Crete

Greece Crete

Crete is the largest island in Greece (ca. 8700 km2) with a length of 254 km. Crete is a diverse and vibrant land packed with ancient ruins, buzzing cities and breathtaking beaches. Many people come here for the sun, sea and sand but it is also a hotspot for plant lovers in early spring or autumn with a very diverse flora with around 1700 species of which roughly 10% are endemic to the island. Crete is easy accessible and most trips will start from Heraklion airport. It is very mountainous with the Levka Ori (White Mountains) in the west up to 2453 m, with Mount Ida in the middle as highest mountain in Crete (2456 m) and Lasithiotika Ori (2148 m) in the east.

The Climate is typically Mediterranean, with winters from November to March with lots of rain and snow higher up in the mountains and very hot summers. The best time in spring to see the flowers are around the first two weeks in April. Our trip started on April 5t and endend on April 17th and we saw masses of flowers all in peak condition.

On every corner in Crete you can find interesting plants, but there are a few “must visit places” when you want to see some of the Cretian Jewels. One of them is the Gious Kambos Plateau, located on the western edge of mount Kedros, between the Amari valley and Spili, about 31km south of Rethymno. The plateau can be accessed through the villages Gerakari, Kissos, Spili or Patsos. In the spring is filled with beautiful colors, as thousands of endemic Tulipa doerfleri form a reddish carpet. Moreover, here grow many rare orchids and over five orchid species can coexist in one square meter in this important habitat of central Crete.

Omalos Plain is located 38km south of Chania at an altitude ranging from 1040 to 1250 m, surrounded by the high peaks of the White Mountains and is at  Xiloskalo is the starting point for the thousands of visitors of the famous 18 km long Samaria Gorge. On the Omalos Plain you will find masses of Tulipa saxatilis but also Anemone coronaria var. cyanea, Romulea bulbocodium. If you are lucky you will see also Iris tuberosa (Hermodactylus tuberosus).

On the Omalos plain, very close to the entrance of the Samaria Gorge, there are some abandoned buildings on the right side of the road. On the opposite of these buildings you can hike into the direction of the Kallergi Refugee. After 30 minutes walk you can find many different forms of Crocus sieberi ssp. sieberi growing together with Chionodoxa nana,

If you are interested to visit Crete and you are looking for a good flora, I can recommend you the book “Flowers of Crete” written by John Fielding and Nicolas Turnland, published in 2005 by Royal Botanic Graden Kew (ISBN  1 84246 079 X)

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Peloponnese

Greece Peloponnese

The Peloponnese is a peninsula located at the southern tip of the mainland and constitutes the southernmost part of mainland Greece. It is connected to the mainland by bridges as the Corinth Canal was constructed in 1893 which is just over 6 km long and 23 m wide.

Next to some very interesting historical sites, there is a wealth of flowers to be seen in the Peloponnese in the autumn (between October 23rd and November 5th).

Good locations to use as your base to start daily trips are Mystras (with Ancient Metropolis of Mystras) close to the Taygethos Mountains and more south, on the coast, the lovely town of Gytheio.

The Taygethos Mountains are the home of the autumn flowering snowdrop, Galanthus reginae-olgea. They grow here under large Platanus orientalis trees and very often near small streams. In the same area just away from the shade of the trees, you can find Crocus boryiColchicum parlatoris and Cyclamen graecum.

Monemvasia is also worth a visit. It is an island-like irruption of rock and the medieval seaport and commercial centre of the Byzantine Peloponnese. Its modern mainland service town is called Yéfira, from which a 1km causeway takes visitors out to the medieval site. Divided into the inhabited lower town and the ruined upper town, it’s a fascinating mix of atmospheric heritage, careful restoration and sympathetic redevelopment. Monemvasia has lovely shops and good restaurants. If you want to see some nice flowers you need to climb up the rock. On top you are able to find Sternbergia luteaColchicum cupanii and Cyclamen graecum.

The southernmost peninsula of Greece is called the Mani with Cape Ténaro at the tip of it. Here just a few meters from the sea, among the remains of a mosaic floor at the site of the ancient town of ancient Tainaron, are masses of Cyclamen graecum, Colchicum parlatoris and Atractylis (Carlina) gummifera.

The old village of Vathia is well known and almost published in every Mani publication. It has almost become a symbol of the peninsula with its stone houses and towers like small bastions. The village is built on a high hill, with a super view toward the sea and with roads going around it.

Areas very worth to visit for plants are Areopoli, Foutia and Lambokambos. All these three villages are well known for Crocus goulimyi ssp. goulimyi or the special white form Crocus goulimyi var. leucanthus.

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Costa Rica

Costa Rica, literally “Rich Coast”, officially the Republic of Costa Ricais a country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the northeast, Panama to the southeast, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest. It has a population of around 5 millionin a land area of 51,060 km2. About 333,980 people live in the capital and largest city, San José.
Costa Rica is ranked as one of the most visited international destinations and one of Costa Rica’s main sources of income is tourism. It proudly shelters 5% of the existing biodiversity in the entire world. 26% of the country is composed of conservation and natural protected territory.

Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)Torch Ginger (Etlingera elatior)

Rugged highlands are found throughout most of the country, ranging from approximately 1,000 to 2,000 m. The Guanacaste Mountain Range, Central Mountain Range and Talamanca Mountain Range are the main mountain ranges extending the entire length of the country. There are several active volcanoes (Arenal Volcano, Irazu Volcano, Rincon de la Vieja Volcano and Turrialba Volcano) and the country’s highest mountain (Chirripo Hill) with a height of 3,819 m. The country has a relatively long coastline in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as a number of rivers and streams.

Costa Rica is a tropical destination. Its look and landscape changes throughout the year, and the country is in a constant state of renewal. The Costa Rican landscape is one of great variety, filled with lush vegetation and stunning displays of flora. With jungles, beaches, and a wide array of terrain and climate zones, Costa Rica is a playground for the adventurous. Whether it’s rafting, hiking, wildlife viewing or just relaxing on the beach, everything is available to you.

Volcano Arenal (1657m)Calliandra haematocephala

Without a doubt, the most popular of Costa Rica’s volcanoes is the Arenal Volcano with its symmetrical cone-shaped volcano that dominates the fertile landscape of Arenal Volcano National Park.  The Arenal Observatory Lodge has a spectacular setting located far away from everything and emerged in the thick rainforests surrounding the stunning Arenal Volcano  which offers its travellers an unique experience. The Lodge was originally built in 1987 as a Smithsonian Institute scientific research stationNowhere else you will find better views of the almost perfectly cone shaped Arenal volcano. But the Arenal Observatory Lodge is more than that. Thanks to its remoteness and proximity to well protected rainforest, birds are just everywhere, a wonderful garden with stunning flora.

Arundina graminifoliaTree House at Maquenque Ecolodge (55 steps!)Red-legged Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus) male

Bird watching
The Northern zone of Costa Rica is excellent for bird watching. More notable locations include the Sarapiqui region, Cano Negro, San Lorenzo, Tenorio National Park and Monteverde. The northern Sarapiqui region is home to numerous species, though most notably Great Green Macaws and Keel-Billed Toucans. Cano Negro is a great place to observe waterfowl species such as Roseate Spoonbills. Tenorio National Park is an excellent location to observe Trogons, Toucans and Honeycreepers. Monteverde Cloud Forest is world known for highland species such as Resplendent Quetzals, Bellbirds and Emerald Toucanettes.

Keel-billed toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus)Chestnut-mandibled Toucan (Ramphastos swainsonii)

Within the Maquenque Wildlife Refuge, Boca Tapada is a primary nesting area for the endangered Great Green Macaw.  This is one of the few areas these majestic birds can be observed regularly.  The macaws feed on Almond trees (Dipteryx panamensis), which are common to the area, but nearly as endangered as the birds that eat their seeds.
In addition to the macaws, over 400 other species of birds have been identified in Boca Tapada including Sunbittern, Roseate Spoonbill, Jabiru, Green Ibis, Muscovy Duck, Agami Heron, Keel-billed Toucan, Great Curassow and many more.
*Used accommodation: Maquequenge Eco Lodge.

Macaw LodgeMacaw Lodge, Bromelia Garden

Known as one of Costa Rica’s many beautiful national parks, the Carara National Park lies two hours from the capital of San Jose .The Carara National Park has an amazing diversity of flora and fauna, making it a must visit place if you are in the area. Named after the Huetar word for crocodile, this national park is home to several ecosystems such as marshlands, lagoons, and gallery forests. With a fantastic array of wildlife on display, visiting this park makes for a great family trip. Monkeys, crocodiles, armadillos, peccaries, waterfowls, opossums, sloths, boas, aouti, margay cats, jaguars, white tail deer and ozelots can be found here, as well as a wide assortment of birds and other reptiles and amphibians.
*Used accomodation: Macaw Lodge  (with an excellent large tropical garden)

Heliconia nigripraefixaThunbergia grandiflora (climber)Cyathea brunei (monkey tale fern)

The Manuel Antonio National Park is also an excellent location for spotting Parrots, Parakeets, Toucans and waterfowl. (closed on Mondays!) A much smaller park is Hacienda Baru just 30 minutes drive from Las Nubes.
*Used accommodation: Las Nubes Natural Energy Resort

Las Nubes, main building with two-bedroom suiteThree-toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus)

Rincon de la Vieja National Park is a special place because it sits in a part of Guanacaste where the flat dry plains meet the jungle-filled mountains. For this reason, in dry times of year like the busy tourist season (late December to April), the area will remain green and vibrant. Since there is more vegetation, there are also better chances to spot wildlife. Another big draw of Rincon de la Vieja National Park are the many volcanic elements. Active steam vents and bubbling mud pots can be seen right along the trails.
*Used accommodation: El Sol Verde Lodge and Campground

Rincon de la ViejaCochlospermum vitifolium

Sitting along the foothills of the Talamanca Mountain Range, the small town of San Gerardo de Dota may be lacking in size, but it makes up for it in natural beauty. Travellers come here to hike through the pristine wilderness and view some of the region’s most predominant flora and fauna.
One of the most popular reasons why travellers come to San Gerardo de Dota is the bird watching opportunities. The surrounding cloud forest is a haven for both birds and a vast variety of insect species. Considered to be among the most striking birds in the world, the quetzals here nest in the nearby cloud forest and can be seen most of the year. However, they are most frequently spotted during the months of April and May, which is their breeding season. Besides the quetzal, a number of other birds found here include peccaries, tanagers, woodpeckers and many hummingbirds making this area truly a bird watchers haven.
*Used accomodation: Trogon Lodge

Green Violetear (Colibri thalssinus)White-throated Mountain gem (Lampornis castaneoventris) femalePurple-throated Mountain-gem (Lampornis calolaemus)

Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)

The valley of Tambor is cradled by lush forested hills which are part of the Biological corridor of the Nicoya Peninsula. To the north of the Tambor bay lies the Curu Wildlife Reserve which protects various ecological habitats and a wealth of wildlife. It is fronted by the Islas Tortugas, a tropical island paradise that can be visited on a boat tour. There is also a local breeding program in Tambor for scarlet macaws and sometimes you can see flocks of these beautiful large parrots, foraging the almond trees on the beach.
*Used accommodation: Tango Mar Beach, Spa & Golf Resort

Tango Mar Hotel, Beach, Spa & Golf Resort Coconut (Cocus nucifera) at Tango Mar Hotel Beach

The whole trip was organized and booked with Unico Travel, which worked out fantastic.

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Ecuador

Ecuador is located in the western corner at the top of the South American continent. Ecuador is named after the Equator, the imaginary linearound the Earth that splits the country in two. Mitad-del-Mundo monument is the place to visit the Equator near Quito. Most of the country is in the Southern Hemisphere. Ecuador was part of the Inca Empire until the Spanish arrived and claimed the country as a Spanish colony. For three hundred years the Spanish controlled Ecuador. In 1822, Ecuador became independent.

Mitad del Mundo (The Equator)The Virgin of El Panecillo, Quito (1976)

Quito the capital of the country, located at an altitude of 2.850 m, on a horizontal strip of land running north to south between beautiful volcanoes. The splendour of the city’s natural setting, combined with its attractive squares, parks and monuments, make it a great place to get used to the altitude and the Latin way of life in Ecuador. Ecuador is considered one of the most diverse areas of the world. There are some 25,000 plant species (including the tropical rain forest)

Several high volcanoes flank Ecuador’s central valley and the 18th century German explorer Alexander Von Humboldt gave the valley the name ‘Avenue of the Volcanoes’. The road between Quito and Riobamba runs along the valley, and offers wonderful views of the surrounding countryside and passes through traditional towns. The impressive volcanoes passed on the route include Cotopaxi (at 5.897 m),a perfect snow-capped cone, the twin peaks of the Illinizas, and Chimborazo(at 6,263 m), Ecuador’s highest mountain. Chimborazo is not the highest mountain by elevation above sea level, but its location along the equatorial bulge makes its summit the farthest point on the Earth’s surface from the Earth’s centre. Both volcanoes are rich in very special alpine plants and easy accessible by roads going high up.

