JARS v52n4 - Plant Exploration in Tibet, 1997

Plant Exploration in Tibet, 1997
Keith A. White, M.D.
Salem, Oregon

Bob Zimmermann, D. Min.
Port Ludlow, Washington

In June of 1997 Kenneth Cox led a group of twelve explorers deeper into the spectacular southeast corner of Tibet than his previous two expeditions to the area. As before, he was accompanied and aided by David Burlinson, China expert for and executive officer in Exodus Travel of London. Also with us was Her Hai, Exodus' superb liaison in Tibet. He negotiated with local and national Chinese officials and directed day-to-day operations including our camp crew of five Nepalese sherpas, two Tibetan guide-interpreters and three Tibetan drivers. Much can be said about the pains that Ken, David and Her Hai went to planning the expedition in order that we succeed.

British expedition members included rhododendron experts Stephen Fox and Tony Cox; botanical artist and extremely sharp-eyed and knowledgeable plantswoman Anne Chambers; journalist Clare Scobie; rhododendron and alpine enthusiast Bernadette Adams; David Burlinson; and our leader Kenneth Cox - author, lecturer, and plantsman who shares management of Glendoick Gardens Nursery with his famous father Peter Cox.

The American contingent included plant geneticist Dr. Amy Denton; botanist and commercial nurseryman Sharon Leopold; marriage and family therapist and species rhododendron nursery owner Dr. Bob Zimmermann; and myself, Keith White, physician and board member and chair of the photography committee of the Rhododendron Species Foundation.

We met June 1 at London's Gatwick Airport and flew Royal Nepal Airlines to Katmandu via stops in Frankfurt and Dubai (United Arab Emirates). In Katmandu we enjoyed dinner out at the Pilgrims Bookstore cafe in the bustling, colorful Thamal district. We stayed at the comfortable Blue Star Hotel, near the airport, as we had in 1995.

Early on the morning of June 3 we boarded a S.E. China Airlines Boeing 757 equipped with special engines for the high altitude takeoffs and landings required at Lhasa's 12,000-foot (3,600 m) Gonggor airport. The flight through the Himalayas was spectacular. Mt Everest was on our left and Kanchendzonga (the world's third highest mountain) was on our right. When we got off the plane at Gonggor, Her Hai and the sherpas were there to greet us with the traditional Tibetan white silk scarves. We changed some dollars for Yuan, efficiently loaded our camping gear into the standard Chinese "deuce and a half" lorry, ourselves into the Toyota Land cruisers and "hit the road".

Map of Tibet showing the route
of the 1997 plant exploration party.
Map of Tibet showing the route of the 1997 plant exploration party.
Map by Wendy Stebbins White.

Because the road was closed from Lhasa, we were required to take the same route from Gonggor airport to the east, following the south bank of the Tsang Po River that we did in 1995. No extra maintenance was wasted on this road. We stayed our first night, June 3, at Chusan. We had flown from 5,000 feet (1,500 m) at Katmandu to 12,000 feet (3,600 m) at Gonggor and then spent the night at 12,500 feet (3,750 m) in Chusan. This time almost everybody was taking Diamox. It is a diuretic and it kept everybody going all night long. However, it was worth the trouble since, unlike 1995, no one got altitude sickness. This was especially valuable the next day as we traversed the Poda La at 15,500 feet (4,650 m). Here we saw our first rhododendron - a very nice pink Rhododendron primuliforum (section Pogonanthum ). The road on the east side of the pass was horrific. There was mud hub deep for mile after slippery mile. In a scene repeated many times on this trip, we crept along behind a caravan of the standard Chinese lorries taking turns passing each other single file down a patch of decrepit road.

The roads were much worse than in 1995. Aside from the neglect of the south side Tsang Po road, the Sichuan-Lhasa highway was very torn up in parts with detours often necessary - sometimes right through the pig yard of a farm. Road gangs of Chinese laborers - some obviously prisoners, some Chinese Muslims (I thought it strange since I [KW] didn't know there were Chinese Muslims) working in gangs along the road, both men and women.

