Submitted by gsparrow on
Barry Starling

In the spring of 1978 Boyd Kline wrote to me inviting me to join him and Reuben Hatch in an expedition to Kashmir to see its wonderful flora.

In the year following our expedition, Boyd wrote an account in the American Rock Garden Society Bulletin (now the Rock Garden Quarterly) vol. 37 no. 3, about perhaps the richest areas for plant treasures that we visited during that trip. Characteristically modest, he presents himself as the guy that just tagged along, but his contribution in the form of knowledge of the plants of the area was invaluable. At the time of the article, color was not used in the Bulletin so just five black-and-white photographs were published although Boyd had taken many excellent color shots. He described himself at the start of the article as “the old man of the mountains” so the following, fuller account of our travels is dedicated to that grand old man of the mountains.


Early on the morning of 18th July 1978, I picked up Boyd and Reuben from London’s Heathrow Airport for an overnight stop before all three of us were to continue to Delhi. There was time for a tour of my garden before lunch, and then we visited Kath Dryden, one of the most noteworthy of alpine gardeners of her time and a friend of Boyd’s for many years although they had never met. Kath conducted us around her collection of alpines and the plant talk flowed freely between the two old friends. Eventually, we settled down into comfortable armchairs in her house while she went off to make some tea. Returning shortly she found Boyd sound asleep. A transatlantic night flight followed by two garden tours had taken its toll.

Next day we set off for Heathrow at 4.45 a.m. The flight to Delhi and from there to Srinagar was uneventful apart from a few delays, and from Srinagar airport we made our way to a houseboat on Dal Lake which was to be our base for a few days. Many of the houseboats were modern but decorated with ornate wooden carvings – ours, however, was elderly and had seen better days. After a tasty supper we retired to our rooms tired from the journey. I tried to switch off the light but nothing happened: twice more I tried but still the light stayed on. The door was ill-fitting and did not close easily so I slammed it. Success – the door closed and the light went out simultaneously.

On 21st July we travelled west to Gulmarg, famous for its high- altitude golf course, but our sights were set on the magnificent mountain range which formed the backdrop to the course. We hired a guide and set off over the meadow, a land already rich with alpine flowers. Anemone obtusiloba, 15 cm. (6 inches) high, with petals blue, white, white with blue backs and vice-versa, flowers 2.5 cm. (1 inch) in diameter, studded the turf for as far as the eye could see. Tall elegant Arisaema tortuosa, a flower-arranger’s dream, displayed its curvaceous pale green spathes in the shade of boulders where the soil was moist. Pedicularis bicornuta held up spikes of cream, pouched flowers on 20-cm. (8-inch) stems. As we climbed higher there were two Corydalis species among the rock rubble – the yellow Corydalis racemosa, and yellow, purple-lipped C. thyrsiflora. At this point my American colleagues felt it necessary to correct my pronunciation - “You don’t say cory-dal-is” they said - “It’s cor-rid-alis” not with an emphasis on “dal” as in “pal” but with the the stress on “rid” as in “kid”. I was outnumbered so learned to say it their way. Two years later, talking to a group of plantsmen from the eastern USA, I commented “I know how to pronounce the name of that plant, you say cor-rid-alis.” “Oh no we don’t,” they chorused, “we say cory-dal-is.” I couldn’t win.

In sunny situations, flat-as-a-pancake rosettes of dark green leaves had at their centers blueberry buns of composite flowers. This was Jurinea dolomiaea, while close by were truly alpine in character mats of Androsace sempervivoides, each tiny rosette having at its center a five- petalled, rose-pink flower. Approaching a bend in the path we could smell fox but on rounding the corner we saw the source of the odour, a Codonopsis with large pale blue bells hanging from stems which trailed down the face of a large boulder. We were too late to see spectacular Fritillaria roylei in flower, only the green immature seed capsules and tired leaf stalks indicating its presence. Star-like Saussurea lappa was here in dark purple flower together with low mats of deep red-flowered Sedum quadrifidum, the flat heads being borne on 10-cm. (4-inch) stems.

Taller, and dotted sparsely among the boulders of that rocky landscape were the nodding yellow daisies of Cremanthodium decaisnei together with blue-purple to lilac-purple Primula macrophylla each with a deep purple eye. Close to my heart were two ericaceous plants: first the dark green mats of Gaultheria tricophylla studded with little white bells tinged pink, which would give way to turquoise-blue fruits nestling among the foliage. Secondly, Rhododendron anthopogon subsp. hypenanthum made low thickets with just a sprinkling of small creamy-yellow heads of tubular flowers. A persistent drizzle did little to dampen our spirits but we were not to know that this visit to Mount Aphorwat was just the aperitif to the feast of plant treasures that we were to see later.

