Destination India part 2
The second and concluding part of the diary of
the European Palm Society trip to north-east India in April. This
time, Shillong and Trachycarpus martianus, finishing at the Taj
Chamaerops No.27 Summer 1997
Left. Plectocomia himalayana, near Kalimpong
Right: Trachycarpus Martianus, Nokhalikai Falls
Second and concluding part of the diarised story of
the European Palm Society April palm trip to north-east India, told
by those who went.
24th April, Thursday
by Elmar Grimsehl.
An easy day in Shillong. After the long and strenuous
trip the day before, we all voted for a late breakfast at 9am after
which we went on foot through Shillong to see Lakeside Garden, an
old public garden with a big lake in the middle, founded in colonial
times. A lovely place to stroll around and have a close look at
some of the palms there. We saw a Livistona that we couldn't identify
for sure. To make the confusion complete we found different types
of seeds under the tree. We decided it must be Livistona jenkinsiana
though it was in fact more a decision than an identification. After
a beautiful Livistona chinensis along the way we saw a group of
Trachycarpus martianus, just starting to flower. We discussed similarities
and relationships to other Trachys and collected some (old) seeds.
We walked past a big old Cycas pectinata to the 'Botanical
Garden' of Shillong. It was in fact more a neglected public garden
but with quite few palms in there. But when we left the 'Botanical
Garden' on the far side, we stood in front of a private garden that
showed Caryota sp., Butia capitata var. strictior and what seemed
to be a Syagrus romanzoffiana hybrid. We all wanted to get in there
of course, but Martin told us that they had tried to get in there
before on previous trips and had failed.
Every 5 minutes Martin counted his sheep and wondered
who was lost.
Then we went a bit up the hill to the Pinewood Hotel
where we had lunch. It was a convenient hotel although the waiters
closed all the windows that had let in fresh cool air and switched
on several electric heaters. Our famous minibus took us back to
our hotel, we had a short break. Enough time for some of us especially
Martin - to go to the market and buy some palm seeds that are sold
as fruit there. The species was not very clear, it must be one of
the 375 Calamus species we thought, but Martin decided it must be
Plectocomia khasiana. Then we drove to see 'Shillong Peak' a viewpoint,
not that spectacular. But there was another stall selling the same
palm seeds and Martin took the chance and bought them all. We drove
on to the 'Elephant Falls' which were nice, quite small and had
nothing to do with elephants. On the way back to our hotel we stopped
to see another Trachycarpus martianus in front of an amazing Art
Deco Catholic church. We were early back in the hotel and had some
time to relax before dinner. It had been an easy day, and we were
happy. Now we were anxiously waiting for T. martianus at the Nokhalikai
Falls next day...
25th April, Friday
by Reinhold Worch
Getting up at 6:30 is no problem for me. Barking dogs
substitute for an alarm clock. To start the day, I am watching a
sitar concert on TV. Breakfast arrives in small portions today.
Toast, butter, jam, coffee etc. is being served item by item, and
only after insistence. Nevertheless, everybody is ready and on time
for our departure.
The salesmen in their wooden shops are just opening
up. Vegetables, car tyres, snacks, clothes and meats are hung up
along the foggy road blackened by diesel fumes. Charmingly French,
Dominique comments on every butcher's shop along the road, "Ohlala,
la viande". A slaughtered pig peeks out from the boot of a
We are leaving the town. Soon, large round granite
boulders dominate the landscape. Quarries are digging deep holes.
The broad-leaf and Rhododendron forest only remains in patches.
Soon slate and sandstone take each other's place. At altitudes between
1500 and 2500m, the farmers have created a grass prairie with their
goats and cattle. Deep eroded trenches drastically show the consequences.
Quarries and charcoal production support the poor peasants' existence.
Soon the road leads us downwards. At about 1500m altitude,
we stop at Cherrapunjee, a Rama-Krishna mission station. With amazement
we are looking at a steep gorge, its slopes and valley bottom covered
in dense subtropical vegetation. Far down on the steep slope, we
can spot some treefern-like palms. Through binoculars, these are
easily identified as Caryota obtusa. Pandanus sp. (probably P. foetidus)
is numerous. We continue in the direction of Bangladesh.
Luckily we are not experiencing the superlative of
Cherrapunjee, which, according to our guidebook, is blessed with
the worlds highest rainfall, 11500mm per year (only in recent years,
a place has been found with even higher rainfall, Mt. Waialeale
on Hawaii). A few km farther on, the bus stops amidst the grassy
plain. After 200m by foot, we are standing on the very edge of a
magnificent gorge covered in rainforest. Only just not close enough
to reach grows Trachycarpus martianus with its round, finely split
fan leaves. Rooting in cracks in the nearly vertical cliffs, it
is just starting to flower. We search the slopes with binoculars.
Next to the Nokhalikai falls, a narrow but very high waterfall (the
world's 7th highest), we can spot Wallichia disticha Small groups
of Caryota obtusa, scattered throughout the forest, are easy to
spot by their gigantic, fern-like leaves, as are Plectocomia khasyana
by their yellowish-green pinnate fronds, climbing up between the
trees but not very numerous. At the end of the valley starts a gigantic
floodplain, forming the country of Bangladesh.
