Asia diary - Part 1
Your editor shares the excitement, the
trauma, the danger, the agony and the ecstasy of palm hunting in
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Martin Gibbons, c/o The Palm Centre
Chamaerops No. 17, published online 23-07-2002
Trachycarpus 'Doi Chiang Dao' in its mountain home.
Last October and November, Toby Spanner &
I undertook a 7-week, self-financed expedition to northern Thailand,
China, Burma, Nepal, Sikkim and Pakistan. We were looking, as usual,
for Trachycarpus in all the countries we visited except the last,
where we went to find Nannorrhops ritchiana, the Mazari Palm. I
daily recorded the story of our adventures in a diary, and for the
next few issues it will be serialised m Chamaerops. Highlights of
the trip included the discovery of three new species of Trachycarpus
and the finding of 'the rare' Nannorrhops by the hundred thousand!
I will make introductions and explanations where necessary, but
the majority of the story is, as written, straight from our journal.
Our first port-of call was Doi Chiang Dao, a
mountain in northern Thailand, where grows the first of those new
species. We had visited the place before in 1992 and the story was
told in the January 1993 issue of Chamaerops. However, we rushed
it somewhat on that occasion and hardly had enough time for a good
look round before it was time to descend again. This time we vowed
to take things just a little easier....
14th October 1994
Left London Heathrow on a rather old Thai Airlines
Jumbo 747. Refuelled in Delhi (1 hour) and touched down in Bangkok,
Thailand, at 6am local time.
Took the plane north for Chiang Mai, arriving at
830am. Phoned our friend Rachun Pooma and took a taxi to the Huey
Knew Arboretum [which he runs] and chatted for an hour with him
and his colleagues. Then slept for 5 hours as exhausted. Up and
out to do some shopping for provisions for the trip. In the evening
went to wonderful open-air Thai restaurant on several tiers of decking.
Fabulous meal just as good as I remembered from last time.
Picked up by jeep for the few hours' drive to Doi
Chiang Dao. Drove up the muddy road passing Livistona speciosa as
before. Arrived at base camp and had lunch of soup. At about 1pm
four of us (we 2 and 2 workers from the Thai Forestry Dept.) set
off on the 2 1/2 - 3 hour climb up the mountain. We were expecting
the porters to 'port' but they had their own bags to carry so we
were left with ours. Good job we packed light! Up and up we climbed
through quite tall vegetation, rather wet. Saw a few of the rather
dangerous, poisonous caterpillars, as we got ever closer to the
Trachy-lined peaks. Gosh, it's beautiful! At about 3.30 or 4 we
arrived at our campsite - a burnt-out hut. Rather dirty with all
the burned wood but absolutely the only level area available to
us on the steep slope, so we had to make the most of it. Pitched
our tent and 'the boys' built themselves a lean-to with a plastic
sheet. One of them caught - of all things - a tortoise! about a
foot long. Incredible that these creatures could occur here. Lit
a fire and cooked a meal of sausages, washed down with Singha beer.
Saw fireflies as it was getting dark. A 3/4 moon rose very bright,
but it was dark by 6pm. Millions of stars.
Had a reasonable night's sleep and got up early.
Packed the minimum of gear leaving the rest in the tent and set
off on the final leg to the summit. Rather hard going. Very steep
and difficult terrain with big rocks studding the ground, and eye-high
grass too, soaking wet, though the weather was good. Up and up we
climbed, resting every so often. Got nearer and nearer to the Trachy's
and, at just below 2,000 metres, reached a fairly level 'saddle'
not far from the top of the mountain where we descended a little.
Carried on up a slight incline along a valley and on reaching the
end had a rather difficult stretch to cover, ending in a very steep
climb down, through trees.
But the sight that awaited us there made the pain
well worth while for there were 20 or 30 Trachy's, all quite big
and beautiful, and reasonably accessible. Perfect for photos. Toby
discovered a huge cave disappearing down into the ground. A rock
dropped down took seconds to reach the bottom. One of the porters
climbed a palm tree to collect some seed but it seemed to be last
year's, and it was the only one in fruit; a bit disappointing....
