Manipur, IMPHAL, Aug. 28: The flavour, softness and colour of the Sirarakhong chillies could not simply be aped even in the neighbouring villages of Sirarakhong village in Chingai assembly constituency, even if one uses the Sirarakhong seeds.
Perhaps it is the soil or the climate in the village that has made the Sirarakhong chillies famous, but even the villagers of Sirarakhong do not pin down the reason for the unique taste and colour of the chillies produced in the hill ranges of Sirarakhong.
Today, the Sirarakhong village celebrated the 3rd Siirarakhong Hathei Phanit or ‘Chilly festival’ as organized by Sirarakhong Shanao Long and SHG Federation, with support from IFAD.
The village had applied for assistance from the state government under the Horticulture Technology Mission, but it was refused by the Horticulture Directorate even though the Minister in charge of Horticulture Gaikhangam recommended it.
The village Sirarakhong is about 38 kms away from the Mahadev point on the Imphal-Ukhrul road.
Chilly cultivation is the backbone of Sirarakhong economy. Its population of 2200 and all the 400 houses are engaged in chilly cultivation. A family harvest ranges from 100 to 300 kgs of chilly per season.
A kilogram of dried variety of the unique chilly is sold at RS. 200. The village produces about 5000 kgs of dried chilly annually.
The Sirarakhong chilly is famous for its unique flavour specially with meat but it is becoming popular in the kitchens of the valley where it is considered a delicacy with ‘Kangsoi’. While the colour that it gives is mouth-watering, it is not that hot.
“I had the occasion to test the flavour of the chilly in a pork dish at the home of a Tangkhul and it has been haunting me since then. Today I have come to buy both dried and fresh Sirarakhong chillies,” Thokchom Monao of Imphal said.
The Sirarakhong chilly is indeed the envy of neighbouring villages as the chilly loses its length, flavour and colour if it is grown outside the village area. In Sirarakhong, the length of the chilly reaches even up to eight inches.
“We also grow other vegetables, but chilly is the backbone of our economy. We were indeed fortunate that the village had been able to produce four scientists, one Indian Forest Service officer, one accountant general and many government employees,” the headman of the village Z.V. Wungkhayap told this correspondent.
“We are celebrating the festival to showcase the role of chilly in village life and also to draw the attention of the authority that we need help in some form or other so that we can increase the annual output,” Jasper Siranao, the vice president of Sirarakhong Shanao Long (women organization) said.
The chilly festival was inaugurated by the Deputy Commissioner of Ukhrul R Sudhan and people from far away villages came in groves to attend the festival.
Headman Wungkhayap said that the village exports the chillies in powder in other villages including Ukhrul district HQs, but it is yet to find a market in Imphal.
About five kgs of fresh chillies are needed for getting one kg of dried chilly. A lady farmer said, “It is a laborious process where you need both sun and lots of firewood to dry up the fresh chillies.”
It takes about five hours to reach Ukhrul district HQs from the village by jeep taxi and the fare is Rs 120 for a passenger along with his load of chillies.
The Sirarakhong villagers begin seed sowing in March-April and the in May-June it is transplanted to the jhum fields. In July-August, the red chillies are harvested.