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Darchula District Far West Nepal 2012

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From the 3nd of July to the 31st of July I was part of an international expedition exploring the flora of the Darchula district of Far West Nepal.  The expedition was organised and led by the Japanese Society of Himalayan Botany and consisted of six Japanese botanists from various Universities and research institutes in Japan, Dr Colin Pendry and myself from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and two Nepalese members of staff from the Nepalese Department of Plant Resources (DPR) who, like myself were to receive field skills training. The expedition was is part of the Flora of Nepal Project coordinated by the RBGE. All the specimen data, maps and the field images will (eventually) be freely available on and use the botanical locator link in the top right.

My part in the expedtion, as well as to recieve training, was to collect specimens for DNA analysis as part of my PhD project to investigate the biogeography of the Himalaya. I was reponsible for collectioning Ranunculaceae, Papaveraceae and Fabaceae. I am currently writing up the reports for the SRGC, who have yet again supported my studies. The SRGC library will recieve a written report with details of the expedition and a preliminary identification list of the the species that were collected. As well as this report for the library I am writing a version for the The Rock Garden.

As they will be a little while in the making and publishing I'll share some images of the landscape and some interesting plants. But I'll start with some statistics. We flew from Kathmandu to Dhanghadi at 80m above sea level (asl). Next day we were taken by Tata bus, basically a lorry with seats and no leg room, the 150km (90 miles) north to the start of the trek. The bus journey despite being a relatively short distance still took 13 hours. Our route was North up the Chamilaya Nadi. We walked for 8 days from our first camp in the school grounds at Dethala (730m asl) to reach Joge Tal our highest camp at 3800 asl about 65km (40 miles) to the North. We spent 4 nights at Joge Tal before retracing our steps.

This was a big expedtion consisting of 10 botanists, 10 sherpas, 1 sherpa leader, 1 cook, 5 kitchen staff, 65 porters. In total we collected 1178 herbarium specimens with 121 wood samples and 150 cytological samples.  Each herbarium specimen had seven duplicates made at the time of collecting. These were to distribute to various herbaria, unless they were CITES listed and in that case we collected two specimens for the two participating Nepalese institutes.

The image above is the view down on our highest camp at Joge Tal at 3800m. The camp was at the meeting three glaciers below the highest peak in the area Api at 7132m althought what you can see is the slightly lower second peak at 7076m.

The above image is the beautiful floriferous grazed pasture of the Joge Tal. We collected upwards of 40 species of flowering plants. At places the vegetations was easily 60cm-1m tall which is amazing for a grazed pasture. The regime was obviously just at the right level to keep the woody vegetation in check but not heavy enough to allow grasses to become dominant.

Above is one of the many bridges that fell into the category of 'Things not to tell your mother'. This particular bridge was made from Rhododendron arboreum stems woven together and with a covering of mud and was actually sturdier than it looked!

Cypripedium himalaicum growing at 4000m on the lateral moraine of the glacier coming down from the mountain of Bobaye east of Api.

Above is Silene nigrescens growing on top of the Bobaye glacier at about 4100m. We spent about an two hours collecting the plant community that was growing on top the glacier.

Finially today we have Saussurea obvallata this was growing to the east of the glacier about 4300m. We could smell the synthetic soapy citrus scent of the two flowering plants a good 500m away well before we spotted them.

Maggi Young:
Super to see this, Alan - I have edited your post to show the photos full size.

Brian Ellis:
Wonderful Alan, thanks for sharing this and I look forward to seeing more from the expedition.
Cheers ;D

Absolutely wonderfulo
--- Quote from: Brian Ellis on September 03, 2012, 03:57:59 PM ---Wonderful Alan, thanks for sharing this and I look forward to seeing more from the expedition.

--- End quote ---
Exactly what I was about to write!!!

Today I am going to start with a bit of egg sucking. First we have a map of Nepal with Kathmandu, Dhungadhi and Darchula District highlighted. The second map shows the camps we stayed a rough relief map and the heights of the camps and the mountains Api and Bobaye.

I’m sure most people will have a fair idea where Kathmandu is but Dhunghadi is rather off the beaten track. So to paraphrase Alec Guinness in Star Wars: “Dhungahdi. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Perhaps a bit harsh but it does have the feel of the Wild West. The airport is basic and run down, although it appears to be getting a car park. There is still evidence of the Far West’s recent troubled past with bunkers, trenches and barbed wire defences. Although nature is now taking it all back.  The following day we drove past a smaller airstrip near Gokuleshwor about an hour drive SW from Dethala. It had obviously been on the recieving end of a severe bombing. The control tower and landing strip were wrecked the whole thing had been bombed out of use presumably because the former Government did want it in controlled by the Maoists.

There are no commercial treks that go up to Api the way we did. So we camped when we found enough flat ground and this meant some days were relatively long compared to others. One of the most interesting camps we were at was a police check point above the Bitale hydroelectric dam construction site. To cross the dam there is a temporary scaffolding walkway that is bolted to the cliff to get you past the edge of the dam. When we got over it and in to the check point we found out that two folk had died 11 days earlier, killed by loose rocks falling on them while on the walkway. Sitting in camp we continually heard the ping of stone on metal and we'd watch the locals would run across it as fast as they could go, no matter their age.

If like Monty Don you are not a fan of Arisaema, apologies, but I am. I was first introduced to Arisaema when I was a student volunteer at Branklyn Garden in Perth by Boyd Barr. When I ended up at the RBGE I was fascinated by the distribution patterns within the genus. One of the first biogeography papers I read was on Arisaema and how with fossil evidence and molecular dating they estimated the divergence of the American species from the related Asian species. The timing suggested that the genus, like others, made use of the Bering land bridge. That blew my mind. That it was possible to do such a thing and as a result of that paper the analysis technique is something I am going to make use of in my PhD study and I’ll talk more about that another day.

Firstly there was Arisaema tortuosum. This species was fairly common but not abundant. It occurred from 800m right up to about 3000m. There was a fair amount of variation in the colour in spathe and sapdix and leaflet width. All inflorescence had the distinct smell of mushrooms found in this species. This species was generally found in shaded, rocky ground and especially growing out of dry stone dykes around villages.

Arisaema tortusoum was replaced as the common species in the valley by Arisaema jacquemontii above 2800m found as high as 4000m on the lateral moraines of the Bobaye glacier. Again found growing in amongst rocks but this time in open situations like boulder screes in the forest and in the grazed pasture near Joge Tal.  The wicked looking impliment next to the plant is imaginatively called a "digger" a useful tool for gouging out bulbous plants and sawing and hacking through woody roots.

Next up is Arisaema flavum. Much more restricted and only seen a  couple of times. This species is a particular favourite of mine, I think because it is the least sinister looking of the genus. This collection was just beyond Khayekot at 2100m in the forest, growing on a ledge at the base of a cliff. The Japanese also collected it at 2200m, on an open grassy hillside between Lithi and Khayekot. That collection was much taller approaching 1m and very robust, probably due to nutrition more than anything else.

Finally we have Arisaema utile and a gorgeous beast in my opinion. It was growing in truly remarkable mixed forest types north of Kayekot. The different types graded into one another and contained: Abies spectabilis, Acer campbellii, Alnus nepalensis, Betula utilis, Euonymus porphyreus, Rhododendron arboretum, Rhododendron campanulatum, Rhododendron barbatum, Sorbus cuspidata, Syringia emodi, Taxus wallichiana, Tsuga dumosa.


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