On returning to Srinagar we started to plan for our trip to Leh, capital of Ladakh, but more specifically to the 4000m. pass to the north of that city. This we believed to be home to many plants that we were unlikely to see elsewhere as it was an oasis endowed with a higher rainfall and snowmelt water whereas the surrounding area was dry and somewhat barren.

Gulzar, our driver, introduced us to Abdul, the cook, and to our mode of transport, an ancient Jeep with tyres worn down in places
to the canvas, and as we were to learn later, a dodgy battery and temperamental armature. In this we were about to embark on a 560 km. roundtrip on dirt roads and with very few centres of civilization where spares or repairs could be obtained. As it happened, the state of the Jeep often worked to our advantage as, once mobile, our driver was reluctant to stop for us to botanise. Frequent breakdowns, however, allowed us time to explore the surrounding plant habitats. On one such occasion our stoppage blocked the road, bringing a 200-vehicle army convoy to 
a halt. A colonel, quite large and fearsome-looking, approached, looked under the hood, picked up a rock and struck the engine, or something adjacent, a hard blow then told our driver to try the starter. The engine roared into life and we were on our way again.

About a third of the way to Leh we crossed the Zoji-la, a high pass from fertile Kashmir into arid Ladakh. So startling was the change in vegetation that we began to question why we had come to this place.

It soon became evident that the plants of this region had evolved to protect themselves from grazing animals. Thistles and thorns were the order of the day and although often colorful, plants had an air of “touch-me-not” about them. We stopped by one of the few streams for lunch and Boyd cut slices of mango for some of the local children who had gathered round – this for them was a rare treat. Here was Lancea tibetica, a low, mat-forming herb with purple lobelia-like flowers. Boyd discovered a couple of interesting ferns and a corydalis with tall yellow spikes and blue-green ferny leaves. Here too we had our first encounter with Pedicularis tubiformis var. longiflorus. From tufts of pinnate hairy leaves, yellow flowers with a corolla tube nearly 7 cm. (3 inches) long emerged, the tube broadening into a wide, hooded flower with a crimson blotch at its centre. Standing out in the increasingly grey stony landscape were cushions of rose-pink Acantholimom lycopodioides, their stiff pointed leaves giving them the appearance of dark green hedgehogs on their way to a party. A thistle, Carduus thomsonii, though not in flower, was impressive with flat green rosettes, 30 cm (12 inches) wide, covered with a multitude of large, silver spines. More subtle with its defences was Astragalus cicerifolius, appearing as harmless-looking balls of soft, grey-green foliage. This had flowered and we could see seedpods deep within the plant, but attempting to get at them resulted in stabbed fingers. The midribs of the previous year’s leaves had persisted and hardened to become needle sharp – an effective defence against grazers and grabbers.

Eventually we reached Leh and set up camp on the edge of a field just outside of the town. Next morning we decided to walk into Leh to get a few provisions for our expedition up to the pass and Gulzar was to pick us up later after more tinkering with the Jeep. About halfway
to our objective, alongside the road, was a bank about 3 m. (10 feet) high from which gushed a spring liberally sprinkling water over the roadside, and under this natural shower stood a young western woman, blond, slender, attractive and stark naked. We three very respectable gentlemen continued along the road as if we had not even noticed that she was there. I have to admit that out of the corner of my eye I thought I glimpsed an amused smile on the face of this brazen young lady. Gulzar picked us up and we headed for the pass only to be turned back at a military checkpoint.

We returned to Leh and sought out the local chief of police to ask for permission to visit the pass but were told that he was unwell but he did emerge from his office for just long enough to tell us in no uncertain terms that we could not proceed to the pass. Undaunted we went to the District Commissioner, a pleasant, educated man who was sympathetic to our cause but explained that he could not even get permission for his wife, a Scottish lass interested in wild flowers, to go up to the pass. We gave up and decided to return the next day to Zoji-la where the grass was greener and the flora richer. That evening we passed on the tail of a bottle of whisky to our driver and cook before retiring to bed. Sleep was prevented by the increasingly vocal output from Gulzar and Abdul and soon after midnight a third voice joined in, an argument ensued ending in sounds of violence, and then silence. Next morning we emerged apprehensively from our tents expecting to see bodies strewn around but all seemed normal. Apparently the owner of the land on which we were camped had arrived demanding rent. Our driver and cook, no doubt with the best interests at heart, had refused and driven away the unfortunate landlord.