Nototriche phyllanthosBomarea glaucescensChuquiraga jussieui

Páramos are characteristic highland moors in northern Andes. These ecosystems have formed in highland plateaus and saddles between the mountains above the tree line (above 3,100 – 3,400 m). The climate here is moist – the warmed air from the Pacific become cold here and the moisture precipitates on the mountains. For most time of the year these highland meadows are shrouded in fog. Most páramos are located in Columbia, many are found also in Ecuador and Venezuela, as well as in northern Peru, in Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala. The life in páramos is not easy – there are few nutrients in the soil, and the soil and the air are cold. The moist climate turns this all into a soaked sponge. These harsh conditions have developed a very special ecosystem. Species diversity here is much higher than in the temperate moorlands of the world – but much lower than in the nearby tropical rainforests. In the páramos of Ecuador grow some 1,500 species of plants. Approximately 60% of these plants grow ONLY on páramos.

Fuchsia bolivianaPuya aequatorialisPassiflora cumbalensis

Plants here, like the Espeletia pycnophylla. have developed specific methods to protect themselves from the frost. One method is – growing in rosettes, so the wind cannot chill the centre of the plant. Many plants have developed very soft, “fluffy” leaves and flowers. The old leaves do not fall off, they protect the stem.In the north of Ecuador very close to the Colombian border is the National Park “El Angel Ecological Reserve” with its peculiar frailejones forests (Espeletia pycnophylla) This region is mostly páramo and the temperature ranges between 12°C to 0°C. In Páramo El Ángel throughout the year the temperature falls below zero in the nights, although it is only 80 km from the equator. In summer months (June – September) days can be warm up to 18 ° C, but in the winter even in daytime the temperature is around 0 ° C.  Strong and cold winds are very common.

Espeletia pycnophylla at Lagunas El Voladeroflowers of Espeletia pycnophylla

The Cayambe-Coca National Parkis located in the provinces of Imbabura, Pichincha, Napo and Sucumbios . The area of the reserve has important volcanoes like Cayambe, Saraurco, Puntas and Reventador. The rivers in the region are spring mainly from the glaciers of Cayambe, Antisana and Sarahurco. There are approximately eighty lakes in the zone, the most important are: Papallacta, San Marcos, Puruhanta and Sarahurco. Altitudes range between 700 to 5,700 m. The biodiversity of the area is the highest among the protected areas of Ecuador, discovered in the latest scientific studies.

Gentianella cerastioides var. chimborazensisVicuña (Vicugna vicugna) with Chimborazo in the backViola bangii

Other very interesting areas to botanize at higher altitudes are the Pululahua Geo-Botanical Reserve, the slopes of Volcano Guagua Pichincha, and around Lagunas de Mojanda and Laguna Cuicocha.

Bomarea multifloraViola parvifolia

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Sikkim

India – Sikkim

Sikkim is a state in northeast India. It borders Tibet in the north and northeast, Bhutan in the east, Nepal in the west, and West Bengalin the south. Sikkim is the least populous and second smallest among the Indian states. A part of the Eastern Himalaya, Sikkim is notable for its biodiversity, including alpine and subtropical climates, as well as being a host to Kanchenjunga, the highest peak in India and third highest on Earth. Sikkim’s capital and largest city is Gangtok. Almost 35% of the state is covered by the Khangchendzonga National Park. In 2015, Sikkim fully implemented organic farming state-wide, becoming India’s first “organic state”, while in 2016, it restricted the usage of plastic water bottles.

Darjeelinga picker at work at the Peshok Tea Garden

If you plan to travel to the higher mountains of Sikkim you can fly to Bagdogra airport. (Soon they will open a new airport near Gangtok). From Bagdogra you need to travel to Darjeeling. The main attraction of Darjeeling is tea. Around 67 tea gardens in Darjeeling that produce different types of tea in tea factories.

shopping street in Gangtokstatue Mahatma Gandi (1869-1948) in GangtokGangtok, stuppa at Institute of Tibetology, 1570m

An other attraction is the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as the DHR or Toy Train, is a 610 mm narrow-gauge railway based on zig zag and loop-line technology which runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. Built between 1879 and 1881, with six zig-zags and five loops, the railway is about 88 km long. Its elevation varies from about 100 m at New Jalpaiguri to about 2,200 m at Darjeeling. On 2 December 1999, UNESCO declared the DHR a World Heritage Site.

old steam locomotives Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) Toy TrainDendrobium amoenum

From Darjeeling it is about 5-6 hours drive to Gangtok(1,700 m). Just38 km from Gangtok and at an altitude of 3,770 m, the beautiful Tsomgo (Changu) Lake, is a must on every visitors itinerary. A winding road through rugged mountain terrain and sharp cliffs takes you to Tsomgo. Around the lake are many special plants like Primula kingii and Primula obliqua, but also good plants of Cassiope selaginoides and Rhododendron cinnabarinum. Tsomgo lake is open for both Indian and foreign nationals, however foreign visitors have to be in a group of two or more and have to apply for a visitors permit through a registered travel agency.

Primula kingiiLilium nanumPrimula obliqua

The journey from Gangtok to Lachung will take about 6 hours traveling through remote areas with narrow valleys and numerous waterfalls leaping into deep gorges. During the drive, due to the altitude variation, you will witness warm subtropical forests, temperate deciduous forests and alpine zones in the higher ridges. Lachung is a small mountain village at an elevation of about 2,800 m, which provides the base for exploring Yumthang, “The valley of flowers” which is situated at an altitude of 3,564 m. It is a paradise for nature lovers and botanists with a fascinating blend of flora and fauna and a picturesque landscape.

Roscoea auriculata (with leaches!)Pleione hookerianaArisaema griffithii var.

In spring season (May/June), wild flowers such as primulas and rhododendrons will fill the landscape in various colours. The Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary here has 24 species of Rhododendron which flower from April to the end of May. In June/July you should able to find many plants in full flower of Cardiocrinum giganteum, Arisaema griffithii var., Smilacina oleracea and Roscoea auriculata, but also Magnolia globosa and the best Pleione hookeriana.

Magnolia globosaAmitostigma puberula

Situated further up at a distance of 16 km, at an altitude of about 4,500 m isYume Samdong area and Zero point (Zadong). The rugged vegetation- free mountains here, present a breathtaking scenario and full with the most striking plants like, Meconopsis simplicifolia ssp. grandiflora, Primula cappitata ssp. cappitata, Lilium nanum, very compact Rhododendron lepidotum and the Himalayan Rhubarb Rheum nobile.

Rhododendron lepidotumMeconopsis simplicifolia ssp. grandiflora

Another excellent location to see many high alpines, including some exquisite orchids is Thangu. Thangu village is located 30 kilometers north of Lachen at an altitude around 4,000 m and a good point to explore the very plant rich valleys nearby.

With in less then an hour drive from Thangu and just 30 minutes walk you can see a wide range of special plants like Lilium nanum var. flavidum, Gueldenstaedtia himalaica, Fritillaria cirrhosa, Onosma hookeri, Lloydia serotina and several orchids as Cypripedium himalaicum Cypripedium elegans, Ponerorchis chusua and Habeneria aitchisonii.

Cypripedium himalaicumCypripedium elegansPonerorchis chusua

If you have time left, and your flight home is from Dehli, then consider to visit the Taj Mahal, about 6 hours drive from Delhi to Agra. The Taj Mahal, meaning “Crown of the Palace” is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamunariver. It was build from 1632 – 1653 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The tomb is the center piece of a 17-hectare (42-acrecomplex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall. Construction of the mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643 but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years.

Taj Mahal, build by Shah Jahan 1632-1653 (20.000 workers)Taj Mahal, build by Shah Jahan 1632-1653 (20.000 workers)

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Socotra Archipelago

Socotra, also spelled Soqotra, is a small archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean and of continental origin. Socotra is part of the Republic of Yemen. In October-November 2012 my wife and I spend 15 days on this Treasure Island. Because we did not want to stay a long time in Yemen (political unstable) we flew from Amsterdam to Dubai. From there we took a taxi (20 minutes for US$30,-) to Sharjah Airport Hotel. The next day we took the Felix flight from Sharjah to Socotra, with a short touch down at Ryan-Mukalla airport. Socotra itself is very stable, no political problems at all and very friendly people. From Hadibo (hotel) we made day trips to various corners of the island. With a 4×4 jeep, excellent driver and a very good botanical guide, it was easy to reach the many rich botanical places and beautiful areas.

Dracaena cinnabari, Dragon's Blood TreeEgyptian Vulture

Socotra lies some 330 kilometres east of Somalia and 450 kilometres south of Yemen. Socotra is one of the most isolated landforms on Earth and because of that a third of its plant life is found nowhere else on the planet. It has been described as the most alien-looking place on Earth. The island measures about 132 kilometres in length and 50 kilometres in width. The haggerher mountains are up to 1526m (Jabal Skand).

Adenium obesum ssp. socotranumAdenium obesum ssp. socrotanum

The climate of Socotra has a tropical-desert climate and semi-desert climate with a mean annual temperature over 25 °C. Yearly rainfall is light, but is fairly spread throughout the year. Generally the higher inland areas receive more rain than the coastal lowlands, due to provided by the interior mountains. The monsoon season brings strong winds and high seas. From October to April the moist tropical northeast monsoon prevails; October and November are quite wet on the north coast and on north-facing mountain cliffs, often cloud-covered at that time; temperatures are 18°-27°C. From June to September a hot dry sub-equatorial southeast monsoon blows from Africa: tropical cyclones and strong winds up to 110 km/hour create high waves and cause up welling of cooler nutrient-rich water when the sea temperature falls 2-4°C. Strong hot winds descend from the Haggeher; temperatures range from 30°- 45°C, and desiccating winds strongly influence the vegetation. The average rainfall at sea level is 150mm, but in the mountains may rise to 1000mm. The best time to visit Socotra, if you are interested in the flora, whould be Februari/beginning of March.

Socotra Chameleon (Chamaeleo monachus) Caralluma socotrana

Socotra is considered the jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea sometimes called the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean. In the 1990s, a team of United Nations biologists conducted a survey of the archipelago’s flora and fauna. They counted nearly 700 endemic species, found nowhere else on earth; only Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands have more impressive numbers.

Saalef the cave manSocotrian faceSocotrian face

The long geological isolation of the Socotra archipelago and its fierce heat and drought have combined to create a unique and spectacular endemic flora. Botanical field surveys led by the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants (part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh) indicate that 307 out of the 825 (37%) plant species on Socotra are endemic, i.e., they are found nowhere else on Earth. The entire flora of the Socotra Archipelago has been assessed for the IUCN Red List, with 3 Critically Endangered and 27 Endangered plant species recognized in 2004.

Dracaena cinnabari, Dragon's Blood treeDracaena cinnabari, Dragon's Blood tree

One of the most striking of Socotra’s plants is the dragon’s blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari), which is a strange-looking, umbrella-shaped tree. Its red sap was thought to be the dragon’s blood of the ancients, sought after as a medicine and today used as paint and varnish (Stradivarius violin). Other endemic plants include the Dorstenia gigas, Dendrosicyos socotranus (the cucumber tree), the rare Punica protopunica (Socotran pomegranate), Adenium obesum ssp. socotranum (bottle tree) Aloe perryi  and Boswellia socotrana. One of the most rare and endemic plants I was lucky to see was Socrotella dolichocnema, which was found for the first time in 2000 and discribed by Peter Bruyns & Anthony Miller in 2002. The remaining Socotra flora is greatly threatened by goats and other introduced species.

Dorstenia gigassand dunes at Arher

If you are interested in de flora of Socotra, then you should get the “Ethnoflora of the Soqotra Archipelago” by A. Miller and M. Morris (2004) of the Edinburgh Botanic Garden.

 

The island also has a rich fauna, including several endemic species of birds, such as the Socotra Starling, Socotra Sparrow and the Socotra Golden-winged Grosbeak. Many of the bird species are endangered by predation by non-native feral cats. While there are no native amphibians, the reptiles species are over 90 percent endemic to Socotra and include skinks, legless lizards, and one species of chameleon. The coral reefs of Socotra are diverse too, with many endemic species.

Socotrella dolichocnemaBoswellia bullata

The island was recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world natural heritage site in July 2008.

Lets hope that in the years to come Socotra will stay unspoilt by masses of tourism with many hotels, more tarmac roads and beach resorts.

Oldenlandia pulvinata

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Uzbekistan

(the map shows the whole route I took in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan)

 

Uzbekistan is situated in the central and northern parts of Central Asia and is a dry, landlocked country.

It borders with Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Turkmenistan, Tadjikistan and in the south with Afghanistan. Tashkent, a city inhabited by 3.8 million people, is the capital of Uzbekistan.

The climate is hot, dry and sharp continental. There are few lakes in Uzbekistan. The Aral Sea is the biggest.

 

 

Samarkand is the second largest city of Uzbekistan.

It is one of the oldest existing cities in the world and the oldest of Central Asia. A vital trading centre on the Silk Road,

Its architectural heritage is protected by UNESCO. According to the latest research of the Uzbek archeologists, Samarkand was founded 2750 years ago, almost as long ago as Rome.

The city flourished between the 14th and 15th centuries during the Amir Temur (Tamerlane) era. Amir Temur was a well-known commander and ruler, who proclaimed Samarkand the capital of his vast Empire.

