Dark Clouded Yellows amongst the Rhododendrons
Lachung is characterised by the high mountains with snow covered slopes bordering both sides of this beautiful Himalayan valley. The snowclad summits give way to dwarf junipers, to bubbling streams amongst rockfalls, large snowbanks where the steepness ends and finally onto Rhododendron covered valleysides. The sun shines crisply, there is a brisk cold breeze and wild flowers of various kinds abound with alpine butterflies.
As you climb up from Lachung town, after three kilometers you come across the Dombang Mod. If you choose to accept this alluring invitation, you follow a winding path amongst large conifers and huge boulders on which are to be found ‘rock gardens’ and which ends in a miniature paradise. We turned resolutely from the inviting detour towards the main road for we were after the Big Fisshh…the Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary. My father-in-law Mr Nandan Kalbag, is a plant person – he loves plants, studies them, both wild and domesticated, and they reward him for his attention and affection with a living. And this is why I have chosen Lachung for our holiday – his first meeting with Rhododendrons.
You dont need to carry maps to reach Singba. The road from Lachung goes straight through. After Singba, it leads to the hotsprings, and then to the alpine meadow of Yumthang and terminates in a series of hair-pin bends at Shiv Mandir. Ahead of this, the status of the road is uncertain. There is a kutcha track which leads to the border outposts of the ITBP under the shadow of the majestic Paunhunri massif. Ahead of this is the Chumbi valley, which is part of Tibet and China.
An arch across the road indicates that you have reached the Singba Rhodo sanctuary. An inviting notice finds you stopping the vehicle to know more about the sanctuary, but sadly, it is the usual govt bureaucratese…Singba is a boulder ridden slope punctuated by wide fastflowing streams. In between the rocks are interspersed the Rhododendrons.
Rhododendrons come in glorious variety. At first glance, you notice nothing but the flower bunches which adorn the bushes and trees. The rich red colour seems to directly nourish the soul and it is difficult to draw your eyes away. After feasting awhile on this sight, you now begin to notice that amidst the red swathes, are bunches of white, pink, mauve, yellow and purple flowers. You realise that the Rhodos are everywhere – trees, bushes, shrubs and herbs, all with oval dark green leaves of various shapes and size. The trees are well spaced apart, about fifteen feet high at the most. Sunshine and cool breeze wafts through.
We wander around, Papa looking at the flowers, Aashay and Aditi are thrilled at the snow banks which have come onto the road, and they begin throwing snowballs. Amita and Amma lounge by the Gypsy, content to drink in the sights and watch the antics of the children. I wander around to look at the butterflies.
Between the rhodos, small patches of moss-covered earth harbour rosettes of green leaves from which arise pale-green stalks tipped with beautiful purple globes of Primula denticulata. Here, these are the only flowers to be seen, asides from the reds. Butterflies zoom between them, sometimes basking on a rock or bough or sometimes sipping from these beautiful primulas. There are tortoiseshells, blues which never let me get close and an occassional large cabbage white. And the stars of this place – the Dark Clouded Yellows Colias croceus. You see them first as deep rich patches of yellow which flit from bloom to bloom.
The clouded yellows perch on the primula, show their open wings for awhile, and then fold them. They are wary, do not allow me close, and they are restless, the cold breeze causing them to relocate frequently. They have the quaint habit of high altitude butterflies of perching at an angle. You can see this in the third snap. I noticed this in Nandadevi with other butterflies – dark clouded yellows, tortoiseshells and snow apollos; all of them did this – why? To get more sunlight? To avoid losing heat? To cater for the wind? It is one of those behavioural problems worthy of investigation.
During the time we were at Singba, the Primulas seemed to attract Dark Clouded Yellows only, the Tortoiseshells prefer to bask on rocks. The blues favoured thin small white flowers of an indistinct herb. The Rhododendrons seem to attract no butterflies at all! Singba is lovely, the Dark Clouded Yellows are lovely! But Pappa has photographed seven varieties of Rhododendron and we have to move on to Yumthang, if we are to be back in time to have lunch in Lachung.