During our stay in Leh the only plant we saw worth recording was Iris lactea, a beautiful “weed” of the irrigation channels through cultivated fields. This very hardy species produced pairs of pale blue flowers, each 5 cm. (2 inches) wide, on 40-cm. (15-inch) stems Finally, at 10.30 a.m. on July 29th we arrived back at the Zoji-la to a fanfare of colour from brilliant scarlet Potentilla nepalensis, golden P. argyrophylla, and summer-sky blue Myosotis alpestris. We left the Jeep and eagerly climbed the mountain slope to the north, soon finding Androsace sarmentosa, a familiar plant in our gardens, followed by A. sempervivoides, first seen on Aphorwhat; A. chamaejasme, with the centre of the white corollas yellow initially but then turning red with age or pollination; and A. muscoidea with hairy grey mounds studded with white flowers.

Small clumps of electric blue Gentiana argentea were common, though more rarely seen were the hard mounds of Saxifraga jacquemontiana bearing plentiful yellow flowers on 5-cm. (2-inch) stems. This member of the Hirculus (now Ciliatae) section is unusual in the tight compactness of its rosettes.

The hillside was dotted with goats, one standing close to a particu- larly photogenic Rosa macrophylla, low-growing with sumptuous pink blooms 8 cm. (3 inches) in diameter. Boyd made to shoo the goat away so that he could photograph this beauty whereupon the goat turned to- wards the rose, plucked a prominent flower and ate it. Reuben, however, had gone on ahead, and soon we heard him bellow ”Paraquilegia.” We clambered breathlessly up to an area of bare rock to find Paraquilegia grandiflora in plenty, sprouting from the fissures and grit-filled hollows. Sadly it was over flowering but we were able to harvest numerous seed capsules from amongst the beautiful ferny green foliage.

Heading downwards we discovered a tiny, prostrate shiny-leaved willow, possibly Salix lindleyana, the Himalayan edelweiss (less spectacular than its European counterpart), and the large, white chalices of Anemone rupicola, each with a central yellow “button” of stamens. On close scrutiny we discovered that the reverse of each petal was soft pink. On reaching the Jeep we found that Abdul had prepared lunch which we ate amidst the black clouds of exhaust fumes from passing trucks.

Our next stop was Sonarmarg and it was the trek from there to Lake Krishensar and Lake Vishensar that Boyd Kline described in such detail in his 1979 article. His portrayal of the plants we saw and of our trials and tribulations make excellent reading so in this account I will mention just a few of the plants that made a lasting impression on me.

Soon after leaving Sonarmarg the moist grassy floor of the valley was home to countless Iris hookeriana with comparatively large, blue-purple flowers on 25-cm. (10-inch) stems. Towards the head of the valley where the sides became steep and rocky a corydalis had made its home in the rock faces. This was Corydalis crassifolia with thick fleshy leaves, blue- green and fan-shaped, surrounding a short, stocky stem bearing typical lavender and white flowers. Some had large inflated seedpods but each contained only one or two seeds. Close by on the same terrain were the starfish rosettes of Saussurea gnaphaloides,10 cm. (4 inches) in diameter, with fuzzy, bright purple-pink centres; and the plant which alone was worth coming all this way to see – Paraquilegia grandiflora in full and glorious flower, its 3-cm. (1.2-inch) “poppies” of lavender-blue or white waving on slender stems above delicate glaucous leaves. These were always found in a narrow band between about 4000 m. and 4200 m. on limestone or granite, in sun or shade but always in well-drained situations.

Intensely coloured natural rock gardens were made up of short- stemmed clumps of deep blue Mertensia tibetica interspersed with cushions of Androsace microphylla. A little earlier, Aquilegia nivalis, just 10 cm. (4 inches) tall with blue, black-centred flowers would have added to the display but here it was over although we saw it elsewhere. An aristocrat among the alpine flora was the shiny, gold-petalled Adonis chrysocyathus, equally attractive later when the flowers gave way to silky, silvery tasselled seedheads. This made plants 30-cm. (12-inch) high, in the wetter spots. Two garden favourites which it was good to see in the wild, also growing in wet areas, were Primula rosea and the “golfball” primula P. denticulata. Less common were purple or pink forms of P. elliptica and rose-pink P. macrophylla. After seeking Cassiope fastigiata high and low we eventually found it sparsely colonising cracks towards the summit of the mountain. Some years later I was to see it in Sikkim at 4000 m. growing like heather amongst the grass of the alpine meadows – a totally different environment.

Boyd has written of the icy dip we took in the glacial pool close to our camp. Freshened up by this after our day’s toil on the mountain we returned to camp to see a large pot bubbling away over our campfire. The two chickens that we had become accustomed to seeing scratching around the camp had disappeared, presumably into the pot. We sat around the campfire talking until nightfall, observing fat-bodied white moths attracted to the light of the fire. Eventually our meal was served – it tasted good and we were surprised to find crunchy croutons in the soup – an unexpected touch of sophistication in so remote a spot. On complimenting Abdul on his culinary prowess he laughed and pointed to the fat-bodied moths which we now saw were committing suicide into the pot. There seemed no point in throwing up our arms in horror, after all we had quite enjoyed them.