Samarkand is wonderful and fascinating with its beautiful architectural monuments, with striking harmonies of perfection  between mausoleums, madrassahs, mosques, and city squares.

Samarkand, RegistanSamarkand, Registan

 

Registan Square

The Registan was the heart of the ancient Samarkand. The name means ”Sandy Place”. The ensemble of three madrasahs is a unique example of town building art a remarkable pattern of the architectural planning of the main town square. The three madrasahs of the Registan are: the Ulugbek Madrasah (1417-1420), the Sher  Dor Madrasah (1619-1636) and the Tillya Kori Madrasah (1646-1660).

SamarkandSamarkand, inside mosque

Shah-i-Zinda

A big medieval burial complex often referred to as “the street of the dead”. It is considered as a holy place for Muslims. Shah-i-Zinda consists of mausoleums and other worship buildings. The Shakhi-Zinda complex had been formed during nine centuries from 11th till the 19th centuries and now it  includes more than twenty buildings. It comprises three groups of structures:  lower, middle, and upper connected by four arched domed passages, called “chartak”.

Samarkand, Shah-i-ZindaSamarkand, Shah-i-Zinda

TahtaKaracha pass

From Samarkand to Sharisabz is a short road (80km) crossing the Tahta-Karacha pass, following the Big Silkroad. It is important to know that the road to the pass cannot be used by busses and bigger cars. So if you are using a bus you have to take a detour driving around the mountains.

Iris warleyensisIris warleyensis (pale form)

Plants

At the Tahta-Karacha pass you can find many exiting plants like: Corydalis maracandica, Veronica arguteserrata, Tulipa fosteriana (deep red), Amygdalus (Prunus) spinosissima (Spiny Almond tree), Ferula cf. kuchistanica (up to 1 m tall), Fritillaria bucharica and many, many more more. But the highlights on this pass are all the various species of Iris. The tall Iris magnifica in various colour forms, the deep yellow Iris svetlanae and the best of all Iris warleyensis (pale blue with striking markings).

Sometimes you can find even the hybrid Iris svetlanae x Iris warleyensis.

Tulipa turkestanicaGentiana olivieriPhlomoides kaufmanniana

I was only 4 days in Uzbekistan, way to short as I was very impressed. Many wonderful cultural heritage sites, a clean country and best of all, very helpful and friendly people. I can recommend everyone to pay Uzbekistan a visit. I do hope you can spend a few days more then I was able to do.

 

For more Uzbekistan images click here

Dubai

Dubai (general information)

Dubai is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates and can be used as a “ Stop Over” destination. It is a city of superlatives: for the fastest, biggest, tallest, largest and highest. It is rather like an independent city-state and is most modern and developing at an unbelievable pace in the tourist and trade sectors especially. Dubai is essentially a desert city with superb infrastructure, that became popular for its excellent tourist amenities. Just 5 hours from Europe, Dubai makes a great short break for shopping, partying, sunbathing, fine dining, and sporting events. It has the largest immigrant population in the world.

modern buildings along the Creek, DubaiCreek Dubai

Some special districts in Dubai are:

Satwa. Gold and textiles is what people come here for, Gold Souk might be your top destination but Satwa too has gold shops and is hassle free, not so crowded.

Bur Dubai.  A historical district and Bur Dubai is usual term for the area from Jumeirah to the creek (river), the creek separates Bur Dubai from Deira. Tourist attractions from souks to floating restaurants along the famous creek are found here.

Spice Souk, DubaiGold Souk, Dubai

Deira.  Dubai’s old financial centre, today Deira is a bustling commercial-residential district with some old souks, including one specializing in spices.

Jumeirah.  A diverse district whose residents are the Europeans to the Filipinos to the Pakistanis; a mixed Little Europe, Karachi and Manila. Jumeirah is much favoured by Europeans due to the ease of access of the beach. Beautiful villas are seen here. Jumeirah Beach, Jumeirah Beach Residence’s the Walk and Jumeirah Mosque are the top attractions.

Downtown Dubai.  While Bur Dubai and Deira are traditionally considered “Downtown”, the Downtown Dubai development is smack in the center of the “New Dubai,” between Dubai Marina on the south end and the border with the city of Sharjah to the north. It includes the Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world), the Dubai Mall (world’s biggest), Dubai Fountain, and lots of other skyscrapers and hotels.

Dubai Sightseeing

Bastakiya District. One of the last remaining pockets of Old Dubai, home to many reconstructed buildings in the traditional style. While information on the structures is slim here the atmosphere is very evocative and there are plenty of delightful art galleries and cafes to explore.

Jumeirah Mosque.  The largest mosque in the city, and a wonderful example of Islamic architecture. Built in the medieval Fatimid tradition with the interior decorated with elaborate Arabic calligraphy. It is one of few mosques in the city open for visits by non-muslims.

Jumeirah Grand MosqueIranian Mosque in Bur Dubai

Burj Khalifa.  Until recently called Burj Dubai, with 828 metres and 160 floors this is the world’s tallest structure by a long shot. Over 300m taller than the previous contender in Taipei. The observation deck at the 124th floor is the 2nd highest in the world . Already dominating the Dubai skyline, the newly opened tower houses nine hotels and a Las Vegas-inspired fountain system. The visitors’ entrance is located at the lower ground floor of the Dubai Mall.

The Dubai Fountain.  At 270m in length and sporting a jet that shoots water up to 150m, the Dubai Fountain is indeed the world’s largest dancing fountain and one with a very enticing display – a definite must see. The show starts every evening at the Burj Dubai Lake. Easy way to approach it is via the Dubai Mall.

Burj Al Arab hotel, DubaiBurj Khalifa, 828m (highest building in the world 2011)Souk in Dubai

Burj al-Arab hotel.  For a real glimpse into “how the other half lives”, (self-proclaimed as the only 7 star hotel in the world!), afternoon tea, or cocktails, may be an interesting experience. Entry to the hotel requires a reservation which will be confirmed at the entry gate. A “very smart casual” dress code applies. Reservations are usually required about a month in advance for a room, but a few days will generally suffice for a meal.

view toward Dubai from Jumeirah Palm IslandSheikh Saeed Al-Maktoum house (old town)

Palm Islands.  The three largest artificial islands in the world are located just off the coast of Dubai; a major urban development to add a significant amount of upscale beachfront property to the area. Each of the islands is shaped like a palm leaf, with a trunk connected to the mainland, fronds extending from the trunk, and a crescent (a breakwater encircling the trunk and fronds). Of the three planned, the Palm Jumeirah, at 5km square and near Dubai Marina, is the only one yet open, connected to the mainland by a freeway bridge and a monorail and sporting marinas, luxury resorts, and upscale shopping areas.

For more Dubai images click here.

Turkey

General information
Turkey, known officially as the Republic of Turkey, is an Eurasian country that stretches across the Anatolian peninsula in western. It is bordered by eight countries: Bulgaria to the northwest; Greece to the west; Georgia to the northeast; Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran to the east; and Iraq and Syria to the southeast. Eastern Turkey has a more mountainous landscape, and is home to the sources of rivers such as the Euphrates, Tigris and Aras, and contains Lake Van and Mount Ararat, Turkeybs highest point at 5165m.

In early March 2008 we (my wife and me) visited the area shown on the map. A circle route starting and ending in Antalya. We just hired a car at Antalya and looked for resonable hotel/accomadation on our way. We first headed for the famous Pamukkale near Denizli, which is possible to reach in one day. The other destinations where (in order) Fethiye (+Kayakoy), Kas (+Kaputaş Beach), Elmali, Finnike, Kumluca (up into the mountais toward Altinyaca), Kemer and back to Antalya. A wonderful trip with lots of intersting places and some nice plants.

Kas  Altinyaca

Antalya
Antalya is a city on the Mediterranean coast of southwestern Turkey and an ideal starting point into several directions. It is the capital city of Antalya Province. Antalya has a Mediterranean climate. Situated on a cliff over the Mediterranean (almost all tufa!), Antalya is surrounded by mountains. Developments in tourism, starting in the 1970s, transformed the city into an international resort. The old city, near the harbour is wel worth a visit and you can find nice hotels in this area.

Antalya build on tufa  Pamukkale the Cotton Castle

Pamukkale
Pamukkale, meaning cotton castle in Turkish, is a natural site and attraction in south-western Turkey. The ancient city of Hierapolis was built on top of of it.The Pamukkale which is in total about 2700 meters long and 160m high, can be seen from the hills on the opposite side of the valley in the town of Denizli, 20 km away. The water from one of nearby hot springs, with its large mineral content (chalk in particular) created Pamukkale.The water contains large amounts of hydrogen carbonate and calcium, which leads to the precipitation of calcium bi-carbonate (travertine / tufa). Every second 250 liters of hot water arises from this spring, precipitating chalk every second. In the course of time some sources dried up because of earthquakes, while new ones arose in the neighbourhood. The effect of this natural phenomenon has left thick white layers of limestone and travertine cascading down the mountain slope resembling a frozen waterfall. One type of these formations consists of crescent-shaped travertine terraces with a shallow layer of water, lying in a step-like arrangement down the upper one-third of the slope, with the steps ranging from 1m to 6m in height. The other form consists of stalactites, propping up and connecting these terraces. Fresh deposits of calcium carbonate give the site a dazzling white look. Pamukkale is a real tourist attraction and recognized as a World Heritage Site together with Hierapolis. A few other places in the world resemble it, including Huanglong (also with large tufapools) in Sichuan Province of China. (see IMAGES MY TRAVELS Sichuan 2007)

Pamukkale  part of Hierapolis near Pamukkale
Before the World Heritage designation, Pamukkale went unprotected for decades in the late 20th century and hotels were built on top of the site, destroying parts of the remains of . Hot water from the springs was taken to fill the hotel pools and the waste water was spilled over the monument itself, turning it brownish. A tarmac road ramp was built into the main part. People walked around with shoes, washed themselves with soap and shampoo in the pools and rode bikes and motorbikes up and down the slopes. Officials made attempts to restore the site. The hotels were demolished, and the road ramp was covered with artificial pools which today are accessible to bare-footed tourists, unlike most other parts of the site. A small trench was carved along the outside of the ramp to collect the water and prevent it from spilling. The brownish parts have been left to be bleached by the sun without being covered by water to diminish the problem. Therefore many pools are empty. Others parts are covered with water for an hour or two, on a rotating schedule.

Kaputas Beach  Euphorbia rigida

Kaputaş Beach
Kaputaş Beach, one of the best in this area, is situated at a distance of 20 km from Kaş and 7 from Kalkan, at a point where an extremely narrow valley towered by steep cliffs and forests joins the sea shore in the cove of the same name as the beach. The beach is quite popular among visitors to the region due to its untouched natural beauty (sandy beach and deep blue sea) commanded by a view from the heights traversed by Kaş-Kalkan road. There are no fixed amenities in Kaputaş Beach, with only ambulant vendors who set up small stands selling snacks during the day. The beach is reached by stairs descending from the road and is guarded by the municipality of Kalkan.

Fethiye rock-cut tombs  Kayakoy
Fethiye
It is one of Turkey s well-known tourist centres and is especially prized during the summer.
Just on the outskirts of the town you can find many relics of the Lycians remain visible today, especially their distinctive rock-cut tombs in the sides of cliffs in the region.
Kayaköy is a village 8 km south of Fethiye where Anatolian Greeks lived until approximately 1923. The ghost town, now preserved as a museum village, consists of 3500 of rundown but still mostly intact Greek-style houses and churches which cover a small mountainside and serve as a stopping place for tourists visiting Fethiye and nearby Ölüdeniz. Its population in 1900 was about 2,000, almost all Greek Christians; however, it is now empty except for tour groups and roadside vendors selling handmade goods and items scavenged from the former village.

Anemone coronaria  Daphne sericaea  Iris unguicularis ssp. carica

For more images from Turkey (trip 2008) click here

Tajikistan

(the map shows the whole route I took in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan)

Tajikistan

 

General information

Tajikistan is a mountainous landlocked country in Central Asia. It is bordered by Afghanistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and China to the east. Pakistan lies to the south separated by the narrow Wakhan Corridor.

Tajikistan consists of 4 administrative divisions. These are the provinces of Sughd and Khatlon, the autonomous province of Gorno-Badakhshan (abbreviated as GBAO), and the Region of Republican Subordination.

Tajikistan is covered by mountains of the Pamir range and more than fifty percent of the country is over 3000m above sea level. The only major areas of lower land are in the north (part of the Fergana Valley), and in the southern Kofarnihon and Vakhsh river valleys.

IskanderkulFerula spec. at shore (Iskanderkul)

To the north of Dushanbe lies the beautiful lake, Iskanderkul, covered in legends related to the name of the Alexander the Great. The lake is located on the territory of the mountain-forest reserve “Iskanderkul” at 2195m above the sea level.

The climate of Tajikistan is moderate, sharp continental and dry. It is subtropical in low valleys, and cold in high mountains. In the high mountains of Tajikistan there are great supplies of ice and snow. Winter temperatures in valleys are from 0°C to +2°C, high in the mountains – to -27°C. In summer temperature in the valleys is from +23°C to +30, +35°C, in the mountains – from +4°C to +15°C. The most precipitation falls in winter and spring.

