Asia Diary - Part 4

(page 2)

Though it was 10pm, and pitch dark, and though we had no booking, the Windamere Hotel lived up to its reputation and provided a warm welcome. Outside, it was freezing cold, and with a mist worthy of the lake from which the hotel takes its name. A room was found for us, an electric heater, and as though that weren't enough, a hot-water-bottle apiece. As soon as we were able, and despite the lateness of the hour, we hurried out into the garden to check out the two trees, but if we had any idea that we would be able to recognise them instantly, we were much mistaken. They were certainly Trachycarpus, but which? Big, bare trunked, and with leathery leaves that were quite different from all other Trachy's we knew. We were sure only of what they weren't. To bed, under 47 blankets each, even more mystified than when we had arrived.

14th November. Up after a good night's sleep, to discover a fabulous view, unsuspected in last night's darkness. Had what the guidebook described as 'the best porridge in India', which preceded a traditional English breakfast, complete with toast and marmalade. Spent the day in and around the town, including a visit to the Lloyd Botanic Garden, rather disappointing, many Trachy's but all T. fortunei. One exciting find there was a huge Caryota (Fish Tail palm), species uncertain, but it must be really hardy, since it snows here every year and it is, after all, 2400m. No more Trachy's like the two at the hotel, which are still nagging us. Arranged a car for tomorrow, to take us to Gangtok in Sikkim.

15th November. Left Darjeeling late morning, it would take a few hours to reach our destination. On the way we saw first of all, one isolated Phoenix rupicola, a young plant, then a big Caryota like the one yesterday in Lloyd's, then Wallichia disticha - a wonderful two-dimensional palm - which we were delighted about, then finally a big grove of tall Phoenix rupicola, cultivated and beautiful, and bearing little resemblance to Phoenix canariensis and P. dactylifera, which seem coarse and vulgar in comparison. Carried on driving, crossing the famous Teesta river. On the other side along which we now drove, we saw wild Phoenix rupicola, but as the slope was north-facing they were impossible to photograph. Another interesting find was Calamus erectus, lots of them, growing along the roadside, spiny and gorgeous, and a first for us. The whole area was rather moist and jungly and we were surprised not to see more palms, it seemed perfect for them. There were, however, lots of palm-like Pandanus trees, with 10 or 20 feet of trunk, often growing in deep shade.

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