The English Botanist and the Shikaras of Nigeen Lake


Travelling through Kashmir could not be described as an agreeable journey. Interesting, certainly. But then, expeditions are often disagreeable in some way. 

The lake, on the other hand, the Englishman reflected further, Nigeen Lake, is quite agreeable. 

The wide water stretched far to the horizon, a calm face of only lightly rippled glass, mirroring the little houses lining the far bank, and the great peaks of the Western Himalayas beyond. Shikaras - gracefully long and roofed Kashmiri boats plying the waters of Nigeen Lake - lined the banks nearby. 

Well, time to get one. He strode to the shikara stand and approached the boatmen, enquiring prices. 

"Hundred rupees."

"Hundred fifty."

"Sixty." "Eighty." "Fifty." Offers began to come in, fast. 

The suddenly, from a boatman to the side - "5 rupees!"

"Five??" 

"Five rupees." 

Glassy mirrored lake surface in Srinagar, with the Western Himalayas in the background

How My Dad Met His Botanist Friend

My dad was a trekking guide also, for like, 10-20 years? With... Sita Worldwide, or Sita Tours & Travel or something. I think something like that. There used to be lots of tour groups. One of his best friends met him when he was a trekking guide - but it was separately, not as part of Sita Tours & Travel. Direct. 

He told me once, how he met dad. In Kashmir we have lots of shikaras, so... like the lake is really big, so we have lots of shikaras.

"What's a shikara?" I asked Sumi.

Shikara means a boat, for riding the lake. But it's a special kind of boat. Like you have the roof, you have a really comfortable place to sit, with cushions and everything. 

"Wow..."

He used to ride shikaras, so how he met my dad was... there were lots of shikaras and everybody told him like hundred rupees, hundred fifty, 60, 80, 50, so my dad suddenly went and said 5 rupees! 

We laughed at Mr. Ghulam's boldness. 

So obviously he would choose my dad because he said just 5 rupees! And that was way back, a long long long time ago, and 5 rupees has a value during that time.

So, he came with him. And during his stay in Kashmir he used to always go out with dad. So they started going trekking... He was a freelance botanist. 

A memory clicked into place, from our time in Mr. Ghulam's shop in Pokhara.

Newspaper cutting from the Weekend Telegraph, April 22 1989, of an interview with freelance English botanist Chris Chadwell

"Oh, this was the English botanist who published the book that your dad showed us?" 

Yes! That was how they met, the first time. 

The plant collector and the trekking guide

I had only paid half attention in the shop, when Mr. Ghulam showed Baiti the mementos he had of his friend Chris Chadwell. Fortunately, Baiti paid a lot more attention, and wrote about it on her own blog

But I remember the gist of it. An English plant collector, who headed botanical expeditions into exotic lands, introducing passionate gardeners to the rare botany of the world. (I guess it was an age before worries of invasive species restrained such interests.)

He had need of a trekking guide, and now I know why Mr. Ghulam made a mark on him. They went on various expeditions for almost a decade, and the friendship  that formed lasted until this day. 

 

~Nuraini~

~ a story told to me by Sumi Beigh, and

Mr. Ghulam's mementos that inspired the above 'first meeting' scene!

Kohli Memorial Gold Medal award from the Himalayan Plant Association for Ghulam Rasool Beigh

Testimonial from botanist Chris Chadwell for his friend and trekking guide Ghulam Rasool Beigh 

 Photo credits: Mohd. Rashid (Pixabay), Mukul Joshi (Unsplash), Nur Baiti Hikaru

 

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