Statue of Ismail SamaniWater features in DushanbeWorld biggest flag measuring 60 meters by 30 meters and 165m tall

Dushanbe, the capital city of the republic, is located in the Hissar Valley in the south of Tajikistan and one of the main attractions of Dushanbe is a 165m long flagpole, raised on the left side from the Palace of Nations. The flagpole entered the Guinness Book of Records; the first flag was raised on 24 May 2011.

Green Market (Zelyoni Bazaar or Shokhmansur) DushanbeGreen Market (Zelyoni Bazaar or Shokhmansur) Dushanbe

The Pamir Mountains are a mountain range in Central Asia at the junction of the Himalayas with the Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun, and Hindu Kush ranges. They are among the world’s highest mountains.

The National Park “Pamir Mountains”, an UNESCO World Heritage site, is located in the eastern part of Tajikistan. The park having a territory over 2.5 million hectares, is located in the heart of the Pamir with the highest mountain ranges of Eurasia divaricated from it. It is home to Tajikistan’ rare mammals as the Marco Polo sheep, snow leopard and Siberian ibex.

Here is also one of the highest car passes in the world, the Akbaytal pass (4655m).

Panj river (left Tajikistan, right Afghanistan)Afghan village along the Panj river

The Panj river is formed between the Hindu Kush and the Pamir Mountains by the junction of the Vākhān River and the Pamir River along the border between eastern Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The climate of the Panj River valley is arid, averaging less than 200mm of precipitation per year. Annual precipitation is much greater, more than 700mm in the surrounding high mountains, which provide most of the water flowing to the Panj.

 

The Anzob Pass to the south, about 90 kilometres north of Dushanbe at roughly 3400m, is one of the most treacherous mountain passes of Central Asia. On October 23, 1997, an avalanche killed 46 people, burying 15 trucks and cars. The avalanche was so large that it took two weeks for the rescuers to reach the victims.

Due to the importance of the route connecting the north to south and its level of danger, the 5km Anzob Tunnel was built, completed in 2006. Construction was delayed due to electricity faults and other problems.

The tunnel is still a building site and is currently filled with water, car exhaust, and broken-down construction equipment. The road surface itself contains potholes large enough to break an axle. A solitary fan in the middle tries to move some air, but the exhaust is so thick you can only see just 1-2m in front of the vehicle. A breakdown in the tunnel could easily result in serious illness or death from carbon monoxide poisoning. From my own experience in 2015 I can tell you, it is a nightmare to go trough it!

Ansob passview at Ansob pass

Flora

Nature of Tajikistan, when it comes to flora is highly diverse and there are some very fine areas to botanise. Around Dushanbe you can explore the Varzob- and Rommit Valley (between 1250-1800m). Both full with treasures like Iris vicaria in various shades from pure white to pale blue, Tulipa praestans, Fritillaria eduardii, Fritillaria bucharica, Anemone petiolulosa and Dionysia involucrata. Different plants can be found on the Ansob pass around 2400m. In the end of April, beginning of May you can find here Corydalis ledebouriana, Adonis turkestanicus, Iris vicaria, Tulipa hissarica, Tulipa praestans, Gymnospermum albertii, Scilla cf. vvedenskyi, Colchicum kesselringii, Crocus korolkowii and several species of Gagea.

Tulipa turkestanica (yellow form)Fritillaria eduardiiPrimula auriculata

To the west of Dushanbe is the Shirkent National Park, another good area to botanise. If you want to see thousands of Iris bucharica, this is the place to be. Other plants which can be found are Eminium albertii, Arum korolkowii, Geranium charlesii and Tulipa carinata.

Iris nicolai ?Iris bucharica (deep yellow form)Iris vicaria

More south, near Kulob, you are able to explore at Langar on the Hazrati Shoh-range.

An area with completely different plants as seen around Dushanbe. Here are fine populations of Iris nicolai/popovii, Colchicum luteum, Anemone bucharica, Scilla puschkinioides, Primula kaufmanniana and Adonis turkestanicus. If you follow the Panj river along the Afghan border fine populations of Cercis griffithii, Eremurus stenophyllus and Gentiana olivieri can be spotted.

Tulipa bataliniiTulipa praestansColchicum luteum

The beautiful Sagirdasht pass (3200m) near Kalaikhumb (in the GBAO) is not always open in the end of April and often closed due to the high snow fall in winter. If it is open it is a very good place to botanise. Deep yellow Iris bucharica, Tulipa battalinii, Tulipa linifolia, Tulipa turkestanica, Tulipa anisophylla (very dwarf), Chesneya hissarica, Anemone erantioides, Primula auriculata, Colchicum luteum and Vinca erecta are native here.

Colchicum luteumIris variation & Colchicum luteum

In all Tajikistan is a beautiful country with very friendly people. The roads are not always that good and I advise to use a 4×4 jeep to travel.

 

For more Tajikistan images click here

Valais

Switzerland-Valais

The Valais (Wallis) is one of the 26 cantons of Switzerland in the southwestern part of the country, around the valley of the Rhône from its headwaters to Lake Geneva, separating the Pennine Alps from the Bernese Alps. The canton is one of the drier parts of Switzerland in its central Rhône valley. Paradoxically it is also one of most well-watered parts, having large amounts of snow and rain up on the highest peaks found in Switzerland.

Aletsch GlacierGentiana orbicularis

The canton of Valais is probably best known for its picturesque villages like Zermatt and Saas Fee. Pretty tourist villages dominated by views of the Matterhorn (4,478 m). Fifty of the mountains in Valais exceed 4,000 m with the highest, Monte Rosa, reaching to 4,638 metres and there are numerous glaciers from among which the largest in the Alps. One of the glaciers you cannot miss when in this area is the Aletsch Glacier. Which can be easily reached by cablecar from the village Betten.

The bus and the train station of Visp serves as the starting point for many outdoor activities, trips, and tours in the surrounding mountain resorts. For that reason buy a ticket for the Matterhorn-Gotthard train or Glacier Express and you will enjoy the best scenic views from the panorama window in the train.

Eritrichium nanumLeontopodium alpinum

In Valais (but also in other parts of Switzerland) it could be wise to buy a so called Swiss Pass for 3, 5 or more days days. Then you have for these amount of days free traveling by Train (also Glacier Express), Post Busses and 50% discount on all cable cars in the area.

If you would like to stay at a campsite, then I can recommend Camping Schwimmbad Muhleye at Visp. From this campsite it is only 15 minutes walk to the train station, which is very convenient. In Visp are also many good and large supermarkets.

Androsace alpinaGornergrat Bahn

Some of the top areas to look for high alpines are:

  • Zermatt: Schwarzsee to Hornli Hutt and Gornergrat to Riffelsee
  • Saas Fee: Brittania Hutt and Plattjen
  • Saas Grund: Hohsaas
  • Betten: Bettmeralp and Aletsch Glacier
  • Visp: Truttmanna Lake
  • Simplon Pass and Gondo Schlucht

Of course there are many more. You can see most of the trips I did in the enclosed Google Map.

For more informationen about this area from Switzerland click here

For more Switzerland (Valais-Wallis) click here.

Andalucia

Spain-Andalucia

 

Andalusia is the Spanish Autonomous Community with the greatest number of inhabitants and the second in surface. Its varied landscapes, its climate and the friendly character of its population have turned it into one of the most attractive regions of Spain for the plant lover. The offer for visitors is extremely varied, from golden beaches to those beautiful mountain ranges with their highly interesting flora and the famous “white villages” which are rich in folklore.The Iberian Peninsula is the centre of diversity when it comes to Narcissus, it is thought that up to 90% of all species can be found here, with many sub-species and natural hybrids.

view to Ronda bridgeGrazalema village, 900m

Marbella is famous for its internationally renowned and privileged climate and these days it is easy to reach with several cheap airlines. A good place to start your holiday to explore Andalucia. Marbella town center includes the lovely old town and its beaches are famous. The annual average temperature is around 18.5º C, with 320 days of sunshine a year.December and January being the time of year with the highest precipitation.This climate is due to its unique geographical situation, namely the mountains which surround Marbella, the Sierra Blanca and the Concha.

Iris planifoliaAlgatocin village, 715m

In the middle of the bizarre mountain range Sierra de Ronda, at the edge of a 120 meters deep and 70 meters wide canyon, there is Ronda – certainly one of the most incredible places in Andalucia.
Hardly anybody has ever regretted the 60 kilometers journey from Marbella, passing narrow mountain streets, when suddenly Ronda appears. The famous and really breath-taking bridge alone is worth the travel, but Ronda has more to offer: the only bullring in all Spain which is entirely made of stone, and several interesting buildings in particular from the Moorish period. Ronda’s big central square is very lively, and several restaurants invite you to taste the specialties from the surrounding mountain range. Ronda is a good base to stay and explore the nearby area. There are lots of good and cheap hotels.

Narcissus papyraceusNarcissus cordubensisNarcissus pannizianus

The Sierra de Grazalema was declared the first natural park in Andalucia in 1984 and is one of Spain’s most ecologically outstanding areas. This large park is famous for its spectacularly rugged limestone landscape of cliffs, gullies, caves and gorge. The region is well known for being the rainiest place in Spain, with an annual rainfall of 2200mm, which means that the 1300 Mediterranean plant species that have been registered here, many of them endemic and some of them unique to the Sierra, flourish. Dotted around the sierra are attractive pueblos blancos (white villages), the one in the most dramatic setting being Grazalema which nestles between the two rugged peaks of Pico del Reloj and the Pico de San Cristóbal. Other picturesque white villages include Cortes de la Frontera, El Bosque and Benaocaz where I stayed in a wonderful apartment for a few days to explore this plant rich area.

mistletoe (Viscum cruciatum) on almond treeCrocus nevadensisHimantoglossum robertianum (syn. Barlia robertiana)

The natural park Sierra de las Nieves is located in the hills behind Marbella and to the east of the Ronda-Marbella road as it winds up the mountain along hairpin bends. The park centres on Mount Torrecilla (1909m). Apart from a few villages, which form a rural mountain community, this isolated area is largely uninhabited, and has seen very little human influence or activity, such as agricultural cultivation. For this reason, it has an unusually rich variety of indigenous flora and fauna. As the name suggests, the park is sometimes snow-covered in winter.

Narcissus hispanicusNarcissus assoanusNarcissus bujei

The lakes in Malaga are divided into three different areas referred to as: Embalse de Gaitanej; Embalse del Conde de Guadalhorce and the biggest of them all Embalse del Gualdalteba-Guadalhorce.

If you head inland, away from Malaga Capital, towards the town of Ardales, you can access the lakes by following the signs to El Chorro or Embalses de Guadalhorce. In this area you are able to find the best Narcissus cantabricus in large numbers.

Narcissus cantabricusNarcissus cantabricus

Andalucia is a hotspot for Narcissus species, but you can find lots of other interesting plants. The best time to see the early spring flowers is around the last week in February and the first week in March.

 

For more Andalucia images click here

Peru South

Peru is located in the central part of South America and borders on the north with Ecuador and Colombia, on the east with Brazil and Bolivia, on the south with Chile and on the west with the Pacific Ocean and is divided into 25 regions and the province of Lima.

Many visitors to South America choose the Andes Mountains in Peru as their first choice, and for good reason. Besides being stunningly beautiful, the Andes Mountains in Peru provide a myriad of attractions, from historical ruins, to charming mountain towns and of course their own mountain flora. In the smaller villages the people still dress in traditional cloth and are among the most colourful people you will find anywhere in the world.

Cusco Cantua buxifolia

 

Cusco is a region in Peru, it’s capital is also called Cusco.

It is a city with a rich history. It was the capital of the great Incan Empire for 200 years, but excavations indicate that it was inhabited as much as 3000 years ago. Cusco has many wonderful sites to visit. Plaza de Armas is a big plaza in the downtown area with small gardens, benches and statues. Numerous churches and shops with charming stone architecture surround it, which adds to the aesthetics of the area. The ambiance is charming and peaceful.

Saqsaywaman Hesperoxiphion herrerae

Sacsaywaman is located on a steep hill high above Cusco and was one of the districts of the city during the Incas time. For many years it was considered the fortress. However modern researches think that this was the residential area for wealthy nobles and had rich houses, temples and squares for religious ceremonies. Although the Spanish demolished the buildings and used the stones for construction of churches, the ruins of the district are still impressive! The walls with perfectly fit stones are about 6 meters tall. The estimated volume of stone is over 6,000 cubic meters. Estimates for the weight of the largest limestone block vary from 128 tons to almost 200 tons! It is assumed that about 20,000 people were working on the construction of the complex.

Monastero d Santa Catalina Volcan El Misti (5822m) and Volcan Chachani (6057m)

Arequipa is a region in southwestern Peru. Its capital, also called Arequipa, is Peru’s second-largest city. This region has a rough topography which is characterized by heavy layers of volcanic lava covering large areas of its inter-Andean sector. Plateaus range in height from medium to high-altitude ones such as located in the zones of Chivay. Volcanic cones are seen emerging above the plateaus and forming snowfalls, such as Volcan Misti and Volcan Chachani. In contrast with these heights, there are deep canyons, as the wonderful Colca Canyon.

