HOW did CHRIS Chadwell's EXPEDITIONS to HIMALAYA begin?

Chris was sitting in a lecture theatre in his final year studying botany at the University of Southampton in 1980, when another student came up to him and asked if he would be interested in joining a University Expedition to India that summer. He had never heard of the destination, Ladakh, sometimes known as 'Little Tibet', located in in the Trans Himalaya or borderlands of Western Tibet. Fatefully, he agreed and became leader of the botanical project within what was primarily an ornithological expedition to undertake a bird ringing programme near Leh in the Upper Indus Valley.  The plant side of things involved a survey of the vegetation of the Suru Valley, requiring the collection of pressed specimens of the vegetation (in triplicate) - the sets were deposited in the herbaria of the Universities of Kashmir & Southampton plus the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew.  Chris had missed a small advert on the Departmental Noticeboard:


Notice on Botany Department Noticeboard seeking a botanist to join the University Ladakh Expedition in 1980 - which Chris missed!

Newspaper cutting from the 'Southern Echo' May 1980

Regrettably, Chris became seriously ill during the expedition and was forced to return home early, in such a state that he only just made it; despite the leader and co-leader of the expedition having visited the region before, medical/first aid supplies were inadequate, the other team members did not understand basic first aid (every member should have undertaken training prior to departure); Chris had received some training due to his spell as an acting Midshipman in the Royal Naval Reserve whilst studying at University and experience in the hills of Wales plus no water filter was taken - both inexcusable omissions; strange that a Southampton Expedition to the region the following year took one. Leaders have the grave responsibility for the safety and well-being of others when travelling in any mountainous region, let alone in India. For most participants in student expeditions they tend to be one-offs prior to them embarking on a full-time career in an un-related field and to be honest, most participants do not take their roles seriously, with little of consequence being achieved (nor I now realise,
expected).  

Members of the expedition having arrived in the emerald-green (paddy fields) Kashmir Valley after crossing through the Banihal Pass tunnel - delighted with Cannabis sativa growing as a road-side weed (boringly, I have never even indulged in a tobacco cigarette)

The ancient truck we headed down the Suru Valley from Kargil in - which broke down regularly, not helped by the 40+ (including us) in the back! I did initially ride in the 'box' over the cab, enjoying the freedom, though soon discovered why none of the locals had chosen this spot; gradually willow branches which overhung section of the 'road' (rough track, really) starting to swish into my face, finally I was hit by a thick branch on my nose, forcing me to beat a hasty retreat back to the scrum in the back!  © Chris Chadwell (excuse the quality of the photo; my camera really was cheap & cheerful)

Had things gone well for him, that, in all probability would have been the case for Chris Chadwell - though he had taken his participation too seriously, in what had in the eyes of the leaders, primarily been an ornithological undertaking. However, after he had physically and mentally recovered from such a traumatic experience, which would shatter the confidence of most people, Chris felt compelled to "set the record straight", convinced he could organise and lead an expedition much better himself, being perfectly capable of coping with travel (and other demands faced) in the Indian subcontinent and high mountains - and so it has proven, despite having more than his fair share of major gastro-intestinal/food-poisoning episodes!  After all, most people have an Achilles Heel....What a pity he did not know of a wonder remedy, recommended to him by a UK doctor many years later, who had led medical projects in the Indian sub-continent.  This always "cleared-up" Chris' problems within 24 hours, rather than the bottle of kaolin & morphine, the ONLY remedy the woeful medical kit had back in 1980, which merely made him vomit.  To put things graphically, at one point, "it was coming out of both ends up to 10 times a day"..... Not a good place to be, with un-sympathetic "innocents abroad" not versed in basic hygiene or first aid skills, as was the case with his fellow team-members; he would have been better off alone.  A word of advice for would-be travellers to remote places - select your travel companions carefully!    Still, I suppose, one must "pay a price" in life for what follows.



Front cover of expedition report - regrettably, not one Chris can look back on with fond memories; as is said,
 "If something does not kill you, it makes you stronger"....

The 1980 Southampton University Expedition had followed on from the 1976 one, which covered the Upper Indus Valley, not far from Leh.  On that occasion, the 'Medical Officer' (a fifth year medical student) collected a set of pressed plant specimens for the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. Why Ladakh, you might be asking? In part, the choice lay in the region had just opened to foreigners, after being closed following Indian Independence and encroachment by Chinese forces into a part of Easter Ladakh, though much was to do with it being a suitable destination for a student expedition (i.e. one which could take place during 'summer holidays' although for four of the members who graduated that summer, they were obliged to miss their degree awarding ceremonies - no doubt much to the disappointment of their parents).  Ladakh, being in a rain-shadow area, means it is not troubled by the monsoon rains which afflict the Indian States of Himachal Pradesh and eastwards - mind you, the Kashmir Valley is also largely free from monsoon rains. Field-work is much easier (and safer) under such drier conditions. Chris himself, oddly, enjoys rain but for most normal people, their spirits drop when it rains, as he subsequently discovered when leading tours in the NW Himalaya. Chris went on to lead two (the first as a replacement for Oleg Polunin) botanical tours (where he showed clients the best of he flowers) for a specialist travel company in the mid-1980s, undertaking treks in the Miyah Nullah, Lahaul (another Tibetan borderland district) and a pony trek in Kashmir for a different company, all during July - the height of the summer and peak time for flowering in the Trans Himalaya (albeit that on the latter occasion, progress had to be halted in the early stages of the trek due to snow lying much later than usual, making it unsafe to negotiate a steep pass - leading to unhappy clients; something a tour leader must accept, as better complaints than seriously injured or even dead ones, though not that easy to carry off when only mid-twenties, with the participants all 60+). Summer months in much of the Himalaya is not a good time to travel, with bridges frequently being washed away.  Those who follow historically the attempts to climb Everest (and other Himalayan peaks) will note that attempts tend to be either pre- or post-monsoon and wisely so!  Mountains should be treated with respect, unless one has a death-wish.


