Submitted by gsparrow on
Panayoti Kelaidis

In the winter issue of the Quarterly I described a bit of an overview of my trip to Sikkim, concentrating on the first few days: outings in eastern Sikkim to Tsomgo Lake and a nearby woodland, and then spending a day exploring subalpine woodlands and meadows near Lachung which certainly produced a rich harvest of photographs and plants new to me. For the subsequent three days, we focused our sights further northward towards Tibet, traversing the “Valley of Flowers” or Yumthang Valley on three separate occasions. The vegetation along this road is among the richest I have encountered anywhere in my travels. Every few hundred feet seemed to unfold a whole new suite of trees, shrubs, and herbs. The Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary straddles the midsection of the principal highway in eastern Sikkim heading towards Tibet, reputedly possessing 24 species of rhododendrons and is the focus of many tours targeting rhododendron lovers. The range of size, foliage color, and flowers on the rhododendrons here was astonishing. Tiny Rhododendron lepidotum blooms in lemon yellow, tan, and deep purple forms. At the other end of the spectrum, R. hodgsonii towered almost 20 feet (6 m) with enormous leaves up to 15 inches (38 cm) long. There were lingering blossoms on a few species (and we were to see peak bloom at the highest elevations later in the west), but April and May are when most of the rhododendrons bloom and that’s when enormous crowds of Indians and foreign tourists drive up to see them with the bright white Himalayas as a crystalline backdrop.