We are walking along the edge of the cliffs to a scenic
spot, just a handrail between us and infinity. A betel-chewing woman
is selling drinks there in a stall.
On the plateau itself, little manages to survive the
livestock and fires. After taking a group photo in front of Trachycarpus
martianus, the bus turns around. We are driving back, then turning
off onto a road leading to Bangladesh. Martin, our guide, familiar
with the area, stands in the open door like a captain and stops
the bus after a few km. Again a gorge like before. Not far from
the road on a steep slope we can see a large, yellowish-green climbing
palm, Plectocomia khasyana, and some more Wallichia disticha with
leaves arranged in two vertical rows, one of them with a 2m long,
Far down in the valley is a small village with smoking
fires in the huts. We are sitting on the edge of the valley. Is
it tiredness or meditation, everybody is unusually quiet and enjoys
the relaxing scenery. Suddenly, a rustling noise below us on the
slope. A tiger? No, Jacques and Charley followed a narrow path to
get closer to the Caryota obtusa and Wallichia disticha. Smiling
from ear to ear, Jacques returns with a few fern fronds. A bit further
on, on the bank of a river, we pillage our packed lunches and wash
them down with cans of the good Indian beer "super extra strong".
I am sure the coat of that friendly street dog shone just a little
more brightly after lunch.
Before our after-lunch tiredness gets uncontrollable,
Martin reminds us about the objective of our tour and urges us to
continue. The road winds downwards in hairpin bends, to our right,
an unspoilt view over Bangladesh. We come across a gigantic Caryota
obtusa, with fruits. In between thrive spiny Calamus sp., Pinanga
gracilis and a Wallichia densiflora within the dense forest. Further
down we stop at a garden in a village to admire a flowering Wallichia
disticha. Women and children gather around us. Karen and Marika
teach them a dance, "I love you baby" and they all swing
their hips and sing along. Everyone is happy when Federico hands
coloured packets of vegetable seeds out to the kids. In Ladsohbar,
the next village, we are again welcomed by all the children. Everyone
wants to know where we are from and where we are going. We admire
the Caryota, Wallichia and the increasingly frequent Areca catechu
A young man is persuaded by Martin to harvest a bunch of Calamus
seeds. A large Caryota, possibly C. maxima, is seen in the gardens
and around the villages.
The bus driver, the mechanic and the "local tour
guide" are now on strike and anxious to return, reason unknown.
We drive back. In the first village we are greeted again with dance,
"I love you baby". In the evening we reach the streets
of Shillong again. A wonderful and memorable day, filled with palms.
26th April, Saturday
A not unpleasant drive down to Gawahati, four hours
past the Caryotas, the Arecas, the coconuts and other palms that
we had seen on the way up. The road has been much improved over
the last couple of years and we made better time than feared, allowing
a few stops along the way, for tea, for palms, and - any more seeds
Arrived at Gawahati airport, also improved beyond
recognition over the last couple of years, and checked in. Not much
to do for an hour or so, though we did get a free lunch. We took
our sad departure from Mahendra, who had accompanied us thus far,
and who was taking a separate flight back to Bagdogra and Kalimpong.
Mahendra really was the lynch-pin of the whole trip, his organizational
abilities and quiet confidence ensuring a smooth pattern throughout
all the time he was with us; we were indeed sorry to part. An uneventful
flight down to Delhi where we were met by Nikhil, the brother of
Mahendra's wife, Honey, who would be with us during our time in
this city. An air-conditioned bus was waiting to take us to our
hotel, something of a disappointment after the high standard of
accommodation we had experienced up in the hills. But this was Delhi,
most expensive city in India, and allowances have to be made by
the budget traveller. Dinner was certainly pleasant enough, and
we all went to bed with full tummies and happy memories of the preceding
27th April, Sunday
An early start (aren't they all?). Today we take the
Shatabdi Express down to Agra and the Taj Mahal. Not many palms
it must be said, but plenty to occupy us, and a final bit of culture
to round off our trip. The Taj Mahal can only be described as breathtaking,
and 'dull would he be of soul' who did not appreciate its pure white
marble grandeur, gleaming in the hot sun. Some other stops, lunch
in a very up-market hotel, a deserted city or two, some shops where
high-pressure salesmen tried unsuccessfully to get us to buy inlaid
marble tables, or paintings; street vendors whose prices seemed
to drop with every step closer to the bus that would take us away
from them. Finally they are almost giving the goods away and some
of us can resist no longer. Then back to the train for the return
journey; Delhi and Agra are pleasant enough but we all left our
hearts up in the green hills.
28th April, Monday...
and for a change, today is a very early start. Three
am? Four am? Something like that. But we are all packed and ready,
and can continue our sleep on the bus that will take us to the airport
for our 0645 flight back to Europe, via Amman, Jordan. Sad goodbyes
then as each of us collects his or her bags from the London, Heathrow
airport, carousel and departs, with many vows to keep in touch.
Certainly, a wonderful time has been had by all, unforgettable sights
and sounds, friendly people and great food, and of course, above
all, wonderful PALMS!
02-02-23 - 11:30GMT
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