Azorella compacta Gentianella luteomarginata

This canyon is reported to be the deepest in the world, thought to be twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the USA. What brings increasingly more visitors each year, in addition to the awesome sights, are the Andean condors. A highlight of the Colca Canyon is a stop at Cruz del Condor, the pass where condors soar gracefully on the rising thermals occurring as the air warms.

 

Moquegua is a small department in southern Peru that extends from the coast to the highlands. The region’s name is of Quechua origin and means “quiet place”. It is not much visited by tourists as accommodation can be a problem, but it has many treasures for botanists.

  

Titicaca is a lake in the Andes on the border of Peru and Bolivia. By volume of water, it is the largest lake in South America. It is often called the highest navigable lake in the world, with a surface elevation of 3,812m.

Titicaca is notable for a population of people who live on the Uros, a group of  44 or so artificial islands made of floating reeds (totora, a reed that abounds in the shallows of the lake). These islands have become a major tourist attraction for Peru, drawing excursions from the lakeside city of Puno. Their original purpose was defensive, and they could be moved if a threat arose. Many of the islands contain watchtowers largely constructed of reeds.

Uros islands Lake Titicaca Caiophora pentlandii

Taquile is a hilly island in lake Titicaca located 45 kilometers east of Puno. It is narrow and long and was used as a prison during the Spanish Colony and into the 20th century. In 1970 it became property of the Taquile people, who have inhabited the island since then. The island is 5.5 by 1.6 km in size. The highest point of the island is 4,050 meters above sea level. Pre-Inca ruins are found on the highest part of the island, and agricultural terraces on hillsides. From the hillsides of Taquile you have a view over the white snow tops of the Bolivian mountains. The inhabitants, known as Taquileños, are southern Quechua speakers.

Life on Taquile is still largely unchanged by mainland modernity’s. There are no cars on the island and no hotels and a few small stores sell basic goods.

Culture is very much alive on Taquile, which can be seen in the traditional clothes everyone wears. Taquile is especially known for its handicraft tradition which is regarded as among the highest quality handicrafts not only in Peru but in the world

Machu Picchu Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu  is a world famous 15th-century Inca site located 2,430m above sea level and is located in the Urubamba Province. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Sacred Valley which is 80km northwest of Cusco and through which the Urubamba River flows. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). Often mistakenly referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas”, it is perhaps the most familiar icon of Inca civilization.

The Incas built the estate around 1450, but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Although known locally, it was unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham.

Since then, Machu Picchu has become an important tourist attraction. Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll.

Puya raimondii Abutilon peruvianumGentianella ernestii

Puya raimondii (Queen of the Andes)

Puya Raimondii is an ancient, very rare and the largest bromeliad in the world. In some preserved areas of Peru and Bolivia you can see its gigantic inflorescence reaching up to >10m height and 2,5 m diameter. Due to its size the Puya raimondii is considered to be the largest inflorescence in the world. It has about ten thousand flowers and six million seeds in each plant.

To grow such a magnificent inflorescence Puya saves its strength all its life, which is quite long. On average the “maturity” of the Puya starts after 50 years. However, there are species that start blooming after 150 years. The Puya raimondii are pollinated by bats and large insects.

The sad thing is that the parent plant dies after it flowers and fruits for the first time (monocarpic). Maybe, that’s why these species are endangered in the wild with only a few small populations per square km. Today, there are only a few hundred thousand species of these “spikes”, but these flowers were growing all over the Andes in pre-historic times.

 

For Peru images tour 2014 click here

For Peru images tour 2016 click here

For Peru images tour 2018 click here

New Zealand

New Zealand South Island

 

New Zealand is made up of two main islands and a number of smaller islands and has a mild and temperate maritime climate with mean annual temperatures ranging from 10 °C (50 °F) in the south.
The South Island is the largest Island of New Zealand, and is divided along its length by the Southern Alps. Fiordland’s steep mountains and deep fiords record the extensive ice age glaciation of this south-western corner of the South Island. New Zealand’s geographic isolation for 80 million years and island biogeography is responsible for the country’s unique species of animals, fungi and plants. Most notable are the large number of unique bird species, many of which became extinct after the arrival of humans and introduced mammals. About 82 percent of New Zealand’s indigenous vascular plants are endemic. The flower colours are not very exciting and mostly white, sometimes yellow and rarely blue. In the mountains you can find very special alpine plants like the vegetable sheep. These plants, Roaulia eximia and Haastia pulvinaris can be very old. Some plants are estimated to be several hundreds of years old.

view near Mt. Burnssmall lakes at Mt. Burns

Mountains

Mountains dominate large areas of the New Zealand landscape. About 60% of the South Island is covered by ranges with peaks over 1500 metres high.

The highest peak in New Zealand is Aoraki/Mt Cook, at 3754m on The South Island. Lake Putaki very close to it has a milky-turquoise colour.

KeaLeucogenes grandiceps

The Southern Alps

The Southern Alps stretch for 500 kilometres, from Nelson Lakes National Park in the north-east to near the entrance of Milford Sound in the south-west. Made of greywacke sandstone in the east and schist in the west.

All of New Zealand’s peaks over 3,000 metres are in the Southern Alps.

For thousands of kilometres, the Southern Alps are the only significant mountain barrier to the moist westerly winds of the Southern Ocean. This causes the range to generate the most extreme climatic conditions in New Zealand. There is a very high-rainfall zone to the west, and often drought-prone regions to the east.

Ranunculus lyalliRanunculus sericophyllus

The Fiordland ranges

Te Anau is the gateway to the world-famous Fiordland National Park, a World Heritage Area covering nearly 1.2 million hectares. Fiordland comprises the rugged, glaciated country and fiords in the south-west corner of the South Island. If you were to imagine the most dramatic landscape on the planet, it might look like this.

Fiordland represents nature on a grand scale, where waterfalls tumble hundreds of metres into pristine, forested valleys, and glacier-carved fiords indent its coastal boundaries. The road to Milford Sound, which traverses Fiordland National Park below massive peaks and bluffs, is considered one of the finest alpine drives in the world. Arriving at Milford, visitors are confronted by the most famous of New Zealand icons – the majestic Mitre Peak.

Milford Sound is the most famous, but Doubtful Sound – the deepest – is also easily accessible.

Visitors to this vast, remote area, practically untouched by humans, are often overwhelmed by the incredible solitude and serenity of Fiordland.

One of the best plant walks, but also one of the toughest in Fiordland, is the Gertrude Saddle walk. It will take you a full day, but you will be rewarded with a cream of special alpines as Ranunculus sericophyllus, Raoulia buchananii, Hectorella caespitose, Celmisia hectori, Haastia sinclairii, Ourisia caespitosa and many more. It is open to all public, but make sure you are fit enough!

Raoulia buchananiiCelmisia hectoriMetrosideros excelsa (Pohutukawa, NZ Christmas tree)

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo is about 3 hours drive south-west of Christchurch in the Mackenzie Basin. The township faces north across the remarkable turquoise coloured lake to the mountainous drama of the Southern Alps. Lake Tekapo gets its intense milky-turquoise colour from the fine rock-flour (ground by glaciers) which is suspended in the water.

Near Lake Tekapo are some very nice mountains to look for alpines. Mt. Edward and Mt. Dobson have a good variation on plants, but both areas are privatly owned at not open to everyone! Mt. Dobson has a special plant, Acyphylla dobsonii with very spiny leaves. Other plants here are Phyllachne colensoi, Anisotome aromatica, Euphrasia integrifolia and Chionohebe pulvinaris. On Mt. Edward you are able to find very nice speciemens of Raoulia eximia, Gentianella corymbifera ssp. corymbifera and Pimelea traversii.

Fiordland, Milford Sound & Mitre PeakRaoulia eximia

Plant hunting

If you are interested to see special endemic alpine plants keep in mind that many ski field areas, where you can see the best alpines, are privately owned. Very often a locked gate at the base of the pass will stop you.

If you do not have good contacts with local people it will not be possible to drive all the way to the top of some mountain passes and it will take you many hours before you reach (on foot) the alpine zone with its plants.

9m long Haastia pulvinaris var. minorHaastia pulvinaris var. minor

 

Alpine Plant Book

If you are interested in a good book with most of the New Zealand alpines I can highly recommend “Above the Treeline”, nature guide to alpine New Zealand by Alan F. Mark (2013) This field guide sized book covers both the flora and fauna to be found in New Zealand’s mountainous regions. As well as the unique flowering alpine plants, which constitute the majority of the book, it includes ferns and fern allies, conifers, lichens, mosses and fungi; birds; frogs, geckos and skinks; butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, beetles and other invertebrates.

The informative introduction is followed by descriptions of more than 850 species illustrated by approximately 1150 photos.

Ranunculus buchananiiNZ tree fernGentiana saxosa

New Zealand Alpine Garden Society

If you are really interested in NZ alpines you might consider to join this Society. Next to a bulletin they have an impressive seed list with many endemic NZ alpines.

For more New Zealand images click here

Gosainkunda

Nepal

Wedged between the high wall of the Himalaya and the steamy jungles of the Indian plains, Nepal is a land of snow peaks and Sherpas, yaks, monasteries, mantras and yetis (?).

 

The mountainous north of Nepal has eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest, called Sagarmatha in the Nepali language. More than 240 peaks over 6100 m above sea level are located in Nepal.

Swayambhunath Stupa (monkey temple)Kathmandu city is very busyNyatapola Temple, Bhaktapur

Kathmandu

Kathmandu is the capital and largest metropolitan city of Nepal. The city is the urban core of the Kathmandu Valley in the Himalayas, which also contains two sister cities namely Patan or Lalitpur, 5 km to its southeast (an ancient city of fine arts and crafts) and Bhaktapur, 14 km to its east.

Pashupatinath TempleSadhus (holy men in Nepal) at Pashupatinath temple

Kathmandu is home to gems such as Durbar Square (with temples dating back to the 12th century), Boudhanath Stupa (a world heritage site) and the Pashupatinath Temple (the country’s most important Hindu temple, on the banks of the Bagmati river. Kathmandu is also the gateway to the rest of Nepal. The mountains hold a magnetic attraction for many who visit Nepal. The trek to Everest base camp, a two-week trip starting with a nerve-racking flight to Lukla airport, is the most popular mountain activity, whilst the stunningly beautiful Annapurna base camp can be achieved by a 7-10 day trek from Pokhara.

 

Trekkings

A more easier trek  is the Langtang valley trek, also called “the valley of glaciers trek”. Langtang is the closet place where you could get the massive snow capped mountains and beautiful glaciers. This valley is located only 40 km north of Kathmandu. The whole valley is dominated by Mount Langtang Lirung (7246 m) and offers pine forest, swift mountain streams, rugged rock and snow-capped peaks, grassy down and meadows.

path to Gosainkunda lakeGosainkunda lake with tea houses at 4380m

The Langtang-Gosainkunda trek combines the remote and spectacular valley of Langtang, with the high mountain lakes at Gosainkunda. Gosainkunda Lake is the site for a great pilgrimage. The large rock in the center of the lake is said to be the remains of Shiva shrine and it is also claimed that a channel carries water from the lake directly to the tank at the Kumbeshwor Temple in Patan. Gosainkunda is the most famous lake renowned among Nepali Hindus.

Gosaikunda is a significant place of interest in the Dhunche-Helambu trekking route. This trek adjoins the famous Langtang valley trek in the same district and the two treks can be combined. This trek can be done in teahouse style with hotels and lodges available along the trekking route. The popular start to the trek to Gosaikunda are in Dhunche Village or Syabru Besi both from the Langtang side. Alternatively, trekkers may also start from Sundarijal, which lies on the outskirts of Kathmandu.

If you are starting from Dhunche the first day involves a long steady climb to reach Chandan Bari, which is at a height of about 3200 m. On the second day, one reaches Laurebina at about 3700 m. At this point, some trekkers choose to climb ahead to Gosaikunda, though altitude sickness is a concern due to rapid ascent. Many trekkers choose to stay at Laurebina which also provides excellent sunset and sunrise views of the Langtang and Ganesh Himal.

Primula calderiana var. strumosaMeconopsis simplicifoliaPrimula concinna

Plants

In the forest and around the lakes you are able to find many different plants like several Arisaema species, Roscoea alpina, Pleione spec., Androsace sarmentosa, Androsace lehmanii, Poligonatum hookeri and Gentiana depressa. But one of the main plant attractions are the primulas. There are good forms of Primula aureata, P. rotundifolia, P. concinna, P. primuliana, P. deuteronana, P. denticulate and P. calderiana ssp. strumosa. Lower down you will find Daphne bholua and Meconopsis simplicifolia. A 9-10 day trek is long enough to enjoy the plants around Gosainkunda Lake.

Primula deuteronanaPrimula aureata ssp. fimbriata

For more images from the Gosainkunda trek  here

Lesotho

Lesotho, previously known as Basutoland, or very often referred, as Kingdom in the Sky is officially the Kingdom of Lesotho. It is landlocked and completely surrounded by South Africa. Lesotho has 300 days of sunshine. The rainy season extends from October to April in which Lesotho gets from 120 – 1,200 mm of rainfall a year, mostly during severe thunderstorms. Extensive snowfalls are possible in winter but may occur in any month on the high mountains. Nighttime temperatures go below freezing in winter (May-September), so bring warm cloths.

