25 June 2010

It is great to be back in Zhongdian. More so than Dali, it really feels like ‘coming home’.

Natalia and I travelled up from Lijiang together, but we had chosen different hostels to stay in. My priority was to have somewhere light to paint, even if it cost a little more – Natalia’s selection was based mainly on budget. However, she discovered her hostel was very dark and she was the only person staying there, so she moved in with me.

Within hours of arriving here I am bumping into people I got to know seven months previously. Dawan from N’s Kitchen who is now setting up his own restaurant business just below The Raven. The woman from the café opposite N’s remembers me, I bump into Tsabho – our driver on the expedition – and there’s Jason again.

I don’t know if the world is getting smaller for me, but there are so many coincidences and connections taking place. As we were walking through the square on our first evening we saw a troop of elderly people, all kitted out for trekking, hauling their cases on wheels over the cobbles, and wondered what sort of expedition they had been on. It turns out that it was a botanical trip for Nature Trek led by the naturalist Chris Gardner, who I had met in Shaxi last year with his amateur botanical artist fiancé. They have since married and their son is due to be born within a few days – he was very keen to return to England!

Chris’s sister-in-law is the amazing Turkish botanical artists Işik Güner, who won a Gold at the RHS exhibition I went to in early May – and best botanical painting for her depiction of the Chilean plant Araucaria araucana.  The standard at that exhibition was extremely high, with eight Gold medals – my ex-student Penny Fleming was thrilled to get Silver from the Lindley for her graphite work on plant galls.

I have also caught up with Uttara who runs an eco-tourism company, Christine who oversees an English training programme for local young people, and was surprised to bump into Jody who, if I remember rightly, is on a Fulbright scholarship studying bird migration.

Lovely as it is to spend time with all these people, my main thought has been to explore the flora. When I arrived last year I was catching the very tail end of the flowering season. Now, in June, I expect to find the wild flower meadows in full bloom. And so they are!

Invarillea zhongdianensis

I hire a bicycle and ride around Napahai (Napa Lake) and can hardly contain my excitement.

Napahai farming

For the wild flowers are in profusion. Primulas, lilies, orchids – and Meconopsis horridula, the Himalayan blue poppy.

Meconopsis horridula

I had hoped to be able to sketch in situ but every time I stop to take a photo I am attacked – and bitten – by huge ants and horse-flies.

Primula - Androsace spinulifera?

Slipper orchid

The sun is scorching and the light reflecting off the paper blinding.

I have to content myself with taking hundreds of photos and gathering a few samples to sketch back at the hostel.

But it’s another beautiful day and who wants to spend it inside when I can see the flowers in the wild?

I guess this is the conflict facing anyone with a love of nature who is also attempting to depict it – there is equal satisfaction in both.

Primula sp