A lot of the work was building really quite beautiful retaining walls out of rock and cement and also improving ditches. It seemed that the road surface was often the last consideration. We made much more mileage in 1997 than in 1995, and though we were traveling in the best of modern vehicles - Toyota Land cruisers - the all day pounding on the rough roads was punishing. I (KW) am sure we are real sissies compared to common folk in the old coaching days before automobiles and paved highways.

As mentioned above, our first rhododendron was R. primuliflorum . Over short distances the habitat is extremely variable. In the lower areas it is much like my (KW) native Eastern Oregon - sagebrush ( Sophora moorcroftiana ) and juniper ( Cupressus gigantea ). Higher up it is much wetter, snowy, and alpine. Remarkably, R. primuliflorum occupies very dry hillsides that if at home I would expect to see sagebrush. It seems to be a very versatile plant. I have seen it growing where there is no water anywhere in sight, right up to the stream banks and swamps, and amongst melting snow, looking just as happy at every site.

Our second rhododendron was R. aganniphum (subsection Taliensia ). It occupied some of the wetter ravines accompanied by Primula cawdoriana and Rhododendron nivale (subsection Lapponicum ), our next rhododendron.

I (KW) had the privilege of riding in a vehicle with superb plantsmen: Sharon Leopold, Stephen Fox, and Anne Chambers. They had remarkable knowledge of plants, not least of which were the alpines: androsace, gentians, primulas, poppies, and many others. The flora pointed out to me by my companions was a continual delight (as were my companions).

Our second night we arrived very late in Miling. From there, on June 5, we went through Nyingchi to the Rong Chu valley. To get from Nyingchi to the Rong Chu, we traversed the Sirge La. On the approach, we found R. triflorum (subsection Triflora ), R. oreotrephes (subsection Triflora ), Primula baileyana , Rhodiola himalense , and Cypripedium tibeticum . The latter is a spectacular maroon lady slipper. We always regarded finding this superb orchid a special event. On top of the Sirge La were square miles of Rhododendron laudandum var. temoense (section Pogonanthum ). From there we descended to the Rong Chu valley.

R. lanatoides on the Tra La,
Rong Chu Valley.
R. lanatoides (subsection Lanata ) on the
Tra La, Rong Chu Valley, northwest side
approximately 11,500 feet (3450m).
Note the thick woolly indumentum.
Photo by Keith White

The next day our first real climb was up the musically named Tra La. Here was the location of R. lanatoides (subsection Lanata ) forest that Ken Cox found in 1996. We awakened on the morning of June 6 to "bed tea" and a big bowl of "washy water" (our allocation for hair washing, face washing, shaving, bathing, etc., for the next 24 hours). Breakfast was the usual composite of scrambled eggs, fried bread, marmalade, Nescafe, and hot powdered milk as well as weak green tea. I (KW) am always nauseated when I am at high altitude and this day was no exception. However, the spirits were brightened by the Iris goniocarpa just outside our tent. This was the first and the last we saw of this lovely little dwarf. We were camped in the Rong Chu valley. ("Chu" is the Tibetan word for "river," "La" is the word for "pass"). Nearby was the village of Tumbatse - base operations for Kingdon-Ward and Lord Cawdor in 1924. (Highly recommended reading: Kingdon-Ward's Riddle of the Tsang Po Gorges .) From here they ranged the Temo La, Sirge La, Nyima La and others. But not the Tra La.

We started our trek from base camp at 9,500 feet (2,850 m) in the valley floor. We trudged up an old road for perhaps a mile. There were a few Rhododendron kongboense (section Pogonanthum ) and some scattered R. lanatoides . I (KW) huffed and puffed my way over to the blooming R. lanatoides . After taking a few photos I snapped off a truss for Stephen Fox to examine. The flowers were pure white. The leaves were glossy dark green with thick furry tan indumentum. Stephen was delighted.