First page of Preliminary Systematic Listing of botanical specimens collected during University of Southampton Ladakh Expedition 1980, compiled by Chris Chadwell, following identifications undertaken by herbarium staff at the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew.

So what led Chris to dedicate his life, on a not-for-profit (in fact 'for a loss') basis to the study, cultivation and conservation of Himalayan flora? Prior his first expedition, Chris had researched the sort of plants likely to be encountered.  There was only a strictly limited amount of information available. The main reference being R.R.Stewart's 'Flora of Ladakh, Western Tibet (as the region was known during the days of the British in India, though strictly-speaking it was never 'Tibetan' territory but within what was to become, at partition of India, the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir) published 1916-17. Stewart was awarded a doctorate by the University of Columbia (New York) for his studies on the flora of Ladakh based upon visits and the pressed specimens he collected there in 1912 & 1913.  Since the publication of this 'flora' (in fact, just a check-list) dating back to World War I and being more than 60 years later, Chris assumed that the author would have passed away.  Upon return from his first expedition and discovering, much to his surprise, that Stewart was still alive, Chris was determined to try and get to meet him!


Front page of Stewart's 'Flora of Ladakh' with an example from his check-list covering species of Primula recorded from the region.

After his journeys to Ladakh more than a century ago, Stewart went on to teach at and then become Principal of Gordon College, Rawalpindi (in what was to become Pakistan). Upon his retirement he was appointed (aged 70) a Research Associate at the University of Michigan Herbarium at Ann Arbor where he worked for 20 years on the 30,000 accumulated pressed specimens from the Western Himalaya, which had been collected, mostly in the 1930s by Dr Walter Koelz and Thakur Rup Chand. He, with the help of specialists, identified the specimens, had them mounted & labelled, then incorporated into the herbarium - they represent the best set of specimens covering the Kulu Valley & Lahoul in any herbarium in the world.  In 1972 Stewart published "An Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of W.Pakaistan & Kashmir" - a thousand page checklist of the flora of the region. During his decades in Pakistan, Stewart, during his holidays and free time made extensive collections of pressed specimens of the country's flora, which he curated into a herbarium at Gordon College.  The Stewart collection, became the National Herbarium whilst his catalogue formed the basis of a family-by-family revision of Pakistan's flora.


'An Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Pakistan and Kashmir' compiled by Dr R Stewart - which went on to form the basis of 'The Flora of Pakistan' - there is still no such listing for India.

By the 1980s Stewart was living in a Home for Retired Presbyterian Missionaries at Duarte, California.  Chris was able to visit him in 1983 on the understanding that he was interested in compiling an up-to-date flora for Ladakh (Stewart's 'flora', more than half a century earlier had merely been a check-list).  At the end of the visit Stewart handed Chris his final copy of his 'Annotated Catalogue' (with hand-written annotations within it) and the first typed pages of a 'Flora of Ladakah & Baltsitan'.  Having a copy of Stewart's catalogue to-hand (most copies are restricted to libraries in botanical gardens around the world) has proven invaluable, as Chris has referred to it literally thousands of times; this has greatly enhanced Chris' knowledge of the flora of the Western Himalaya, drawing upon Stewart's unrivalled knowledge of the flora of the region. Whilst Stewart was not a plant taxonomist, he was an excellent field botanist and spent a lot of time in herbaria, such that his observations within his catalogue about taxonomic revisions and related topics are always sound & reliable.


Oleg Polunin on a pass in Kashmir, with Nanga Parbat (one of the world's highest peaks) in the distance - he was helpful and encouraging during several visits Chris made to his home in Godalming, Surrey as Chris began his interest in Himalayan flora; perhaps, being a former botany master at Charterhouse, he liked to see a younger person pursue botanical studies seriously.  Strangely enough, Chris was actually born in Godalming, back in 1958 - though only lived there a matter of weeks. What a difference it makes when well-known figures are prepared to spend time to help young people along.  Unfortunately, Chris has had to contend with a number of individuals who have been the exact opposite!
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By 1982 Chris became team-leader of a survey of riverside vegetation in Wales. He began organising his first expedition to the Himalaya - which resulted in the 'Kashmir Botanical Expedition, 1983'. He liaised with the University of Kashmir, receiving particular help from the Survey of Medicinal Plants Unit there.  But the most important aspect of the trip was that contact was made with P.Kohli & Co., a long-standing horticultural firm, established in 1928 by Prem Nath Kohli.  In 1984 Chris secured a summer contract as a field a field surveyor for the Wales Field Unit of the old Nature Conservancy Council but such employment, almost always on a short-term contract basis, was hard to find.  The prospects for permanent employment as a botanist in one of the few herbaria in the UK, seemingly non-existent, so Chris, with no family commitments at that time, decided to embark on a career as a 'freelance' botanist, lecturer and seedsman, establishing Chadwell Seeds in 1984 (he specialised in Japanese and Himalayan seed, the latter supplied through P.Kohli & Co., who held an export license).

You can learn more about Kohli by reading through the pages of the 'Himalayan Plant Association' section of this web-site, such as: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/main/kohli-memorial-gold-medals

Prospectus for Kashmir Botanical Expedition 1983 prepared by graphic artists Harry Humphries

Postcard of houseboats on Dal Lake, Kashmir Valley

Local fisherman on Dal Lake, Kashmir Valley

Sunset with gondola-like shikaras being paddled on Dal Lake, Kashmir Valley














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