With all of its land lying at altitudes in excess of 1,300 m above sea-level, it is a land of heights and extremes. Lesotho is famous for its spectacular scenic beauty with breath-taking mountain ranges, towering peaks, a rich variety of flora and fauna, crystal clear streams, large waterfalls, fascinating culture and a snow blanket seen high in the mountains across the country in winter. While travelling around the country, visitors will come across much different habitats. From dry rocky places to lush green woodland.

Drakensbergen, view from Sentinel PeakWitsieshoek Mountain Lodge

The Drakensbergen is the name given to the eastern portion of the Great Escarpment, which encloses the central South African plateau. The Great Escarpment reaches its greatest elevation in this region between 2,000 to 3,000 m. The Drakensberg escarpment stretches in total for over 1,000 km from the Eastern Cape Province in the South, then successively forms, in order from south to north, the border between Lesotho and the Eastern Cape and the border between Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal Province. The Maloti Mountains are a mountain range, part of the Drakensberg system of the highlands of Lesotho and extend for about 100 km into the Free State.

If you want to visit Lesotho start or end your tour at Witsieshoek at the northeast border with South Africa. You should base yourself at Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge that overlooks the Drakensberg’s Sentinel Peak and Amphitheatre. At 2,286 m above sea level, the Lodge is the highest in the Northern Drakensberg. A good path will lead you to the chain ladder and when you have climbed it then you will have a spectacular view. Along the path towards the chain ladder grow many interesting plants and you can easily spend a full day here. Plants in this area are Brunsvigia radulosa, Helichrysum marginatum, Moraea alpina, Eucomis bicolor, Eucomis humilis, Hebenstretia dura, Galtonia regalis and Xerophyta viscosa.

Hebenstretia duraEucomis humilisHypoxis hemerocallidea

Thabana Ntlenyana (3,485 m), which literally means ‘Beautiful little mountain’ is the highest point in Lesotho and the highest mountain in southern Africa, south of Kilimanjaro. It is situated on the Mohlesi ridge of the Drakensberg/Maloti Mountains north of Sani Pass. AfriSki is one of only two ski resorts in southern Africa, located around 3,200 m above sea level in the Maloti Mountains, operating in Southern Africa near the northern border of Lesotho and South Africa. The resort is a 4.5-hour drive from Johannesburg via the steep tarred Moteng pass and the Mahlasela pass.

The New Oxbow Lodge is nearby AfriSki  and an excellent place to stay to explore the botanical rich area of the Moteng Pass and the Mahlasela Pass. This area is well know for it large colonies of Kniphofia caulescens. Other plants in this area are Kniphofia thodei, Berkheya rosulata, Cotyledon orbiculare, Helichrysum adenocarpum with it deep red/pink buds.

Lesotho herdsmen with traditional Basotho blanket

Aloe polyphylla (Spiral Aloe) is the National flower of Lesotho. The Spiral Aloe is a rare and beautiful Aloe found in the Maluti Mountains. Very characteristic is the unique spiral arrangement of the leaves. Mr. F.H. Holland discovered it in 1915 at the Phurumela Mountains of Lesotho. It is widely distributed and occurs in the mountains above 2,000 meters. It is endemic to Lesotho and an endangered plant. It is mostly threatened by illegal harvest as a garden plant.

Aloe polyphyllaKniphofia caulescens

Sani Top at the Sani Pass is at 2,874 m above sea level and located at Lesotho border post in the district of Mokhotlong. The road descends the torturous meandering of the Sani Pass. It traverse through the mountain plateau down the Drakensberg mountains and into the South African province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. The spine-tingling pioneering of this route was previously travelled by Mokhotlong Motor Transport and currently is being used by adventure loving motorists.

Sani PassHelichrysum milfordiaeRhodohypoxis baurii var. confecta

The Sani Pass it self and Sani Top are hot spots for various Afromontane flowers. Here you are able to find beautiful patches of Helichrysum milfordiae, Rhodohypoxis baurii, and in the basalt cliffs the suicide lily Gladiolus flanaganii.

Gladiolus flanaganii (The Suicide Lily)Protea dracomontana

Other plants in this area are Wahlenbergia polytrichifolia ssp. dracomontana, Helichrysum pagophilum and Albuca humilis. Lower down at the Sani Pass you should able to find good stand of Agapanthus campanulatus, Protea dracomontana, Protea subvestita, Protea roupelliae, Watsonia lepida, Euryops tysonii or Erica cerinthoides.

Craterocapsa congestaRomulea macowanii & Romulea thodei

Situated in the Drakensberg escarpment is the Sehlabathebe National Park established in 1970. A breath-taking undisturbed area of its own beauty of clear rivers running through the park. Rocks of different formations, San paintings, unique wild flowers, bird sanctuary, rock pools and a waterfall. This park is the national designated nature reserve in Lesotho and comprises 6500 hectares at an average elevation of 2,400 m. The park is ideal for hiking, bird-watching and contains unusual rock formations and alpine flora.

Sehlabathebe National ParkBrunsvigia radulosa

It is a very plant rice area with many orchids like Schizochilus flexuosus, Schizochilus bulbinella, Satyrium longicauda, Disa versicolor , Holothrix scopularia, Disperis cardiophora and Disa oreophila ssp. oreophila. Next to all the orchids there are many other attractive plants in this area. Some of these are Helichrysum aureum, Dianthus mooiensis, Gladiolus ecklonii, Eumorphia prostrate, Eucomis schijffii or Brunsvigia grandiflora.

Eucomis schijffiiDisa cooperiKniphofia thodei

For more Lesotho image click here

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Kyrgyzstan

In the 14 days I was in Kyrgyzstan (last week in April and first week in May) I travelled to several side valleys along the Issyk Kul lake and saw spectacular views with snow capped mountains and many desirable plants. I need to go back some day to see more of this wonderful country. This trip was organised in close co-operation with Ecotour based in Bishkek.

The Republic of Kyrgyzstan situated in Central Asia is almost completely mountainous and occupies a part of the Tian Shan and the western spurs of the Pamir-Alay. The country borders are Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. More than half of Kyrgyzstan lies at an elevation higher than 2,500 m, and only about one-eighth of the country is lower than 1,500 m. The highest peak of this mountainous country is Pobeda Peak, which is 7439 meters high. Glaciers and permanent snowfields cover more than 3 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s total land area.

Tian Shanmarket at Bishkek

The country’s climate varies by region. The climate is subtropical in the Fergana Valley and temperate in the northern foothill zone. The lower mountain slopes have a dry continental climate, as they receive hot desert winds from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, whereas the highest mountain elevations have a polar climate. In the valleys, the average daily temperature in July is 28° C. In January daily averages are as low as -14° C. Conditions are much colder at high elevations, where in July the average daily temperature is 5° C and in January, -28° C. Precipitation is between 100 and 500 mm in the valleys and from 180 to 1,000 mm in the mountains.

Issyk Kul (also Ysyk Köl, Issyk-Kol) lake is the tenth largest lake in the world by volume and the second largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea. Although it is surrounded by snow-capped peaks, it never freezes hence its name, which means “hot lake” in the Kyrgyz language. Lake Issyk Kul has a length of 182 kilometers , a width of up to 60 kilometers, and covers an area of 6,236 square kilometers . This makes it the second largest mountain lake in the world behind Lake Titicaca in South America. Located at an altitude of 1,607 m and is 668 m deep.

Tulipa heterophyllaHegemone lilacinaEremostachys speciosa

Nomads normally put up their yurts, on the hills from where they can easily watch the cattle and the surrounding world: sky, stars, and valleys. The yurt in highlands with their domes towered up into the sky seems as natural continuity of the mountainous environment. Sometimes, yurts can be met in the valleys amid the verdure, or on the green meadows near the mountain rivers. However, these are only temporary dwellings because in winter and autumn time it is more preferable to stay in windless spots, lacking heavy snowfalls.

Kyrgyz with Kalpak

Eagle hunting has been an age-old profession in the lands of Central Asia. The relationship between a man and his eagle is taken seriously, and it starts when the man risks his life to capture a young one to begin the bonding process. This man and eagle relationship can last up to twenty years

Eagle Man in KyrgyzstanYurt

The Burana Tower is a large minaret in the Chuy Valley in northern Kyrgyzstan. It is located about 80 km east of the country’s capital Bishkek, near the town of Tokmok. The tower, along with grave markers, some earthworks and the remnants of a castle and three mausoleums, is all that remains of the ancient city of Balasagun. An external staircase and steep, winding stairway inside the tower enables visitors to climb to the top. The tower was originally 45 m high. However, over the centuries a number of earthquakes caused significant damage to the structure. The last major earthquake in the 15th century destroyed the top half of the tower, reducing it to its current height of 25 m. In the early 1900s, Russian immigrants to the area used some of the bricks from the tower for new building projects. A renovation project was carried out in the 1970s to restore its foundation and repair the west-facing side of the tower, which was in danger of collapse.

Tulipa tetraphyllaAndrosace cf. dasyphylla

The flora in Kyrgyzstan is renowned for its botanical diversity, with more then 3700 plants of higher species of which about 400 species endemic to this country. Varieties of tulip, orchid and wild onion are unusually abundant and many alpine plants. The most known plants of Kyrgyz Republic are the many tulips like Tulipa greigii, Tulipa kaufmanniana and Tulipa kolpakowskiana. But if you take a closer look you are able to find many other species like: Hegemone lilacina, Androsace dasyphylla, Pulsatilla campanella, Fritillaria walujewii and many species of Eremurus Adonis, Viola, Primula, Corydalis and Acantholimon. For me one of the highlights was to find the miniature tulip, Tulipa heterophylla.

 

For more Kyrgyzstan images click here

Kenia

Mount Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya, and the second highest in Africa (after Mount Kilimanjaro 5895m). The highest peaks of the mountain are Batian (5199m), Nelion (5188m) and Point Lenana (4985m). Mount Kenya is located in central Kenya, just south of the equator, around 150km north-northeast of Nairobi. The area around the mountain is protected in the Mount Kenya National Park, which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The National Park is around 620km2, and receives up to 15,000 visitors every year.

Accomodation near Mount Kenya

Naro Moru River Lodge, this lodge is situated near Naro Moru, and offers facilities from bird watching to equipment hire and guided climbs and plant tours to the mountain. It also administers the bunkhouses at the Met Station and Mackinders Camp on the Naro Moru Route.

Dendrosenecio keniensis and D. keniodendron  Lobelia telekii

Naro Moru Route

This route is taken by many of the trekkers who try to reach Point Lenana. It can be ascended in only 3 days and has bunkhouses at each camp so a tent is not necessary. The terrain is usually good, although one section is called the Vertical Bog which is hard to get trough.
The track starts in Naro Moru town and heads past the Park Headquarters up the ridge between the Northern and Southern Naro Moru Rivers. At the roadhead is the Met Station (Meteorological) where you can stay the first night, to which it is possible to drive in the dry season. The route goes up into the Northern Naro Moru Valley to Mackinders Camp. The huts are very basic. Most huts have no heat or light, but spacious with dormitories and communal areas. They also offer separate accommodation for porters and guides.

Afro-alpine zone

The Afro-alpine zone starts at about 3800m. It is characterised by thin dry air and a huge temperature fluctuation.
Plants are subject to solifluction, where needle-ice is produced every night. This ice uproots seedlings and can damage roots. Some plants have evolved to live without roots, such as lichens and moss-balls.  Dendrosenecio keniodendron( Giant groundsel) and Lobelia keniensis have spongy areas between the cells in their leaves where water can freeze every night without damaging the plants. When these plants are subjected to temperatures above 15 Celsius, photosynthesis is considerably reduced.
Vegetation becomes more sparse at this altitude, with small and giant heathers being dominant. The dominant plant in the Afro-alpine zone on Mount Kenya is the tussock grass Festuca pilgeri.

Dendrosenecio keniodendron  Lobelia keniensis  Masai

There are three kinds of giant rosette plants; Carduus, Senecio, Dendrosenecio and Lobelia. Carduus keniensis, the giant thistle, is endemic to Mount Kenya. Dendrosenecio, are only found on East African mountains. They have leaves up to 1m long, and some species have treelike stems.

Dendrosenecio keniodendron is endemic to Mount Kenya. It is a giant rosette plant, and can grow up to 6m tall. It tends to grow in dense groups of even-sized plants, and flowers every 5-20 years, often in synchrony across the population.
Two species, Dendrosenecio keniodendron and Senecio keniensis are separated by altitude and topography. D. keniodendron occurs more frequently with increasing elevation above 3900m and up to 4500m, whereas S. keniensis occurs mainly below 4000m and very rarely above 4200m. Where the two species come together, hybrids are not uncommon.
Senecio keniensis, Lobelia keniensis and tussock grasses are dominant in the wetter areas. There are over 100 species of wildflowers in the Afro-alpine zone including everlastings Helichrysum spp., Ranunculus orephytes, Haplocarpha rupellii and Gladiolus thomsoni. Because of variation in flowering times, some species are in flower at all times of year.