Unfortunately, some of us were still suffering from the first bout of a rather toxic travelers diarrhea that originated in Miling. Two days of levofloxacin had not been enough to completely cure everyone. For this reason some in the party, including Stephen, had to turn back here.

From the end of the road we bushwhacked our way uphill through dense mossy forest. The overstory was Abies spectabalis . Underfoot was a carpet of moss inlaid with gems of Primula . Primula cawdoriana characteristically grew in dense drifts. The finest gem was P. bhutanica . However, what was of even more interest was the "underbrush." Almost everything had already bloomed. Ken Cox found Rhododendron hirtipes (subsection Selensia ) and R. dignabile (subsection Taliensia ) in flower. As we continued to wend (or, in my case, puff) our way up, it was not long before we spotted in the upper distance a huge plant covered with white trusses. As we made our way over we could see that it was R. lanatoides . This old giant had long ago tipped off its mossy moorings. It was now perhaps a dozen feet high with limbs spread out like arms of an octopus. Each arm was as big as my thigh or even bigger (and I am not a small person). The flowers had a pink tinge but when open were white with maroon flecks in the throat. We were ecstatic! As an added bonus, moss on a rotting log in front of the plant was covered with seedlings. The scene was sufficient to make species rhodoholics swoon with rapture. After we recovered we took pictures from every angle, made notes, etc., and then resolved to leave our glorious find in further pursuit of our objective.

As we struggled upward we came under a forest of R. lanatoides . The trunks averaged 10 inches (25 cm) at breast height. The leaves made a complete canopy. The tops were perhaps 15 feet (4.5 m) or more. Underfoot lay many years of fallen leaves. It was so dark underneath that very little else grew here. The central body of the R. lanatoides forest lay at about 11,500 feet (3,450 m). As we traversed towards the west we came to a canyon cut through the millenia by glacial torrents. Completely around us, down the near side and up the far side, continued the forest of R. lanatoides . Ken dubbed this "Lanatoides Gorge." The forest continued upward for another 500 feet (150 m). Only an occasional plant was in bloom.

As we reached 12,500 feet (3,750 m) the prevailing shrubs became R. kongboense . These were ancient plants - 4 to 5 feet (1.2-1.5 m) tall. Many were in bloom with their characteristic pogonanthum-type strawberry red flowers. They were so dense that travel was difficult. It was late afternoon, raining steadily, so we decided to head back to camp.

From Tumbatse, we followed the Rong Chu towards its merge with the Po Tsang Po. We stopped at Pailung for lunch. This was our lowest spot at approximately 5,000 feet (1,500 m). Here we walked over the Rong Chu on a rickety suspension bridge on the trail that leads to Gompo Ne on the Tsang Po river gorge (a two-day hike). We sampled the delicious yellow-orange raspberries, marveled at the purple impatiens, and avoided the leeches. A bit further down the road, we came to the junction of the Rong Chu with the Po Tsang Po. Here grew a large specimen of R. scopulorum (subsection Maddenia ) on a man-sized boulder overhanging the river.

The Po Tsang Po is the most beautiful river that I (KW) have ever seen. It is a big, wildly rushing cataract of blue-green. It scours the golden, pine studded canyons in chutes and steps of standing waves. We traversed the road, clinging to the canyon walls in many places, following the Po Tsang Po to its source just south of Rawu. Here the river flows from a magnificent huge blue-green lake, surrounded on all sides by Himalaya. It was here in 1932 that Kingdon-Ward spent the winter at Shugden Gompa. (This expedition is documented in A Plant Hunter in Tibet ). We visited the remains of the Gompa which had been partially rebuilt since its destruction by the Red Guards in the 1960s. We walked the broken walls and trod the grounds covered with shards of mani stones from ages past. The altar burnt sweet juniper, drawing us towards the entrance. A few remaining monks - very young and very old - were gracious in allowing us to inspect the sanctuary and the library.

