Kohli Memorial Gold Medals

Chris Chadwell would be pleased to receive suggestions as to who else should be recognised and honoured by the Himalayan Plant Association for making a significant contribution to the study, cultivation or conservation of Himalayan plants - whether individuals or institutions. He is especially keen to hear of Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese or Bhutanese botanists (professional or amateur), horticulturists or conservationists who you consider deserve being considered for this honour - we do make posthumous awards.

Chris Chadwell paying tribute to Prem Nath Kohli at a commemorative event in Delhi
 
In 1935 the Royal Horticultural Society awarded its prestigious gold medal for collections of seeds and bulbs of highly ornamental Kashmir flowers, which had been sent from the Maharajah, to be grown in the gardens at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace.  Lord Wigram, Private Secretary to King
George V, commented, "His Highness must have enlisted the services of some very skilful and scientific botanist to make such a collection...."  Whilst Thomas Hay, Superintendent of the Royal Parks & Gardens, observed that the collector, "has an eye for a good species and one that is likely to be appreciated as a garden plant". 
 
That person was Prem Nath Kohli - Kashmir Forest department ranger turned horticulturist and conservationist.  Kohli was appointed manager of His Highness Maharajah Hari Singh's private estates in 1946.  He had earlier been been nominated to escort the then Vicerne (wife of the Viceroy),
Her Excellency Beatrix Stanley, during her visit to Kashmir - who was impressed both with his knowledge of botany and simple ways.  In 1928 he established P.Kohli & Co. in Srinagar, Kashmir.
 
Regrettably, it was not Kohli who was acknowledged or received the gold medal but the senior Forest Officer of the district where Kohli was based - even though this officer had little knowledge of Kashmir flora and resided in his office most of the time! Such was the way things operated in British India at that time. And one cannot blame either Wigram or Hay, as material reaching England, though in all probability carefully packed by Kohli himself, would not have had his name attached.
 
Despite meeting Kohli on a number of occasions, he never mentioned the matter, graciously accepting the situation. But when this was drawn to my attention by family members, I made inquiries and by the 1990s had accumulated sufficient independent evidence to confirm it was indeed Kohli who travelled extensively in Kashmir and Ladakh searching for garden-worthy plants on behalf of the Maharajah.  
 
It was not appropriate to attempt to cancel a medal awarded more than 70 years ago. A senior former figure in the Royal Horticultural Society looked into the matter and agreed that Kohli's efforts warranted considered for an award but the RHS do not give posthumous awards.  As Kohli had passed away in 1986, it was too late.
 
However, when in 2003, the Himalayan Plant Association created a new award to be bestowed on those who have made a significant contribution to the study, cultivation or conservation of Himalayan flora, Kohli was the obvious candidate to be the first recipient, albeit posthumously.  Upon reflection though, it seemed fitting that modest and unassuming Prem - a gentle man and true gentleman, would have preferred to honour others.  Hence 'The Kohli Memorial Gold Medal' was created - each time it is awarded Prem Nath Kohli is remembered and respected.  The way he conducted himself set a fine example for all his fellow countrymen and women to follow.

RECIPIENTS

The Kohli Memorial Gold Medal, which honours Prem Nath Kohli - an Indian Forestry Ranger turned horticulturist and conservationist (1895-1986) - is awarded to individuals and institutions who have made a significant contribution to the study, cultivation or conservation of Himalayan flora. 

P.N.KOHLI

A majority of recipients to-date have been locals, past and present, who live or lived in the Himalaya, which is fitting as one of the award's objectives is to bring recognition and esteem to help encourage importance to be attached to excellence in the fields of botany and horticulture in the Indian and Nepalese Himalaya.  As Kohli rightly observed, why should 'Britishers' come on short visits and then be the ones to write books or publish articles about our history, culture and plant-life, when we Indians have greater knowledge and better understand these topics.  

Too often in the past, the contributions of locals were ignored or dismissed.  Even to this day, specialist botanical tours (holidays viewing wild flowers) are organised to the Himalaya, supposedly "In the footsteps" of famous plant hunters, when locals had contributed as much, if not more, to plant exploration in these regions - or in some cases the Britishers had never even been there! 
 
Kohli's expertise was built upon extensive field-work and hands-on practical skills. The recipients of these Gold Medals have been awarded them as a result of spending time in the Himalaya and/ or decades cultivating Himalayan plants in their gardens.  After all, the only way to become familiar with Himalayan flora is to spend time in the Himalaya or growing it!  

Accurate assessment as to which species are "Rare and Endangered", a popular 'Conservation' theme in India, cannot accomplished without field botanists who can reliably identify plants and have undertaken thorough and extensive surveys - backed up by quality reference collections of pressed specimens in well-curated herbaria at Universities.  And the only way to learn about growing Himalayan plants is from long-term "hands-on" practical experience...... 
 
Unfortunately, these days, whether in Europe, North America or the Indian sub-continent, traditional botany and botanists are increasingly being replaced by laboratory-based scientists conducting high-tech research. Spending time in the high mountains is viewed as old-fashioned - not an attractive proposition for most young people.
 
There is an urgent need for enthusiastic young men and women in India, Nepal, or Bhutan, with a passion for plants to follow in Kohli's footsteps and spend time in their mountains.
2016

DR RALPH RANDLES STEWART (USA)


Dr Stewart was given this award posthumously, with the details and announcement appearing in the July 2016 issue of the Himalayan Plant Association Journal.  I had originally hoped to present it in person during my 2011 lecture tour in the US, either after a lecture to the society which published his 'Flora of Ladakh, Western Tibet' back in 1916/17 in their Journal or at the university in New York which awarded his doctorate (along a similar basis to what I did at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, for Dr Walter Koelz) but no interest was shown.  Failing either of these, I thought it might be possible to arrange a presentation at an informal gathering of members of Stewart's extended family but they are scattered across America and one even in Africa, such that this did not materialise.  
 