The weather then closed in; it was misty and rather
chilly. We decided to stay for an hour to see if it cleared. The
visibility was down to 20 feet, then it began to rain quite heavily.
It was miserable standing there in the cold, on this steep incline.
But after half an hour it did clear - suddenly and dramatically,
absolutely clear, you could see for miles. The mist would come and
go so quickly. Took lots of photos then set off back down. It was
not warm! The new boot spikes were wonderful, making life so much
easier and safer; even so it was no picnic. Everything was drenched
with water, including us. That was the end of our Trachy collecting
at Doi Chiang Dao.
Climbed down and down through the mud and the rank
vegetation that snaked across the path and tried to trip us up all
the time. Very steep in parts but the spikes were of enormous help.
After about 3 hours, and many slips and slides, we arrived back
at our campsite. The tent had let in some water, though not too
bad, of course everything outside was soaking wet. We re-lit the
fire and cooked a meal. Finished it in the dark, sitting under a
banana-leaf shelter that Toby had built for fun. Then it started
to rain. Very heavy, like some kind of monsoon, completely blocking
out the view. It chucked it down! Very noisy in the tent, and so
heavy some of the rain was coming through. Despite this, managed
to get some sleep, not easy with water dripping on my face.
Woke at dawn after not-too-bad a night's sleep.
It had finally stopped raining. Getting up was awful. Getting into
wet clothes was worse, but it's a big mistake to use up all your
dry clothes, and after half an hour you've forgotten the initial
discomfort. Packed up the campsite, needless to say everything absolutely
soaking wet, took a last look at the Trachy-lined peaks, then set
off for the long trek back to the base camp where we arrived at
10.30am after a stiff 2-hour walk. Had some soup and spread out
our wet clothes and sleeping bags etc. to dry in the welcome sunshine.
It was so warm they were steaming in the heat.
A jeep arrived to take us down and after a very
long and very muddy drive, we arrived back at Chiang Mai for a welcome
shower (though cold) and a change of clothes. In the evening we
went to the Babylon - a great Italian restaurant - for a fabulous
and well-deserved meal of spaghetti.
Well, no peace for the wicked, as they say, and
no time to relax. Next day we were off to see the huge and fabled
Giant Caryotas (Fish Tail Palms) of Nan, which we'd read about and
seen photographs of, but never seen. Rachun offered to drive us
Up at 6.30am for the very busy day ahead. Set off
in a pick-up for the long drive to the town of Nan, in the east
of the country. Rachun drove, rather fast, but quite well. Good
roads, but a very long way. Stopped for lunch. Toby has toothache.
Drove through Phrae and Nan. Very hot and humid, maybe 305C. I thought
we would never arrive, but after reaching a town called Khoa (?)
we began to climb and after seeing a few Livistonas of unknown name,
the temperature fell, and at about 1500m we saw our first Fish Tail
Palms. The Latin name is Caryota gigas ('Giant') though this has
yet to be published. Huge trees with enormous flat leaves and tall
trunks. Dozens - even hundreds - of them, growing on steep, wooded
slopes but only very locally distributed. Same as those in Xishuangbanna
[China], we thought. Took lots of photos, not easy because of the
density of the vegetation, so we had the worker who came with us
hack a path for a good shot of one huge, old tree.
Spent a couple of hours at the site then instead
of overnighting as planned, decided to drive back the same day.
My goodness, what a long day and what a long drive! Stopped in the
town of Phrae for a Thai meal but apart from that it was just drive,
drive, drive, in all about 6 hours. Total 12 hours' driving for
the day. Bed at 1.30am very tired as quite impossible to sleep in
the bumpy pick-up. Rachun is a very fast driver but the roads were
good and not too much traffic. Glad to be back in Chiang Mai once
Toby up first to visit dentist for an extraction!
Packed slowly, said goodbye to Rachun, a good friend indeed, and
had a lift to the airport.
To be continued. Next time: China and another
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