Miles of R. nivale
carpeting alpine areas of the Dzo La.
Miles of R. nivale (subsection Thomsonia )
carpeting alpine areas of the Zo La.
Photo by Keith White

From here, we started over the Zo La. A flat tire on the way up gave us an opportunity to inspect the fields of R. nivale (subsection Lapponica ). What was remarkable was that R. nivale came not only in the standard purple but a very nice shade of pink. We often found them growing side by side.

Pink form and purple form of
R. nivale growing side by side on the Zo La.
Pink form and purple form of R. nivale
growing side by side on the Zo La.
Photo by Keith White

On top of the pass, Anne Chambers discovered what is possibly a new primula ("Primula minor var. chambersae"). By this time, it was getting dark. Two days later, as we came back up the pass, we were able again to marvel at square miles of blooming R. nivale , R. phaeochrysum (subsection Taliensia ), remarkable Primula advena var. concolor , Fritillaria cirrhosa , and also a large solitary blooming plant of R. vernicosum (subsection Fortunea ).

South of the Zo La, we camped near Bazar. The natives tempted us with fritallaria bulbs and the local delicacy known as "summer worm winter grass" (a caterpillar that burrows into the alpine soil in the fall, is parasitized by fungal spores, and then grows a flag-like two-inch tall fungal fruiting body). These crunchy critters are harvested by locals and are widely regarded as a culinary delicacy.

The next day, we headed further south down the road toward Zayul. While rounding a bend, one of the Landcruisers collided with a two-wheel power unit pulling a trailer. The young boy riding in the trailer had a few bruised ribs and was more frightened than damaged. We proceeded on to Zayul - we were nearly to the borders of Burma and India. Just past the town was as far as the Chinese authorities would allow us to proceed. Plants of interest along the trip included a beautiful rock wall woven with tree peony Paeonia lutea var. lutea , the ground orchid Pleione bulbocodiodes and a Cornus capitata . Our most vivid memory of Zayul was the literally dozens of children and adults who crowded in to watch the occidentals eat lunch. The next day we recrossed the Zo La northwest toward Rawu.

Cornus capitata, the yellow
dogwood, occurred only south of Zayul near the Burma border.
Cornus capitata , the yellow dogwood, occurred only south of
Zayul near the Burma border. It is believed to be new to Western eyes.
Photo by Bob Zimmermann

As we left Rawu and drove back toward Pome and Lhasa, we stopped at the valley leading to the Dashing La. We could find no records of any previous plant collecting by Westerners on this pass. We drove up the valley as far as possible. The rain continued its intermittent fits and starts but then settled in for the night. The rain continued in the morning as the truck went off in search of the porters who had visited us the night before. As the rain stopped, the porters showed up and we began our trek. We were following the logging roads and its was quite muddy in spots. Near the end of the logging activity, we entered a large stand of Rhododendron uvarifolium var. grisseum (subsection Fulva ). As we climbed to about 11,000 feet (3,300 m), the plants began to change. We discovered several Arisaema elephas in wonderful bloom. The maroon stripes were truly outstanding. When we broke into more open forest, we were greeted with an Enkianthus chinensis with large, delicately striped flowers. The rhododendrons included a very good Rhododendron triflorum var. mohogani , R. lepidostylum (subsection Trichoclada ) and then, at our campsite, a mix of R. wardii and R. campylocarpum (subsection Campylocarpa ). Just above our campsite was a steep snow field with R. calostrotum (subsection Salensia ) and R. charitopes ssp. tsangpoense (subsection Giauca ) peeking through the snow. At the base of the snow field was a rather roaring stream. A slip crossing the snow field would be quite unpleasant, if not fatal. The rain now began in earnest, and as we climbed steadily we moved through more R. campylocarpum . We next encountered R. beesianum (subsection Tallensia ) already finished flowering. The rain continued relentlessly and several people turned back.

