Asia Diary - Part 4

Fourth and final part of your Editor's secret diaries, faithfully kept through flood, fire, feast and famine. This time India and Pakistan. Plus the first published photograph of a new species of Trachycarpus which is set to take the palm world by storm!
by Martin Gibbons, Ham Street, Ham, Richmond, Surrey, TW10 7HA, UK
Chamaerops No.20, published online 23-07-2002

Left: First published photograph of the new Trachycarpus, T. ‘sikkimensis’ in cultivation in Kalimpong, West Bengal. T. fortunei it ain’t!
Right top: Nannorrhops ritchiana, one of the world’s hardiest palms, in habitat in Pakistan
Right bottom: Camel laden with thousands of cut Nannorrhops leaves. Enough to give anyone the hump.

After a disappointing trip to Burma (Myanmar) and an exhausting trek in Nepal where we only just about caught sight of the Trachycarpus martianus that we had endured so much to see, we flew out of Kathmandu to continue with the next leg of our trip.

13th November. The domestic airport at Kathmandu is a zoo! Hundreds of people pushing and shoving, no flight indicators, only blackboards that contained information that may or not be current. However, one way or another, we find ourselves on our plane, heading south-west for the town of Biratnagar. It has nothing to offer the tourist, it is simply the nearest airport to that part of India we plan to visit, so a good jumping off point. At airports in countries such as India, we are usually surrounded by taxi drivers and their mates, all begging us to take their cab. This time it was different, with only one or two mini-van taxi's, whose drivers didn't seem to be bothered one way or the other. However, we eventually hammered out a price for the quite long distance to Darjeeling - £40 for the 5-hour trip, and set off east. The countryside was rather dull, very flat, mainly paddies and just a few, rather tropical palms. After dark we crossed the border from Nepal into India and went through the formalities, including having all our details recorded in a vast, dusty book, that nobody probably ever looks at. In fact the entire 'Foreign Registration' office seemed to be filled from floor to ceiling with similar books, and great piles of old papers, which presumably meant something to someone at some time, but now simply served to gather dust. After the town of Siliguri, we began to climb, and knew that we were on the last part of the journey to Darjeeling, which is at 2400m. The road was accompanied by the railway line of 'The Toy Train', a real but miniature locomotive that hauls both people and goods up to the town. We could see little from the mini-van, just hand painted signs that loomed out of the darkness, 'Drive with Co-operation, not Competition', 'Better Late in this World than Early in the Next', and similar exhortations to road safety. Also, one hand-painted, black and white striped bollard every 5m from the bottom of the hill to the top, a million of them. They probably never finish painting them. Eventually arrived at the famous Windamere Hotel - a real relic of Empire, enough nostalgia to satisfy even me.

We had come here to check out two Trachycarpus palms that we knew were growing in the hotel garden. Our friend Henry Nolte from the Edinburgh Botanic Garden had photographed them the previous year but had been unable to put a name to them. A real challenge, and an easy and enticing side trip to add to our journey.

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