The Trek for the Mountain Rhododendron

 

by Head Hunter Ian Chalk

Witnessing the peak flowering time for rhododendrons in Nepal is an unforgettable experience. In April, 2008, my wife Jenny and I joined a trek to the Ghorepani region in the foothills of the Annapurna Mountains in Nepal.

This fascinating trek of over fifty km is only accessible by foot and follows ancient trade routes though terraced farmlands of wheat and millet. We passed mules transporting produce, plus a large volume of building goods and supplies being carried by the Nepalese to accommodate the tourists at their Tea Houses. Many small villages of stone buildings provide welcome rest breaks and overnight accommodation, with the largest village of the region being Ghandruk.

At 2700 m, as we approached Tadapani, we entered one of the largest Rhododendron forests in the world. There, we saw Rhododendron arboreum trees reaching over twenty m in height, with trunk diameters of a meter, which we found mind boggling. The exposed root systems of these ancient trees showed that many people had trodden this path before us. At this elevation on the 24th of April, 2008, the Rhododendrons in this area of high quality soil were just past their peak flowering, and were almost too tall for us to see their flowers from ground level. One can only speculate on their age. Grey Langur monkeys (Semnopithecus spp.) were seen swinging 20 m up amongst the remaining rhododendron flowers.

We departed Tadapani after an outdoor breakfast, which gave us our first brief glimpse through the morning haze of the Annapurna Range. We descended steeply before climbing again towards Deorali at 3100 m. The sight as we approached Deorali was one never to be forgotten.

At this higher elevation, R. arboreum and R. campanulatum were interspersed with the evergreen fir (Abies) and hemlock (Tsuga) trees. All these species clung to steep mountain sides and filled the valleys, but could not achieve the large sizes we saw the previous day because of the higher elevation and poorer soils.

The next morning we were up before dawn to ascend the nearby Gurung Hill (3300 m), which gave us more views of the Annapurna Range.

While many rhododendron species are native to Nepal, their diversity was limited in the area we visited; a greater diversity in Nepal exists further to the East. We can only imagine the feeling to walk through a native Nepalese forest of the larger-leafed R. protistum var. giganteum, which grows to 25 m.

Words are unable to really describe our experience, and while our photos will help you to imagine it, there is only one real way to fully appreciate a Nepalese rhodo forest in its peak flowering—to actually visit it!