Posted tagged ‘Lachung’

Dark Clouded Yellows amongst the Rhododendrons

7 May 2007

Singba rhododendron sanctuaryLachung 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.

Singbasanctuary gateYou 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.

Rhodo 00An 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.

Primula with DCY 1We 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.

primula with DCY2Between 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.

DCY angledThe 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.

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Swallowtails by the roadside

6 May 2007

LachungLachung is the jump off for the beautiful Lachung valley which contains the Singba Rhododendron sanctuary, Yumthang alpine meadow and hot springs, the Dombang vale and the beautiful outpost of Shiv Mandir. The many small quaint bed & breakfast type lodges line both sides of the road in Lachung. Once the Lachung monastery was visible from all over town, but the new found economic boom has resulted in raw, brick and RCC buildings blocking off the view. Lachung is one of the best places to see the high altitude butterflies – even when you are rushed for time.

In the narrow roads, if you are coming from across the Lachung Chhu, the vehicle has to climb up to the main road junction at the State Bank of India and back twice and turn to face Yumthang. Just as our Gypsy turned, a flurry of fast yellow butters flew off from the rd side drain beyond. I was instantly charged up. They looked a little like Lime butterflies but had tails – I could hardly wait for one of them to settle down. When they did, there was no doubt – they were Common Yellow Swallowtails or Papilio machaon. This butterfly is the Common Swallowtail of Europe and the British Isles, and it occurs in our country in the Palearctic zone – the upper part of Himalayas where conifers and rhododendrons are to be found! The swallowtails were sitting on the sandy bottom of the drain and sucking the moisture.

Common Yellow SwallowtailPhotographing them was a trial. They would zoom to a spot, hover for a while and perch enticingly. Just when you line up your camera and get it focussed it moves or flies off. My first snap had no CYS, the second, third and fourth caught it as a blurred figure in flight…. it took ten minutes of patient waiting to get them. But yet they made my life miserable by unpredictably moving forward to find a nicer spot to probe. So one of my shots has the butterfly on edge in the image. Aargh, great viewing but no really good shot before its time to go.

Common Yellow SwallowtailWatching them was a pleasure! There, all of us stood watching the butterflies performing for us.They swooped back and forth to the same spots, hovered awhile, selected a place to alight, probed awhile with wings held half-open. The Swallowtail has a furry body with nice pointed tails, different from the spatulate tips of the Common Mormon and its mimicry models of the plains. The wings are an intricate network of black on yellow-green background. The Swallowtail has a dark band along the termen of the hindwings with a set of black-bordered blue spots and an orange patch on the tornus which are quite catchy to look at. The Swallowtail is not the flashiest of Indian papilionids but I found it growing on me very fast. I found greater pleasure watching its graceful flight than I had found watching the Great Mormon or the Blue Peacocks some months ago!