Discovering the Khayang Lily

By Salam Rajesh *

It was in the early months of 1992 that Dr. Hijam Bikramjit told me of the lilies at Khayang. The year before, in May 1991, he had trekked to the Dzuko valley with a team of Manipur Cultural Integration Conference, and he found the lily, which was to make his name a household word

Acknowledge as the discoverer of the famed Dzuko Lily subsequently christened as the Lilium Chitrangandae Bikramjit, taking after the discoverer's (and his mother's) name, and well deserved too the late scientist visited Dzuko valley thrice in his effort to formally, claim the lily as a new species. He proved it.

It was after his visits to Dzuko that the renowned plant hunter talked of scouting the Khayang range to discover yet another species of terrestrial lily, which he confidently told me it was there. He had clear evidence from the locals of the lily's whereabouts, and he put forward the proposal of going together to seek the Lily, I agreed readily.

But fate had a different story for us. On May 24 in 1993, just when the onset of season of the lilies arrived with the monsoons, fate was cruel enough to snatch the young scientist's life in his prime.

He breathed his last before he could realise his dream of discovering yet another of the famous lilies (after Siroy and Dzuko lilies). With his untimely death, I shelved my plans for Khayang, for the time being.

But, a nagging remained in me. Khayang remained in my consciousness all the year through for more than half a decade. An urge remained deep inside me to seek out the Khayang Lily, if not for anything else but just to fulfill the unrealised dream of the discoverer (Dr. H. Bikramjit) of Dzuko Lily.

That was the inertia which fuelled me and four of my friends RK Robindro, Robert Sapam, Anil Khuraijam and Anderson Huidrom to pack our bags and set for Khayang one fine day at the close of May in 1999, almost after seven years after my initial plan with Ojha Bikram failed. The destination the summit of Khayang range, The Target seek out the Khayang Lily.

The Khamasom Khayang range runs parallel, north-south, to the famous Angoching range, which forms part of the Manipur - Myanmar international boundary to the east. The region is nearly hundred percent virgin, thickly forested and highly difficult to access.

Khayang is approachable from two routes. One from Khamasom, and the other from Kamjong. The first in Ukhrul district's Chingai subdivision and the second in Phungyar subdivision. Either ways, the route are tough. We trekked to Khayang from Khamasom village.

Initially starting from Lunghar after a night's rest there. On foot, it takes the best part of a day to trek from Lunghar to Khamasom and another complete day from Khamasom to Khayang.

There is a motor-able route from Khamasom, up to the foothill of Khayang, but , since we were without a vehicle, we did it on foot. The steep downhill trek of nearly 4-km up to the Chamu River below is enough to discourage a try in climbing up the extraordinarily steep Khayang mountainside.

But once a target is set, no turning back, however daunting the task was , so we said. And , with our hearts in our mouths, we slowly started ascending the steeply rising mountainside the summit hardly seen from the foothill, enveloped in perpetual thick mist.

By rough estimate, it is around four to five kilometers climb up from the foothill to the summit ( approximately 2300 m or 7590 ft MSL). The steeply winding ascend, although both back breaking and breathless, affords one of the loveliest landscape view ever seen in the whole of Manipur.

As enchanting it sounds Khayang is gifted with nature's best. The very best, indeed. The first few hundred meters of the mountainside is dotted with dwarfed date-palm trees, with juicy fruits for the visitors to taste and relinquish for a while on the hard climb up . Hard in a sense that sometimes you had to do with both your feet and hands to push yourself up, clutching at whatever available for support.

The delightful part of the climb was when nearing the summit, there was wide spread growth of the Rhododendron (chinglei) trees for nearly 8 10 km distance. The trees were in full bloom and the elusive crimson color mountain flowers wavered in the cooled air, apparently pleased to see us.

The mist play with the flowers, sometimes covering them up entirely in their cold fold, and than withdrawing for us to appreciate. It was rather difficult to do justice to the flowers' beauty as continuing drizzle made us wet all over, and we were cold and hungry too. We had time enough for quick few snaps before we were on our feet again.

Up on the summit, the dark covers of the thick green foliage and un-trodden jungle path made our movement difficult. A wrong step from the narrow path made, and you are lost. A local guide who was with us told as a matter of fact that already seven hunters from their village never returned home from here. Not a happy tiding for us.

Slow progress on our part, saw darkness enveloping us before we could manage to reach our camp. With our torchlight dying out to a flicker, and hardly a path to recognize in the pitch dark, it was extremely hard to proceed.

We had to frequently yell to one another to keep track. It was, if not an exaggeration, like walking in a nightmare. Finally, our guide, who came back to look for us, rescued us, the bright beam of his torchlight, a welcome beacon to us.

The entire night was spent under the shelter of a huge tree, flimsily covered by a makeshift camp, which didn't do us much good. The strong wind and the incessant rain whole through the night was punishing.

There was no way to light fire to cook our food or find a dry place to sleep comfortably. The option left to us was to just sit and doze off till the morning, with a little amount of chengpak (rice flak) down the gnawing stomach.

Early on the morrow, with the sun no where to be seen and all of us drained out, the Khayang lily seemed at a distant dream again so near yet so far. But, energetic as he is ever, Robindro was not down and out. Up he went with one of our local guides, following the path further, and at a kilometer and half's distance from where we were, he struck gold.

They return breathless, beaming. " We have succeeded!" and sure they have samples of the lily to prove that they have been there. The Khayang lily was no longer a myth now. We had proved to Ojha Bikramjit that his Khayang lily were a reality. Only, he was not there with us that day to say to the world that he has discovered another lily species. That was a tragedy indeed.

Mother Nature has been kind to us people here in Manipur. There are so many things of nature that are quite peculiar to the rest of the world and we are their proud inheritors. Yet, we care not to choose to appreciate these nor find a proper place in our hearts.

The Khayang lilies are still things of beauty now, yet its cousin the Siroy Lily is almost a thing of the past today unless, of course, we care to save it.

* Salam Rajesh wrote this article for The Sangai Express sometime in 2003. This article was "re-webcasted" on June 26, 2008.

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