Trekking on the Trachycarpus Trail

(page 3)

At length, and with considerable relief, we reached a small village called Burapi on the 'other side' of the mountain range. Here we gratefully got out of the jeep and stretched our legs. The inevitable cluster of locals gathered to see what was going on and we showed round photos of Trachycarpus, to see if anyone recognized them. Depressingly no one did. We were disappointed and confused. All the old accounts we had read said these palms were here, on this mountain, in great numbers, but nobody appeared to have seen them. Were they extinct? Had there simply been a mistake made and two accounts been transposed a hundred years ago? Had all the trees perished in some severe winter beyond living memory?

We showed round the photos of Trachycarpus to the villagers, but again, no one recognized them. Frustrating indeed, but even this did not dim our determination to visit the actual valley mentioned in the old reports to see for ourselves. It was on the far side of the peak with the temple, just a few kilometres away, but involving some serious climbing, up hill and down dale.

A young man called Hareesh then appeared on the scene who said he would act as our guide and take us up there. We showed him the photo expecting the familiar response, but to our surprise and disbelief he said he knew of such a tree some 10 or 15 minutes away, in the direction we wanted to go. Our excitement can only be imagined.

He donned our rucksack and we set off at a brisk pace, some of the villagers following, with Wilko and I hardly daring to hope. We climbed up through a steep and pretty forest, and on emerging from its far side I heard Wilko's exclamation, and looking up I saw one of the most wonderful and welcome sights I have ever seen. A tall, beautiful Trachycarpus palm, about 8 metres high, growing on a steep slope, about 30 metres away from us! We rushed towards it, hugging it and each other and everybody else. They must have thought we were quite mad, but our excitement was infectious because soon everybody was laughing and shaking hands and slapping backs, though most of them had no idea why!

We were ecstatically happy. Everybody had told us it was mission impossible. Even the forest rangers had told us that there were no fan palms to be found. But we had proved them all wrong!

We took lots of photos, and we had Hareesh climb up to cut a leaf. Before we could stop him he had hacked off four. We screamed at him to stop. Nearby was a house and people were coming from it to join in the fun. Our guide told us that the old man there had planted the tree 50 years ago. We talked to him although he didn't understand a word we were saying, and we shook his hand many times. Through Hareesh's efforts we learned that he had found it as a seedling a mile or two away and had transplanted it. He was 75 years old. Soon some 25 people had gathered and we assembled for a group photo: old men and women, young girls and boys, and babes in arms.

After about half an hour we--Hareesh and a second guide whose name was Karen, and Wilko and I--were on our way again, with many backward glances at our tree. Our initial destination was the temple at the summit, a good way off and much higher than where we were. At first we passed through open forest and cultivated land noting occasional Quercus incana (Grey Oak) and other trees. As we ascended the forest closed in, with just occasional clear areas. We saw a Rhododendron bush-- the first of many--and lots of other English garden plants: Berberis, Cotoneaster, Roses, Ferns and anemones. As we climbed ever upwards the Rhododendrons increased in number and size, eventually becoming giant trees with trunks so thick that two men could not encircle them. The quercus oaks became more numerous, as did Cedrus deodara; and the Deodar, Pinus longifolia, with its beautiful, long, softly-drooping needles, which was so common on the lower slopes, began to peter out.

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