Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Rhododendrons of the Himalaya

"The Himalaya is truly Rhododendron country. As you make your way along the Dzongri trail in Sikkim, extensive forests of Rhododendron can be seen all along the trail and across large tracts of the Dzongri meadows. This flower is the breathtaking glory of Sikkim and the land boasts of some 30 species from the gigantic Rhododendron grande –a tree that towers at 40 feet; to the diminutive nivale that rises barely 2 inches from the ground.

Some like the Dalhousiae are epiphytes growing on top of tall trees and barely visible from below; others are painted prima donnas: like the conspicuous falconeri with its large fleshy leaves covered with rust-colored filaments on their underside. The Rhodondendron literally live off its looks: the highly colored flowers are crucial since they are the only source of attraction for bees and butterflies since no species has any fragrance.

These trails were also the favorite stamping ground of the man who pioneered the first attempt to systematically explore the land and document information about the flora and fauna of the Eastern Himalaya: Joseph Dalton Hooker. The British botanist was the son of the first Director of London’s renowned Kew Gardens, and a close friend of Darwin’s. After obtaining his MD from Glasgow University in 1839, young Hooker traveled extensively for most of his life going off on botanical expeditions to all corners of the world (including the Antarctic region) and publishing prolifically on his findings and theories.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

In the shadow of Shipton and Tilman - Part II

Nanda Devi from Saini Kharak sunrise
This is  the second and concluding part of this essay. Readers are advised to read the first part at before reading this final part.

We started climbing again heading for the camp site of Jhandidhar (4200 metres) and reached it by 2 pm. It was a small clearing at the edge of a cliff commanding a view of Dunagiri to the north east and looking down into the Dhauli Ganga valley far below us. The tents were quickly set up and Prem and Monu left to get water from Lata Kharak, 3 km away. While we waited we received our first visitor. A forest guard returning on his beat from Dibrugheta stopped for a drink of water. We asked him about the bharal (blue sheep) which was to be seen in the sanctuary. "“The lack of water on these craggy cliffs has pushed the bharal down near the river”, he said “you will not be able to see them at this time”. However, close to camp we spotted a marmot and an alpine marten gazing at us from behind the rocks with great curiosity.


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