The mountains began to unfold. There were hints of monstrous glaciers and huge snow fields. Just as the rain seemed unbearable, we broke into a high meadow with a yak herder's shelter complete with smoke pouring out of the newly rebuilt roof. One of our sherpas had dashed up ahead of us and started a fire. Inside was clean and dry. We stripped off our wet raingear and warmed and dried ourselves while eating lunch. We had a native guide along, a small boy who claimed to be 15. During lunch we could hear and see avalanches of snow and rocks sliding down the sides of the bowl that we were in. Tremendous peaks began to emerge from the midst of the glaciers.

As the rain gradually subsided, a small group of us decided to continue higher. After a bit of climbing, we had a rather large snow field to cross, but we could see the trail occasionally where the snow had melted out. We began a steep climb into R. forrestii (subsection Neriiflora ) in beautiful bloom while avalanches continued to slide around us. An entire slope opened to a red carpet of this low growing rhododendron. Rhododendron patulum (subsection Uniflora ) was hidden away here and there while Androsace helped complete the alpine fairyland. Rhododendron campylocarpum also grew in low profusion and several hybrids with R. forrestii showed themselves. Once again, the clouds seemed to close in and we scurried down while we were still pleased with our wonderful day of plant exploration.

R. forrestii on Dashing La,
11,500 feet.
R. forrestii carpets the upper reaches of
the Dashing La, 11,500 feet (3450 m).
Photo by Bob Zimmermann

The group that stayed in camp that day had their own adventure. While we were up top, six armed soldiers from the People's Security Bureau showed up in camp upset that we were there. They ordered us to report to their headquarters at Pome at once. It seemed our permits for the area issued in Lhasa did not count here in the boonies. They decided that it was an offense not to have had a permit to hire porters despite the fact that no one had ever heard of such a permit. We packed out the next day and did, indeed, report to headquarters, where we were told that we would not be permitted to explore the Su La, the other un-botanized pass we had hoped to climb. No amount of coaxing or pleading would change their minds. We would only be permitted to camp in a designated site, a kind of county park, it seems, and then we would leave the area. The alternative was to spend a week in the PSB's new hotel and perhaps by the end of the week, they would talk about a permit for some more porters. Perhaps! We were, of course, disappointed but with some quick rescheduling, we decided to visit the Doshong La instead.

We left the county campsite and drove back to the Rong Chu valley. This time we moved a little further up the valley than our previous stop. We passed Tumbatse, the village that Kingdon-Ward had used for his headquarters, driving past fields of Iris chrysographes and Primula . The rain followed but quit just as we set up camp where we were visited by the yaks whose pasture we had invaded.

The next morning, I (KW) made a solo journey up the Sang La. This area had been logged in the past year and Rhododendron wardii and R. principis (subsection Taliensia ) had been damaged by the activity. Still, there were some wonderful R. wardii with a red blotch completely circling the center of the flower. Quickly the R. principis became dominant, with trunks 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter. They stood 15 to 20 feet (4.5-6 m) high. I also hoped to find R. hirtipes (subsection Selensia ), but so far it seemed elusive. As they day began to run out, I decided simply to follow the streams down and began moving through a tangle of R. principis . I began to pick up logging roads which made travel much easier. As I was running out of time, I decided to follow one more road that seemed a spur, and there at the end was a solitary plant of R. hirtipes in full bloom! It turned out to be a rather nice form and there were even a few seed pods left.

The day on the Sang La was a day without rain, but that evening the wetness resumed and continued.

The next morning, we hiked up the Temo La. We moved through various groups of rhododendrons including R. wardii , R. uvarifolium , R. triflorum , and evergreen R. lepidotum (subsection Lepidota ), R. principis , R. nivale , and ultimately R. phaeochrysum . Because of the clouds, the view was extremely limited. We were lucky to see across to the opposite ridge. Taking out a camera was asking for certain trouble. Just below the summit, we came across another yak herder's hut, and once again our sherpas had started a fire. We were sitting at 14,140 feet (4,242 m) with the temperature just a few degrees above freezing and the floor of the hut covered in ice.

