The Winter Garden
Botanically, the Himalayan region provides one of the most biodiverse and legendary sites of exploration for expeditions, from mountaineers to plant hunters and tourists lured by the possibility of climbing an unnamed peak, or identifying a scientifically undiscovered species. The Himalayas are the source of many common associations between plants and people, offering the world thousands of valuable species from jute (Corchorus capsulari) to tea (Camellia sinensis). At the same time, it boasts the highest altitude above sea level—Mount Everest, at 8,849 meters. After 1951, expeditions grew in popularity as the thrill of discovery, the treacherous terrain, and the socio-cultural conflict all made for true adventure and great sto- rytelling. Plant introductions from Nepal number in the thousands, and significantly underscore the expansion of Arboreta, botanic gardens, and the nursery trade in the UK and North America.
For example, E.H. Wilson introduced over
1,000 plants into cultivation. See the three
volume Plantae Wilsonianae: An Enumeration
of the Woody Plants Collected in Western
China for the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard
University During the Years 1907, 1908, and
1910, accessed through the Biodiversity
Heritage Library; biodiversitylibrary.org
Mani are Buddhist sacred walls, heavy piles of stone blocks carved with delicate Tibetan script and imagery. A mani wall is at once a religious practice and a geologic structure. Its dual nature overcomes any academic disagreement that aims to rationalise the age, practice, and location of each construction. This mani wall was originally built 400–600 years ago, when Langtang Valley was first settled; it lies one day’s walk above the former Langtang Village, near the village of Mundu. A mani wall acts as a local flow barrier, deflecting and diverting energy—to keep dangerous animals away from homes, or to mark a landslide and divert future ones. Upon passing the wall, a human body becomes a participant in its ritual, as we chant the Sanskrit mantra Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ in slow, quiet voices.
“The upper Langtang is a fine, open valley, rich in flowers and grass, and flanked by great mountains. It is a graziers paradise. At 3,300 metres one might expect to find a few rough shelters occupied only in the summer, but at Langtang there is a settlement of some thirty families rich in cows, yaks, and sheep. These are, besides, like young Osric, spacious in the possession of dirt; for their fields are no mere pocket-handkerchief terraces clinging to the hillside but flat stone-walled fields of an acre of more growing wheat, buckwheat, potatoes, turnips, and a tall, beardless barley called kuru.”
H.W. Tilman, “Nepal Himalaya,” in House
of Snow, eds. Ranulph Fiennes and Ed
Douglas (London: Head of Zeus, 2016), 1–13.
— H.W. Tilman, Nepal Himalaya
There are 7,000 species of flowering plants and 400 species of pteridophytes native to Nepal, and because it only reopened to exploration in 1951, much of Nepal remains a source of scientific discovery.
9It might come as a surprise that plant hunting continues in this era of environmental awareness and conservation. Simply, as long
Narayan P. Manandhar, The Plants and
People of Nepal (Portland: Timber Press,
as horticulture, medicine, and agriculture persist, plant hunters will continue to collect. The undertaking escalates in relevance as changes in the global climate are reflected in seasonality, growth patterns, and geographical distribution. Glacial melt and declining river flows are inextricably linked to disappearing fodder and novel habitats for species that have been buried or dormant for thousands of years.