Kilimanjaro  Elephants at Amboseli Nat. Park

260 kilometres from the capital city Nairobi, Amboseli National Park is the third most visited game area in Kenya and a visit can easily be done in a weekend.Amboseli National Park, is in Kajiado District, Rift Valley Province in Kenya. The park is 39,206 hectares in size at the core of an 8000 square kilometres ecosystem that spreads across the Kenya-Tanzania border. The local people are mainly Maasai, but people from other parts of the country have settled there attracted by the successful tourist-driven economy and intensive agriculture along the system of swamps that makes this low-rainfall area (average 350mm) one of the best widlife-viewing experiences in the world.

For more information about Mount Kenya, click here 

For more Kenya images click here

Iran

General

The Islamic Republic of Iran is located in southwestern Asia, bordered by Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Gulf of Oman, and the Persian Gulf. Iran has an area of 1 ,648 ,195 square kilometers and is the 17th largest country in the world. The population is ±60 million.

The state religion is Islam and 99.5% of the people are Muslims. There are small numbers of Christians and Jews as well and the official language is Farsi (Persian).

Tehran is the capital city. Other more beautiful cities include Isfahan, Mashhad, Qom, Shiraz and Tabriz.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque Esfahan  Dionysia hausknechtii

Environment

The terrain is rugged and mountainous with a central plateau. A large part of the Iranian plateau is desert. Iran is mostly arid or semi-arid with subtropical weather along the coast of the Caspian Sea. The country has few lakes, and the largest is Lake Urmia – 4,700 square km).

The Golestan Forest National Park is on the UNESCO Mountains of the World list and was the first National Reserve in Iran. Kavir National Park is a desert regional park. Other protected areas include Gano Protected Region and Lar Protected Area. In April-May 2003, I visited this splendid country for the first time for three weeks. A lot of people think of Iran as a heap of sand that isn’t rich in plants and nothing could be less true! Contrasts in the landscape are enormous. One minute you’re in the middle of a snowfield at -3C° and two hours later you’re standing in a sand dessert at + 28 C°!

The landscape is fantastic, but so is the splendid architecture in cities like Esfahan, Qom, Qazvin, Bonab and in Zanjan . You can sometimes imagine yourself in a fairytale out of A Thousand and One Nights! The Iranian people are very pleasant and friendly. If you want to travel in Iran, it’s recommend to have a guide who speaks English. However, if you travel in the larger cities, students regularly approach to chat in English.

When you come to Tehran you can’t help but see the Azadi Monument, built in 1971 to mark the 2500 year existence of the Persian empire. Tehran is not a city for a long visit, due to the quantity of cars, and there are frequently problems with smog.

Iris accutiloba ssp. lineolata  Puschkinia scilloides  Fritillaria crassifolia ssp. kurdica

North of Tehran, in the Elbrus Mountains, lies the highest mountain of Iran, the Kuh-e Damavand at 5671m. The Elbrus Mountains stretch along the Caspian Sea and appear in some places like the European mountains. This resemblance is due to the influence from the sea, which brings a great deal of precipitation. East of these mountains is an area called Golestan. This region is also very rich in bulbous plants and here can be found fields full of tulips. In the province of Gilan, west of Tehran and close to the large city of Rasht, lies the characteristic village of Masouleh. Approximately 4 hours drive from Masouleh in the direction of Ardabil and over the Asalem Pass (2300m), you can see thousands of snowdrops in flower. Between the white snowdrops you will see many deep blue scillas, producing a beautiful color contrast. In the west of Iran, between the cities of Ardabil and Tabriz, you will find a completely different flora. On the slopes of the Kuh-e Sabalan and the Kuh-e Sahand you can find splendid Colchicum and Iris in several species, types, and colors.

The most well-known mountain chains are the Zagros mountains which run northwest to southeast. These mountains accommodate a treasury of endemic plants. They are not only the home of a number of Dionysia species, but you can also find a very large number of bulbous plants. Everyone knows the Crown Imperial, Fritillaria imperialis. and this plant grows here by the thousands. A beautiful scene is created by this splendid plant with orange red flowers among mountain peaks covered in snow against a sheer blue sky. What more can you wish for?

I can recommend that everyone visit this country once. However, do take into account that you must drive many kilometers to see a good mixture of plants. Fortunately, the roads are good and fuel is very cheap. Women must also be aware of certain clothing regulations.

For more Iran images 2003 trip click here

For more Iran images 2017 trip click here.

The Main Land

Greece the Mainland

 

From May 18th until June 8th 2010, my wife and I visited Greece for the first time and it will not be the last! In these 3-weeks, we drove about 3400km and did visit only the North of the mainland and not the Peloponnese. Our intention was to drive first to the far North corner (visit Mt. Olympos en-route to look for Jancaea heldreichii in flower), then to Mt. Pangeon, Mt. Falakro, Mt. Kajmaktcalan, Mt. Vermion, Mt. Smolikas, Mt. Timfi, the Vikos gorge (Zagori area), the Katara pass near Metsovo, the monastries at Meteora, the Pelion peninsula, Mt. Parnassos, Delphi and then to back to Athens again. You can see our route on the map above this page. (Google maps)

Jancaea heldreichii or Jankaea heldreichii 4-wheel drive campervan VW T4

Because of this extensive program, we rented a 4-wheel drive campervan at: Alpines Offroad. (picked up at the airport in Athens). In this way we were very flexible as we had everything with us. We never visited a campsite, only a few days at the Meteora monasteries and Delphi. Because of this 4-wheel drive campervan, we were able to drive over dirt track roads and mountain paths without any problem. That saved us many hours walking. Next to that we always had everything with us. Including even a very hot shower! I can only recommend this way of traveling as it safes so much time to find a hotel / pension every day. Next to that if the weather is not good, just move on. Next time when we hope to visit the Peloponnese in the autumn, we definitely will rent this campervan again.

Ophrys scolopax ssp. cornutaMeteora

I can recommend the book The Greek Mainland from the series Mountain Flower Walks published by the Alpine Garden Society. If you want to go on plant hunting in Greece do visit the Greek Mountain Flora website.

General information about Greece.
Greece is a very mountainous country, and this can be seen from various parts of Greece which you may visit, with mountains dominating the skyline. It is also a country that is virtually surrounded by sea and beautiful beaches. Mainland Greece is a wonderful combination of sea, and mountain, with stunning nature found all over the country.

Mainland Greece can be broken down into small groups, which comprise of Athens, the Peloponnese, Thessaly and Central Greece, Epirus and Macedonia and Thrace in the north. Many travelers to Greece will arrive at the Athens airport, and from here, move onwards.

Thessaly and Central Greece is a region of Greece that is well known for its natural beauty.

Delphi Paeonia pelegrina

The famous region of Delphi can be found to the south of the region of Central Greece, and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Greece after the Parthenon in Athens. With the stunning areas of Meteora and the famous monasteries, and the simple beautiful Mount Pelion region.

The region of Epirus on the West side of Greece is probably one with the strongest regional distinctiveness out of all of mainland Greece. The area is one full of mountainous peaks, ravines, forests and beautiful rivers on the Pindus range. Northern Greece is an area of Greece that is very popular with visitors who wish to avoid the hustle and bustle of the Greek Islands. The two main areas of Macedonia and Thrace dominate Northern Greece.

Zagoria, Kipi bridgeRamonda serbica

Zagori

Zagori, has 44 villages called the Zagorohoria and is an area of great natural beauty, with striking geology and two national parks, one including the river Aoos and the Vikos Gorge, to the west of the imposing snow-capped Mt. Timfi and has some lovely arched stone bridges.

As the heart of the Vikos-Aoos National Park, the Vikos Gorge is one of the largest and picturesque of the gorges of Zagori. The Vikos Gorge, with a length of 20km, walls that range from 400 to 1,600 metres deep, and a width from 400m to some meters at its narrowest part is listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the deepest canyon in the world in proportion to its width, though some gorge lobbyists contest that claim. The main part of the gorge stretches from the village of Vikos to Monodendri and attains a depth of about 1,000m.

The forests of Zagoria are composed of diverse species of deciduous and coniferous trees and a great variety of wildflowers. Recent studies on the flora of Vikos-Aoos National Park counted 873 vascular plants, including more than 250 medicinal, aromatic and poisonous taxa. The parks forests are abundant in species associated with the cool local climate, such as Ulmus glabra, Aesculus hippocastanum and Tilia platyphyllos. In the valley of the Vikos gorge, Platanus orientalis form wonderful forrest along the banks of Voidomatis.

Crocus spec.Saxifraga sempervivum

The most famous Zagori villages are: Monodendri, Megalo Papingo and Mikro Papingo. The former is fairly heavily visited, thanks to its identity as the most popular starting point for the Vikos Gorge hike, and thus has more services for those needing slightly more civilization. The village lies 38km north of Ioannina, accessible from the main south-north Ioannina-Konitsa road.

The ascent to Megalo Papingo and Mikro Papingo, further north, is one of most travelers’s most memorable Zagorohoria experiences: it involves navigating a succession of fifteen hairpin turns up and up, with Mikro Papinga at the end.

Viola perinensisDaphne oleoides

Meteora

The monasteries are situated in the district of Thessaly, province of Kalambaka, to the east of the Pindos Mountains and lie on the south-facing slopes at 1-2km north of Kalabaka

The monasteries are built on rock pinnacles of deltaic origin, called Meteora, rising over 400m above the Thessalian plain. Some geologists suggests that the pinnacles were created some 60 million years ago in the Tertiary period, emerging from the cone of a river and further transformed by earthquakes. The pillars are of brown sandstone.

The Meteora Group of monasteries comprises the following monasteries: Ascension of Jesus Christ; Transfiguration of the Saviour; Varlaam, Saint Nikolas Anapafsas; Roussanou; Holy Trinity; and Saint Stephan. Just a few are open to the public on certain times.These are built directly on the rock s surface without foundations as such. Religious life, starting in the form of hermits dwellings, can be traced to around 1,000 AD. The first monastic community emerged in the 14th century, and was most successful during the 15th and 16th centuries.

For more Greece images (main land) click here

For more Greece images (Peloponnese) click here

French Alps

French Alps
A popular area loaded with vacation opportunities and many easy accessible passes full of alpines.
Glaciers sculpted the French Alps, giving the corresponding valleys a mild climate and rich soil. There are a lot of towns in the area, for what at first glance might seem like an inhospitable and isolated section of France. In fact, the French Alps are full with well connected towns, and are popular year round, making them ideal for vacations in France. Divided into two providences, Savoy in the north, containing Mont Blanc, and Dauphine in the south, home to Grenoble, the main city of the Alps, the French Alps are a popular and diverse region.
Inspiring craggy peaks and snow capped mountains rise up in the French Alps, where there are fantastic opportunities for plant hunters.

Weather gives way very rapidly and varies from summer to winter. With pleasant weather in the summer the valleys open up to lush green fauna and fields of wildflowers. Hiking, as well as rafting, mountain biking, and canoeing are popular. Paragliding and skydiving are also possible. There are three national parks and four regional parks within the Alps: Vanoise, Ecrins, and Mercantour.

Dryas octopetala  Campanula alpestris

Lanslebourg-Mont-Cenis is a pleasant small town from where many daytrips into the mountains can be undertaken. There is a small Campsite and several nice hotels.

Mont Cenis is a massif and pass (2083m) which forms the limit between the Cottian and Graian Alps. Both on Col du Mont Cenis and Col du Petit Mont Cenis are easy accesible and ideal places to botanize. You will find here all the color forms of Viola calcarata you can dream of.
There is a Jardin botanique de Mont Cenis (an alpine botanical garden) located on Mont Cenis above the town of Lanslebourg-Mont-Cenis. The garden was created in 1976 at an altitude of about 2000m, and now contains about 800 plants.

Col de l Iseran (2770m) is the highest paved mountain pass in the Alps in the department of Savoie in France It is part of the French Graian Alps, near the border with Italy. The Col de l Iseran is the highest pass in the Alps although the Cime de la Bonette (2802 m is the highest paved road (end-to-end) but is only a scenic loop road with start and end only metres apart at the Col de la Bonette (2715 m).
The pass is part of the Route des Grandes Alpes. It connects the valley of the Isère and the valley of the Arc River between Val-d Isère in the north and Bonneval-sur-Arc (a very old town which you have to see!) in the south.
At the top of the pass near the small church there are thousands of Ranunculus glacialis but also Petrocallis pyrenaica and of course many other species.

Col d l Iseran  Primula pedemontana

Briançon in the Hautes-Alpes department, at 1350m it is the second highest city in Europe after Davos and a good place to stay for several days because there is so much to see. Several high mountain passes are within 1 hour drive such as the Col du Lautaret, Col du Galubier and the Col d Izoard. Pay also a visit to the Col du Granon.

Col du Lautaret (2058m) is a high mountain pass and very rich in flowers.
The col was modeled by a glacier which flowed down either side into the two valleys, and this explains the relatively easy gradient of the slopes by which it is attained. The Col is open all year round, and provides good views of La Meije to the south-west and the Grand Galibier to the north. Just before you reach the top of the pass you can see in June thousands of Narcissus poeticus in flower with several orchids in between.