The summit of the Temo La is covered with R. fragariiflorum (subsection Fragariiflora ) and R. laudandum . The mists and clouds swirled in and out muting the bright colors of the prayer flags. It was an isolated world of its own. As we moved down from the summit, R. phaeochrysum became the dominant plant, and a particularly pink form shown in the distance on the opposite hillside. We calculated a plan of attack and I (KW) plunged into the thicket to bring back a bloom. Crawling and pulling my way through plant after plant of R. phaeochrysum , my spotters continued to give me directions as I shook each plant to reveal my whereabouts (shaking lots of water down on me in the process). I finally arrived only to discover that I had spent a half hour to retrieve a hybrid with R. dignabile (subsection Taliensia ). Shortly below, we found R. dignabile itself but there was no flower or seed. Coming down, we discovered Primula baileyana and a wonderful orchid, Cypripedium tibeticum . The Cypripedium required a photograph. I took my first picture but then the shutter froze; the rain had done its worst. It would require some negotiation with the camera god and some Western technology (silica gel and a hot water bottle) to restore picture taking capability. We continued our soggy trek down the mountain and saw our first Rhododendron faucium (subsection Thomsonia ). We slogged our way into camp and spent yet another night in hard driving rain.

After the Temo La we decided to revisit the Doshong La. At this point, we shuffled cars and I (KW) transferred to the "Rave Car." We had this name because of their great music dance tapes. My new companions were Ken Cox, Dr. Amy Denton, Tibetan guide and interpreter Chimpe, Clare Scobie and driver "Cowboy" Lhosang (who does a great BB King impression). On our way to the Doshong La, we worked up a sweat dancing at our river side campsite, so Amy Denton and I dared to take a quick dip in the frigid Tsang Po river.

The next day, June 17, it was on to the Doshong La. We only got one cloudy glimpse of 25,500-foot (7,500 m) Mt. Namche Barwa. We reached the famous meadow campsite (surrounded by blooming R. wardii ) in midmorning. After an Olympic frisbee match and a hearty lunch, we set off up the pass. Even though we were two weeks later chronologically than we had been in 1995, conditions were two weeks behind what we had found them then. As we climbed from the trailhead at road's end, even the R. campylocarpum was not yet in bloom. The willows had yet to leaf out and snow covered much of what we had marveled at in the alpine areas in 1995. To make things worse, the rain was heavy and blowing in sideways. After a brief climb on the glaciers, most of us gave up and headed back down the road.

R. cerasinum, Kingdon-Ward's
'Coals of Fire,' on the Doshong La, 11,500 feet (3450 m).
R. cerasinum , Kingdon-Ward's "Coals of Fire,"
on the Doshong La, 11,500 feet (3450 m).
Photo by Bob Zimmermann

The late spring was a great bonus to us. Most of what had already bloomed in 1995 was now in its greatest glory: R. faucium with its bell-like, bright pink, pendulous trusses and shiny cinnamon colored peeling bark; R. cerasinum (subsection Thomsonia ) - Kingdon-ward's "coals of fire" with its brilliant deep red flowers with black nectar pouches; and Rhododendron uvarifolium var. griseum (subsection Fulva ) with flat topped white trusses with brilliant red pedicels. Hardly a plant of these was in bloom in 1995. We had a great time (even though it was raining) walking the forest trails amongst this floral display.

R. faucium on the Doshong La
at lower elevations (10,500 to 11,000 ft., 3150m to 3300 m).
R. faucium (subsection Thomsonia) grows prolifically
on the Doshong La at lower elevations
(10,500 to 11,000 ft., 3150m to 3300 m).
Photo by Keith White

One of the main themes of this trip was natural hybrids. Here, we were not to be disappointed. Growing amongst the interdigitated groups of R. campylocarpum and R. cerasinum were natural hybrids of these species. Further on, we found a hybrid of R. cerasinum and R. uvarifolium .

