valley, attracted to the jakhei like moths to a flame. From far, the flowers appear like blue dots on a lush green carpet.

Nobody seems to know exactly why the jakhei has a 12-year cycle. Scientists say lack of reproductive hormones could be causing a delay in its flowering cycle.

Villagers like Rolin are, however, more interested in savouring the beauty of the valley than in knowing the reason behind the phenomenon.

“The jakhei is a special flower and attracts all living organisms. I have never seen so many birds, bees, crickets and colourful beetles together,” he says.

Rolin was only three when the valley experienced the same phenomenon 12 years ago. The teenager cannot recollect anything except seeing “a lot of birds”. But 50-year-old Kjor Lawai has scores of stories to narrate about the valley of flowers.

She associates the appearance of jakhei flowers to prosperity, fertility of the land and availability of water in the valley. “Prosperity comes in different forms, but when the flowers disappear — that will be sometime in November — a long dry spell may follow. Some believe it signals the advent of some unnatural changes,” she adds.

Another village elder, Trade Kharmujai, says not many people knew about the phenomenon 12 years ago. He is one of those who are convinced that a long, dry spell will follow the end of the jakhei flowering season.

Botanical Survey of India joint director T.M. Hynniewta does not dispute the stories emerging from the Sung Valley. “There is always a possibility of unnatural phenomena, but we have to do an in-depth study to get to the bottom of the truth,” he says.

A plant of the same genus, strobilanthes kunthianus, is found in Tamil Nadu, but the jakhei, which is basically a shrub, is probably unique to Meghalaya.

Hynniewta says studying its cycle “may lead to some interesting discoveries”.

Though the route to the valley from the national highway is a treacherous one, scores of journalists, photographers and filmmakers have already visited the valley and promised to come back.

As scientists grapple with the mystery of the jakhei and filmmakers capture its beauty on film, villagers of Sung and nearby Peraton look for beehives to collect honey and make a few extra rupees.

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