Next day we headed back to Sonarmarg and with the Jeep disabled took a tortuous journey in an overloaded bus the 135 km. back to Srinagar. From there we flew to Chandigar and then took a taxi to Simla where we booked in to the somewhat jaded Oberoi-Clarke Hotel and spent a couple of nights of rest and recuperation. On 6th August we headed north to Manali in the Kulu Valley from where we planned to set out for a few days camping beyond the 4300 m. Rhotang Pass. After a night at the Pinewood Guest House we decided to hire a Jeep to take us to the Rhotang Pass on amission to reconnoitre and establish if the flora warranted a further excursion. Apprehensively we rented a ramshackle vehicle complete with driver and co-driver to take us up to the mountains for a day. Reaching the pass, we discovered firstly that the goats had beaten us to it and secondly that the flowering season for many alpines was well on the way to being over. Nevertheless we soon found a large-flowered deep blue Cyananthus lobatus in the short cropped turf, followed by Rhododendron anthopogon subsp. hypenanthum and Cassiope fastigiatum, more robust and plentiful here than in Kashmir. In the rock garden Cyananthus species are always good for extending colour well beyond the usual spring season. Suddenly Boyd called out - he had found a beautifully compact form of Gaultheria tricophylla with broader-than-usual dark green leaves topped by a multitude of small white bells each with a pink tip to the corolla lobes and red calyces. Apart from three primulas and a corydalis we had seen earlier there was little else and we decided to abandon further exploration.

Getting back to the jeep after four hours, we found the two drivers had been smoking cannabis with all the windows closed and our doubts about their ability to drive us back down the mountain road were considerable. Reuben ordered the co-driver into the back and took over the seat beside the driver. A thick mist had descended and our driver assumed that what he could not see was not important. The journey
back was a nightmare; the clutch was failing, doors kept flying open, and
our driver sat placidly in place while the jeep gathered speed towards the first of many hairpin bends. By some miracle he negotiated this but approached the next bend at impossible speed. Reuben hauled on the handbrake while shouting to the driver to slow down and just in time we rolled to a halt. Reuben now ordered the driver out of his seat and got his slightly less stoned companion to replace him. We continued our perilous journey, during which the brakes finally burned out, the engine kept stalling and, before we got back to Manali, the exhaust system fell off.

On reaching the town we learned that further landslides would hold up the re-opening of the road so we decided to spend a couple more days exploring the local hills and then head back to Delhi early to allow for inevitable delays. Next day, while Boyd and Reuben headed into town to find a bank, I climbed a hillside to the west of Manali where the giant Himalayan lily, Cardiocrinum giganteum was reputed to grow. After three and a half hours searching I had not found it but did come across Wulfenia amherstiana growing on shady wet rocks, its multitude of small-flowered, lavender-blue spikes giving an ethereal appearance to the massive boulders. Sadly, the drier conditions of my English garden have prevented me from recreating this scene in cultivation. Growing on a rotten stump was a clump of Calanthe tricarinata, its 45-cm. (18-inch) stems bearing numerous typical red and yellow orchid flowers towards the tip. Easing away a small section of the clump I was later able to divide this into three to share with my colleagues and to subsequently enjoy many years flowering in a sheltered spot in my garden.

Unusually, in deep shade a campanula was growing, its pale grey- blue bells and trailing habit suggesting Campanula cashmeriana. Down by the river two impressive ferns grew between wet boulders. These proved to be Onychium lucidum and Polystichum acanthophyllum, the former with pale green 50-cm. (20-inch) fronds of most intricate filigree foliage, somewhat similar to those of the well known hare’s foot fern. As the specific name suggests, P. acanthophyllum, has fronds reminiscent of Acanthus in shape, dark green and firm textured. Subsequently both of these ferns received Awards of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society but neither proved totally hardy in the face of an extreme winter.

Next day Reuben and I took a taxi to Naggar, a small village further down the Kulu Valley where we visited an art gallery in the house of Nicholas Roerich, where his paintings are still housed, and then took a walk along a side valley. Growing in the bank alongside our path were hundreds of seedling conifers of various species. I gently eased a few from the bank, placed damp moss around the roots and put them in the pocket of a plastic raincoat. On our return to Manali I inadvertently left the raincoat in the back of a taxi. The following day we called a taxi and set out for Delhi and by coincidence this was our transport of the previous day. There was my raincoat complete with conifer seedlings. Two of those young plants, Picea smithiana and Cedrus deodara, are now 15-m. (50-foot) and 18-m.(60-foot) trees in my garden, serving as a frequent reminder of a fantastic trip with the best of companions.