Also in this area were rhododendrons familiar to us in 1995: R. mekongense (subsection Trichoclada ), R. wardii , R. campylocarpum . Of note here is the natural confluence of R. wardii and R. campylocarpum with admixture of characteristics. Normally the range of R. wardii is to the east and that of R. campylocarpum to the west. Rhododendron wardii has red glands on the style, which usually distinguishes it from R. campylocarpum . However, in this area, the co-mingling of species makes them difficult to distinguish - including variability in the glands on the style. It is possible that this might be the seat from which these species originally evolved and thereafter developed the geographic isolation in their respective eastern and western ranges that allowed speciation.

The next day, the weather was much better. Most of the group decided to go back up onto the Doshong La. They were rewarded with fine views and another good show of blooming R. forrestii .

However, I (KW), along with Sharon Leopold and Stephen Fox, decided to explore the next most western pass, the Buddi Tsepo La. The area was magical. It had rarely been touched by humans.

We began from our meadow camp. We crossed the stream and walked through waves of blooming Iris chrysographes . The path was fairly distinct, up and over two ridges and then down to the Buddi Tsepo Chu. Here the stream crossing was treacherous, threading our way over a web of a log jam - a challenge for a puzzle master.

We followed animal trails up the emerald moss-carpeted west bank. At these lower elevations, the primary rhododendrons were R. hirtipes and R. principis . We made it to a waterfall and set of cascades at 11,500 feet (3,450 m) before we had to turn around. Here were the most exquisite Meconopsis betonicifolia .

The trip back to Lhasa on the reopened (but still incredibly rough) highway up the Gyamda river and over the Kongbo Pa La was very rewarding. Our highest sleep of the trip was at 14,000 feet (4,200 m). As we left our last campsite, we saw the picturesque black yak hair yurts of the nomads. Near one tent was parked some modern heavy road equipment (I guess these were technomads). Along the road were Stellaria chamaejasme and Incarvillea younghusbandii .

The approaches to the pass were gloriously sunny without a hint of wind. The pass itself was a brilliant circus of prayer flags strung in every direction. A solitary monk found a transplanted bamboo stick from which to string his flags. Newlyweds stood on the pass and solemnly repeated their vows from the spot as close to the heavens on earth that they could achieve (16,500 feet; 4,950 m).

Just a half mile down from the summit, we were stopped, true to form, by a fully log-loaded lorry tipped sideways in a mire filled hole. The delay afforded us an inspection of the local flora. To our surprise, we found clumps of beautiful yellow Meconopsis integrifolia growing in semi sheltered locations.

At the bottom of the pass, we visited the same roadhouse that we did in 1995. The dark, smoky interior of the rock building is hung with ancient carpets. Hand hewn wooden furniture served well. We enjoyed a bowl of yak tail soup and the traditional salted yak butter tea before moving on towards Lhasa.

Lhasa was a great experience in itself. We toured the Potala (Dalai Lama's palace), Sera Monastery and the sacred Jokhang Temple (where Buddhism was first embraced by Tibet's King in the seventh century A.D.). We saw and smelled rhododendrons being used as incense in the temple courtyard. We walked the Barrkhor open market where the diverse, colorfully dressed tribes of Tibet come together. It was people watching at its best.

The night before departure we hosted our entire crew at a fancy Chinese restaurant. At the gala celebration we gave them gifts of appreciation. Then were the toasts, tributes and songs. Afterwards a few of us went disco dancing - a challenge to make it through a whole number at 12,000 feet!

The next morning, June 24, we began our journey home with another dazzling flight through the Himalayas. We all felt much richer in not only botanical but in geographic and cultural experience as well.

Correction: The plants referred to as Rhododendron lepidostylum and R. patulum are misidentified.

Dr. Keith White, a member of the Willamette Chapter, co-authored the article "Over the Doshong La" in the Summer 1996 issue of the Journal .

Dr. Bob Zimmermann owns Chimilum Woods Rhododendron Nursery near Port Ludlow, Wash., and practices marriage and family therapy in Seattle. He wrote the portion of the article that describes the trip from the Dashing La through the Temo La.