2012
 
BOTANY DEPARTMENT, UNIVERSITY OF KASHMIR (India) 

Mrs Urvashi Suri, one of P.N.Kohli's daughters, presenting gold medal and certificate to
Professor Reshi, Head of Botany Department, Hazratbal Campus, University of Kashmir 

Faculty Members with Mrs Suri,  a graduate of the botany department's first M.Sc.
class in the early 1960s ((Photo: University of Kashmir)

Title slide of power-point presentation about his botanical travels in Kashmir during the 1980s Chris delivered to an audience of faculty members, scholars and students of the botany department


Audience for Chris' presentation 'Paradise On Earth: the beautiful flowers of Kashmir 
(PhotoS: University of Kashmir)

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PREM SINGH BODH (Kulu Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India)

 Chris Chadwell presenting Prem with gold medal and certificate

Prem with family members at his home in Manali 

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Thakur RUP CHAND (Lahoul, Himachal Pradesh, India)

Thakur Rup Chand with Dr Walter Koelz, University of Michigan, USA in the 1930s 

 Thakur Prem Chand a relative of Rup Chand, in Manali 

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2011
 
Amchi TSEWANG SMANLA (Ladakh, India)  
 

Amchi Tsewang Smanla


 Chris discussing plant identification with Tsewang
 
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WALTER  KOELZ  (Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA) 

Poster advertising Chris' lecture and gold medal presentation at University of Michigan

 Title slide of Chris Chadwell's lunch-time seminar about Koelz's travels in the Himalaya,
the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor


Chris Chadwell presenting Professor Anton Reznicek with the herbarium, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan, with the posthumous gold medal and certificate honouring Dr Walter Koelz, after he had delivered a seminar, 'The Himalayan Travels of Walter Koelz'

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 2010
 
ALASTAIR  MCKELVIE (Scotland) 


Alastair McKelvie with his wife Frances, having been presented with gold medal and certificate after Chris' lecture to members of the Aberdeenshire Group of the Scottish Rock Garden Society      Photo: Ian Young

Title slides of Chris Chadwells's presentation honouring Alastair

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OLE PER OLSEN (Nordkjosbotn, Norway)

Ole Olsen having been presented with medal & certificate after Chris' lecture to Friends of Tromso Botanical Garden in the Planetarium (Photo: Arve Elvebakk) 

 Title slide of one of the presentations Chris gave in Tromso 
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MEN-TSEE-KHANG  (Dharamsala, India)

 Mrs Urvashi Suri, one of Kohli's daughters, presenting medal and certificate to Dr Tsering Norbu, Materia Medica Dept., H.H. The Dalai Lama's Tibetan Medical & Astrological Institute)

Mrs Urvashi Suri receiving Tibetan silk scarf and gifts from the Institute

Title slide of one of the lectures Chris delivered to staff and pupils of the Institute 
 

Extracts from Men-Tsee-Khang Newsletter about Chris' lectures
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2009
 
WANGYEL and RINCHEN  GIALTSEN (Lahoul, Himachal Pradesh)

Wangyel, Rup Chand and Rinchen Gialtsen

Sonam Pawnspa, Wangyel's grandson - who owns a hotel in Manali, accepted the posthumous award

Wangyel and Rinchen Gialtsen's Gold Medal Certificate

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2007
 
GHULAM RASOOL BEIGH (Kashmir, India)

Chris presenting Ghulam with laminated pictures of their travels in the Himalaya 

 Chris giving short lecture about Ghulam's contribution to his expeditions in Kashmir and Little Tibet during the 1980s, prior to presentation of the gold medal, at the Lakeside Hotel, Pokhara

Members of invited audience - Ghulam's friends in Pokhara, Nepal

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2003

NARSIM (Kailash Himalaya, Kumaon, India)

The first posthumous award was to NARSIM, pictured above at his humble home close to Narayanswamy Ashram, Kailash Himalaya (close to the border with West Nepal).  NARSIM is pictured above beside Mrs Urvashi Suri and her son Rajiv (Raj) Suri, with Chris Chadwell behind during a visit in 2000.  NARSIM supplied P.Kohli & Co., with seed for more than 50 years - this was the first occasion that Mrs Suri, Prem Nath Kohli's daughter had met Narsim.  There were restrictions preventing foreigners (Indians) from visiting such places close to the border with Tibet (it is on an old pilgrimage route to sacred Mt. Kailash).  Narsim was a highly intelligent man, who had travelled from southern India aged 17, to help out at the Ashram.

As he had no knowledge of living relatives and there was little interest in his activities at the Ashram (there was a library, where a gold medal and mounted certificate could have been housed), nor could I find anyone in Delhi willing to arrange to hand over the medal to someone about to visit the Ashram or the priests themselves, who regularly visited India's capital, no formal presentation took place.  The purpose of a POSTHUMOUS award is to recognise and pay tribute to such Indians whose efforts often go unrecognised.  He did compile lists of species he recorded when trekking in his younger days. 

MRS URVASHI SURI (Kashmir, India)

Mrs Suri (second from the left) with Chris Chadwell behind amongst the living daughters of Prem Nath Kohli

Mrs Suri was presented with the first Kohli Memorial Gold Medal at the First Kohli Commemorative Event in Delhi in 2003.


 

 

 
 
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