How did it all begin?

For images of Chris' exploring in the mountains during his expeditions in the 1980s, see below

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.  Regrettably, he became seriously ill 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 and no water filter was taken - both inexcusable omissions. 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.  Had things gone well, that, in all probability would have been the case for Chris Chadwell. However, after he had physically and mentally recovered from such a deeply unpleasant experience of something going so badly wrong, 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 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!  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 our 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.  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.

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 discovering that Stewart was still alive, Chris was determined to try and get to meet him!

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.

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.

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:  In 1985 he returned to Kashmir to undertake another botanical expedition being hosted at the family home of Mrs Urvashi Suri, daughter of Kohli and by then Proprietor of P.Kohli & Co.  That summer Chris led his first botanical tour, showing a group of 12 plant enthusiasts the flowers of Lahoul, Himchal Pradesh, for West Himalayan Holidays.



Upper Lidder Valley with Mt. Kolahoi just visible top left

Mt. Kolahoi (centre, top)

Mt. Kolahoi's North glacier

Snout of Kolahoi's North glacier - the source of the Lidder river

Mt. Kolahoi

Snout of Kolahoi's south glacier

On Kolahoi's south glacier

Chris with local village men employed as porters to help establish a camp below Mt.Kolahoi



Sunset Peak, Pir Panjal Range

View from Col

Saussurea simpsoniana - a 'Snowball Plant'

Saussurea simpsoniana - a 'Snowball Plant'

Saussurea simpsoniana - a 'Snowball Plant'

Saussurea simpsoniana - a 'Snowball Plant'