QBARS - v23n1 To Nepal and Kashmir

To Nepal and Kashmir
Mary Greig - Royston, B.C.

Our Editor has kindly invited me to tell you something about a visit I was fortunate enough to be able to make to Nepal and Kashmir last May and June, with a very brief stop en route, in England.
As I went to look and enjoy only, I'm afraid there will be nothing very profound in these rather sketchy reminiscences of the flowers seen.
My time in England was so short, from May 16th to 22nd, that it was obvious that only one or two places could be visited, and those too hurriedly. So I decided that I would spend a whole day in the Windsor gardens, and another at the Chelsea show. The rest of my time, once necessary business was dealt with in London, was spent in the New Forest with an old friend, who took me back to London and spent the day at Windsor with me and also at the Chelsea show on the following day. I had hoped to have been able to meet Mr. Findlay, but he was at Chelsea that day, so we had to go rhododendron species hunting by ourselves. My friend did know the gardens and had been there only two weeks before, so I did find far more than I should have done alone. One day isn't nearly enough, however, and I hope one of these days to go again. Hybrids were at their best, of course, great drifts of Naomis and Loderis and so forth, and the Punch Bowl was still vivid, though past the peak. The species themselves were all over as far as I could see, except the very late ones, and those I did not find.
While staying in the New Forest, my friend Miss Verena Streatfeild took me to Exbury and several other lovely smaller gardens. The beauty of the deciduous trees of the countryside, the lovely birdsong, and fascinating old small towns and villages have rather swamped my memories of the gardens, and I took no notes, having no intention of either writing or talking about them.
A visit to the Chelsea Show on Members' day was, I knew, the worst day of all to fight ones way around it, but it was the only possible one, as I left for Delhi the next day. So we planned to get there at opening time, which we did, along with several thousand others. The morning was not really too bad, though it was bitterly cold and wet. It would be idle to pretend that we saw everything, and by the afternoon it was almost impossible to see anything, but it was interesting. However as far as I am concerned, once is enough.
We left for Delhi in the late afternoon of May 23rd with Mr. and Mrs. Oleg Polunin in charge of our group of 29, on a tour arranged by Messrs. Fairways and Swinford of London. From Delhi we flew to Kathmandu, the season a little late for comfort and dangerously near the coming of the monsoon. However, any earlier would have meant missing much in Kashmir, so this seemed the best time to choose. Another tour arranged by the same people was coming out as we went in, and we must have seen quite different things in the plant world.
Actually as far as plants were concerned, I found Nepal disappointing. I had known that we were at the extreme western limit for rhododendrons, also that I personally could not hope to go high enough to see what does flourish there. We must have flown over hillsides where tender ones flourished, but once in the valley the cultivation is so intense that very little vegetation has a chance to grow naturally. Grazing cattle and goats take very good care of the roadsides. There were hedges of a very attractive blue ceanothus-like bush, what it was I didn't discover, and a magnificent euphorbia, E. splendens , a very thorny bush with brilliant scarlet flowers. This latter is given in the R. H. S. dictionary as coming from Madagascar, so perhaps it has been introduced in Nepal. Other trees and shrubs noticed were paulownias in full glory, a yellow bottlebrush - as well as the usual red one, both quite large trees, figs, etc., all, I imagine, introduced.
One native plant we did see, of which I am very fond, was Polygonum affine scrambling over rocks, also some very depressed looking Rhododendron arboreum , not in flower. At this time everything was very parched, though no doubt with the coming of the monsoon the countryside would burst into blossom. We visited the Botanic Garden a few miles out from Kathmandu in high hopes of seeing some of the more scattered native things brought together, but, though it was lovely and peaceful, the plants consisted of a good collection of South African bulbs and liliaceous plants, cacti and so forth. Except for the trees in which the gardens are set, no natives. Very sad. However they did have good orchid houses - lath, but I have no idea how many of the orchids were native. I found one tiny one myself, at Nargarcot, where we had gone to try to see the sunrise over Everest. No sun the heat haze was too thick, but there we were higher than we had previously been, about 8,500 ft., I believe. My little orchid was growing on a dead branch; it was magenta, about the size of a very small viola. I hope someone photographed it, and as it was complete with roots clasping the branch, perhaps it is still growing in someone's greenhouse. I gave it to Oleg Polunin and then forgot all about it, because at the time I was feeling rather wretched, as most of us did at one time or another, despite pills.
On the 28th we left Kathmandu for Delhi and Agra, and on the 31st flew into Kashmir, where we lived on houseboats on the Dal Lake at Srinagar. It was much cooler here than in Nepal and I should think rarely above 85°F. Once again, cultivation is so intensive, that until one gets into the hills nothing native could survive. Srinagar and indeed the whole of Kashmir Vale is lush with many lakes, and several big rivers, including the Jhelum on the banks of which Srinagar is built, which was once the main highway, as well as the Shalimar, Liddar, Sindh, and other quite large streams. Unfortunately I have put my leaflets away so carefully that I cannot find them, and the only map of Kashmir we were able to buy is a most inadequate one, with no rivers or elevations shown.
Srinagar itself is about 5,000 ft., and according to the natives the Dal lake freezes across in the winter, which seems improbable. The houses have no chimneys and they keep warm in the winter with braziers and, of course, the animals on the ground floor. The families live on the floor above, and I think grain is kept above that. At the lake level rice paddies run in all directions, while on the lake, which is a big one, the floating gardens, built on reed mats, and spread with muck from the lake bottom, grow vegetables of all kinds. The mats are secured by willow stakes which in turn root and the result is most attractive with endless narrow channels between the lush looking gardens. However they are strictly market gardens. Somewhere great quantities of flowers must be grown too, as the flower peddlers brought their boats round, laden to the gunwales, every morning full of peonies, iris, antirrhinums, and all manner of, to Kashmir, exotic flowers. Never any native ones. I suppose that is a legacy from the old days when the British ruled India, and their families took to the hills in the hot season. We visited the various Mogul gardens round Srinagar but though they were extremely gay with masses of the usual annuals, except for the lovely chenar trees and the elegant red sandstone summer houses they could have been anywhere. I think my disenchantment with those particular gardens rather shocked my companions.
Travel on the lake is by sikara, a very voluptuous style of locomotion, the passengers reclining on spring-filled cushions, shaded by awnings, and propelled by Kashmiri boatmen using peculiar paddles, with heart shaped blades. The boatmen are a cheerful lot, and constantly break into long chanting songs. If not singing they are chattering to passing sikaras, or if you have two boatmen, to each other. One day we left the lake to go up to Sonamarg, at 8,700 ft., which lies almost on the border of Sinkiang. There is a very large military camp there, and no possibility of spending more than a day, but it was lovely beyond words, the high hills above us in all directions, and a great "marg" or alpine valley around us. Though there were large flocks of goats and sheep, there were still some un-nibbled treasures. Primula denticulata , almost over, drifts of P. rosea , and masses of a lovely little annual gentian, androsace, and so forth. On the way up we passed whole hillsides of eremurus. We also saw roses everywhere, and a delightful bush jasmine, bright yellow, and sweetly scented, and a very handsome and brilliant yellow euphorbia. These last on the way up and down on the roadsides, in the Sindh and Liddar valleys. On the lake, the lotus were not yet in flower, though water lilies were, and many other water plants, and vivid little emerald and blue kingfishers darted to and fro.
On the 7th of June we left Srinagar for Gulmarg, on the northwestern border of Kashmir not very far from Rawalpindi in West Pakistan. This place has no road as yet, so we were driven by taxis to the end of the road, a mere stopping place, called Tangmarg, and there ponies were to be had to go the further 3 miles and thousand odd feet. Some elected to walk, though most rode, and I and one or two others went by "dandi" - these being litters carried by 4 bearers, with two spares to give them breathers. I must say I was extremely glad I hadn't tried either to ride or walk up the often rough precipitous way. We passed through light forest with ground cover of maiden hair and other ferns, P. rosea again in masses, as also trollius and anemone. Here we were assigned cottages attached to a pleasant hotel which consisted of lounge and dining room. The marg here was a sheet of the little gentian, with clumps of Iris kumaonenses and other smaller ones.
Earlier the place had been a sheet of Primula rosea , and later would doubtless be a sheet of something else. The hillsides surrounding the marg were thick with a deciduous viburnum, mostly pale pink, but here and there, either a lovely pink or a dead white, all very sweetly scented. Oleg thought it was V. grandiflorum and offered no hope that it would be hardy, as it must always winter under a heavy blanket of snow. From here it was possible to see Nanga Parbat in the distance, and many unidentified hills in all directions. As we were now at an elevation of nearly 9,000 feet climbing did not appeal to me very much nor to most of the other members of our party, with the exception of Oleg Polunin himself who climbed whatever time allowed in his search for plants, and what we could not see growing for ourselves, he brought down to us.
The highest point we reached was Khilanmarg, I once more in a litter, along with others. Here the snow was only just receding and much had not gone as yet. The short turf was golden with a very short and brilliant buttercup, lovely acres and acres of it, with all sorts of exciting snouts and spears just poking through the soil. Lots of Anemone obtusiloba , mostly yellow, some ivory and a few a very lovely blue, the shade of blue that I at least, can't "catch" in color film. Here in the scree we found gorgeous Adonis chrysocythus - similar to A. vernalis , but larger, more brilliant and semi-double. In the scree too, Friti1laria roylei was in flower, Aquilegia jucunda , potentillas in variety, a delphinium not yet in flower, and all sorts of interesting queries yet to come. If only one could spend a month or more, watching the succession of things and if only one were 20, or better still, 30 years younger!
Higher up the hills, where I did not dare to venture, Oleg and others found Rhododendron campanulatum , in flower, but a rather dreary color, and a beautiful form of R. hypenanthum , much finer than any I have seen. They also found Primula macrophylla a lovely and fragrant purple nivalid, and a most peculiar and rather hideous little trillium. Podophyllum emodii was everywhere through the light woodland surrounding Gulmarg, and elsewhere, seeming to enjoy the same wet conditions as P. rosea and the trollius.
Gulmarg is a glorious place, and it was sad to have to take to the air again, after another dandi jaunt down to Tangmarg, a 20 mile taxi drive to Srinagar, flight to Delhi and the terrible heat again, then back to London the next day.