Jardin Alpin Lautaret  Viola biflora

It is also well-known for its botanical garden, the Jardin botanique alpin du Lautaret A garden with 2 hectares located at 2100m altitude and well worth a visit. It is open daily in the warmer months; an admission fee is charged. The garden was created in 1899 by combined effort of the Touring Club de France, Professor Jean-Paul Lachmann of the Université scientifique de Grenoble, and M. Bonnabel, local hotelier. It was moved in 1919 to make way for a new road, and is now sited with excellent views of the Meije glaciers. The garden was abandoned during World War II, subsequently restored by Robert Ruffier-Lanche, declined again after his death in 1973, and revived in the early 1980s. Today the garden contains more than 2100 species of alpine plants from around the world, and continues to be managed by Grenoble University as it has since its creation.

Ranunculus glacialis Col d L Iseran  Geum reptans  Saxifraga oppositifolia

Col du Galibier (2645m) is an other mountain pass with many high alpines like Geum reptans, Androsace carnea var. brigantiana, Gentiana orbicularis and many more. It is often the highest point of the Tour de France.
Before 1976, the tunnel was the only point of passage at the top, at an altitude of 2556m. The tunnel was closed for restoration until 2002, and a new road was constructed over the summit. The re-opened tunnel is a single lane controlled by traffic lights which, at 2400m, must be amongst the highest in Europe.

Col d Izoard (2361m) is a spectacular pass southeast from Briançon with barren scree slopes with protruding pinnacles of weathered rock on the upper south side. Here you can find the endemic Berardia subacaulis in the limstone scree growing almost next to Daphne cneorum (dwarf forms) and many Viola cenisia.

For more images from the French Alps click here

Ethiopia

Hunting for alpines in Ethiopia?

Ethiopia is bordered by Eritrea to the north, Sudan to the west, Kenya to the south, Somalia to the east and Djibouthi to the north-east. Its size is 1.100.000 km2 with an estimated population of over 78 milj. Its capital is Addis Ababa. Ethiopia is one of the oldest countries in the world and Africas second most populous nation.

In September 2007 I visited this county to look at alpines at the Bale Mountains. This is a range of mountains in the Oromia Region of southeast Ethiopia, south of the Awash River. They include Tullu Demtu (4377m) the second highest mountain in Ethiopia and Mount Batu (4307m). The Web River, a tributary of the Jubba River, rises in these mountains east of Goba. The Bale National Park covers 2,2 km2 of these mountains.

Bale Mountains Lobelia rhynchopetalum  Ethiopian Wolf

Due to variation in altitude and topographical features, different altitudinal zones characterize the vegetation in the mountians. The Afro alpine moorland (3700-4400m), Ericaceous moorland and sub-alpine highland (2900-3700m), and the montane forest (2000-3000m). There are many special species like Lobelia rhynchopetalum, Erica arborea, Hypericum revolutum, Hagenia abyssinica and many Helichrysum species  to name just a few. The park also contains the Harenna Forest, situated to the south of the mountains which is a largely unexplored area.

The Bale Mountains are home to many of the Ethiopian endemic animals, notably the Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simensis), found on the Sanetti Plateau. The largest amount of Ethiopian Wolves is found here. Its also known as the Abyssinian wolf, Abyssinian fox, red jackal or Simien fox. The Etiophian wolf is found in the Afro-alpine regions of Ethiopia, and the top predator of the ecosystem here. It is most endangered with only about seven population with about roughly 550 adults remaining. The largest population is found on the Bale Mountains.  A rabies outbreak in 1990 reduced this population on the Bale Mountains from 440 woves to less hen 160 in only two weeks. I was very lucky to see this wonderful animal more then once, even hunting a giant mole-rat.

Kniphofia spec. Bale Mountains  Ethopia  Delphinium wellbii

Besides many rare plants and wildlife, the Bale National Park offers exceptional trekking opportunities from the park headquarters at Dinsho. Dodola is also a useful base for exploring these mountains. If you ever have the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia, try to visit the Bale Mountains.

Ethiopia dry area  Cyanotis barbata

 

For more images from Ethiopia click here

Yunnan

Yunnan province is located in the southwestern frontier of China, and no other province contains such a diverse landscape. Yunnan contains not only luxuriant tropical forests, but also fertile valleys and huge, steep mountain chains, with the sources of fast-rushing rivers like the Mekong and the Yangste. Yunnan is also particularly rich in plant species, accounting for half of China’s total, with over 15,000 species, though the province contains only four percent of China’s territory. The Hengduan mountain chain, in the north, is the richest area for plant diversity, with more than 5,000 species at high elevations. This rich variety includes more than 200 Rhododendron species, 100 Primula, 216 Pedicularis, and 90 Corydalis, among hundreds of others. Northwest Yunnan shelters 46 Chinese endemic genera from 27 families. In short, the province is a botanical paradise!

Cypripedium flavum  Paraquilegia microphylla  Spongiocarpella yunnanensis

The population of Yunnan includes 26 minority groups, such as the Bai, the Yi, and the Miao people, who still wear their colorful traditional costume. Kunming, the capital, is the starting point for expeditions within Yunnan, and the source of flights to Dali, Lijiang, and Zhongdian, referred to as Shangri-La since 2002.

I first traveled to Yunnan in 1994 with a plant hunting expedition organized by the Alpine Garden Society (AGS) and came back since many times. The first trip took place between September 18 and November 1. Our mission was to collect sed, living species and Herbarium material. All in collaboration with the Kunming Institude of Botany. The expedition is known as the A.C.E., or Alpine Garden Society China Expedition and many plants were introduced or reintroduced to cultivation from these collections.

I returned to Yunnan in 1997, 1998, 2004, 2006 and 2011 as a tour leader for AGS-organized trips and my own tours for alpine plant enthusiasts. During the tours, I took many photographs, digital images, and digital videos of the impressive landscapes, people, monasteries, villages, and the splendid flora.

Lijiang - Black Dragon Pool Park  Da Xue Shan - Rheum nobile 4515m

On the Google map on top, you can see most of the areas covered by me so far. (in Yunnan)

The cities, villages, and mountain chains visited by me include the following areas

  • Kunming: Western Hills*
  • Shuilin: Stone Forest
  • Dali: Old City
  • Three Pagodas
  • Cang Shan Mountains*
  • Er Hai Lake
  • Lijiang: The Old Town, Dayan
  • Yulong Xue Shan (Green Dragon Snow Mountain)*
  • Gang Ho Ba*
  • Bai Shui (White Water River)*
  • Yufengsi Monastery and the 10,000 Camellia Flowers Temple
  • Zhongdian: Plateau*
  • Shika Shan*
  • Hong Shan*
  • Beta Hai*
  • Tianchi lake*
  • Songzanlin Monastery
  • Napa Hai*
  • Horse racing Festival
  • Samba, Tufa Pools*
  • Haba Shan*
  • Tufa Pools
  • Dechen: Bai Ma Shan (White Horse Mountain)*
  • Weng Sui: Da Xue Shan (Big Snow Mountain)*
  • Birong Gorge*

* indicate the widest variety of plant species

Look for many pictures at: IMAGES–>GALLERY–>My Travels, or click here.

Tibet / Xizang

Route 2009

 

Route 2005

 

Tibet: By jeep from Chengdu to Lhasa

Tibet is known as The Roof of the World!

General information
Tibet is located on the Tibetan Plateau , the worlds highest region. The worlds highest mountain, Mount Everest, is on Nepalese border with Tibet. The average altitude is about 3000m in the south and 4500m in the north. The land comprises the largest and highest plateau in the world, surrounded by immense mountain chains. The mountain chains are approximately 3000km in length, accommodating no fewer than fourteen peaks taller than 8000m. Mount Everest (Mount Qomolangma in Tibetan), at 8848m, is the most well known. The perilous mountain areas, deserts, swirling rivers and steel-blue lakes, the many yaks, and all the wonderful places and people give the impression that time has stood still.

Lhasa 3650m Potala Palace  Potala by night

There are over 800 settlements in Tibet, Lhasa is Tibets traditional capital and the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region. In Lhasa, situated at 3650m, tourists can visit the amazing Potala monastery, a world heritage site. Once the largest building in the world, the Potala is an impressive piece of construction thirteen stories high, with nearly one thousand chambers. The building occupies a footprint of 300 x 400 m and stands about 120 m tall. It was formerly the residence of the Dalai Lama, but he fled to Dharmsala, India in 1959 during a bloody war between the Tibetan and Chinese people, and the Tibetans still consider him their leader. Other well-known monasteries include the Jokhang and Drepung temples, both well worth visiting. The climate around Lhasa is very different from the areas closer to the mountain chain, with an average precipitation of no more than 200 mm. Due to this aridity, there is little vegetation and the area appears desert-like. Further south, toward the mountain, there is more precipitation and the flora is more diverse.

Several major rivers have their source in the Tibetan Plateau (mostly in present-day Qinghai Province). These include Yangtze, Yellow River, Indus River, Mekong, Brahmaputra River, Ganges, Salween and the Yarlung Tsangpo River.

Mekong River  near Bomi

Botanical Jeep Tour from Chengdu to Lhasa
Due to recent problems in Tibet and the Olympic Games, I was not sure I could travel to Tibet for a planned inspection tour in Summer 2008. Tibet was closed for foreigners and there was also a massive earthquake in Sichuan which prevented travel to Chengdu. In July I received an e-mail stating that it was possible to travel to Lhasa again and John Mitchell, my son, Mischa and I booked our flights to Chengdu.
3 weeks later, a message arrived from the Chinese travel agent saying it was possible to travel to Tibet, but only by air or train, not overland by jeep, as we did hoped. Since we had already booked the flight, I planned a new route through Sichuan province. Then, just two weeks before our departure we heard it was possible to travel overland from Chengdu to Lhasa, which was great news for us! My Chinese agent arranged all the necessary permits, eight different ones in all, including a military permit. At one of our checkpoints in Tibet, inspectors told us we were only the third group to receive permission to travel overland to Lhasa, which shows how much work and planning the agent devoted to smoothing our way.

Gaentiana sino-ornata various forms  Gentiana szechenyii
The inspection tour ran from September 16 – October 2 and allowed us to scout for interesting botanical sites, check out hotel accommodation and measure travel distances. I must say that hotel accommodation are not like those of recent years in Yunnan or Sichuan, but much better than expected, even most hotels had western seat toilets, only a few had the French style squat toilets, and most of the hotels had also a shower.

The inspection tour was a great success, and we were able to see all we wanted, plus more locations. We traveled to unknown passes, had wonderful weather, and saw masses of plants, including many Gentians in full flower. In addition, the views were spectacular. We saw all three giant Chinese rivers: the Yangtze, Mekong, and Salween, as well as the giant mountains Minya Konka/Gongga Shan and the spectacular Namchak Barwa (7756m).

Gentiana erectisepala  Tbetan woman  Cotoneaster cochleata

We did also see alpine meadows at 4000m, with many yaks grazing, and amazing plants like the very rare yellow Androsace bisulca var. aurata. Of course we paid several visits to monasteries, including the community in Litang, and the Jokhang and the magnificent Potala Palace in Lhasa.

For more Tibet images 2005 trip click here

For more Tibet images 2008 trip click here

For more Tibet images 2009 trip click here

For more Tibet images 2019 trip click here

Sichuan

Sichuan, in addition to Yunnan, is one of the richest areas in China for alpine plants, and a visit to this area is an unforgettable experience. From Chengdu, the capital city, one can travel to the mountains within a few hours to see the spectacular natural scenery and rich botanical diversity. In the national park near Wolong, the giant panda lives, though it would be a miracle to see one in the wild. The well-known symbol of the Worldwide Wildlife Fund, the giant panda can be seen at the Giant Panda Breeding Center in the park.

Giant Panda at Wolong  Caltha palustris ssp. chinenses (dark leaf form)  Tibetan woman at Songpan

The Balang Shan is accessible a few hours drive from Wolong, and contains spectacular populations of alpine plants. The scenic areas of Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou, north of Chengdu, both contain a rich variety of alpine plants. Both areas are visited by many Chinese and foreign tourists, and both feature dramatic waterfalls. The lime-rich water forms large accumulations of tufa, arising from splendid pools. One can easily botanize around Huanglong by taking the bus to the top of the pass (approx. 3800m), which takes you very close to the high alpine flora.

I first traveled to Sichuan for six weeks in June and July of 2000 with the Alpine Garden Society (AGS), in association with experts from Xining, the capital of Qinghai province. The expedition was called the Sino-British Qinghai Alpine Garden Society Expedition (SQAE). Unfortunately, a second expedition planned for autumn 2000 to collect seeds for introduction of plants into cultivation didn’t take place. I returned in 2001 and 2007 as a tour leader, and again enjoyed the rich flora and the wonderful cultural sites, and of course, the people. During the tours, I took many photographs, digital images, and digital videos of the impressive landscapes, people, and the splendid flora.

Cardiocrinum giganteum var. yunnanense  Primula cernua  Cypripedium calcicolum

For more Sichuan images click here

Shaanxi

The famous Terracotta Army in Xian.

The Terracotta Army was discovered in the spring of 1974 to the east of Xi’an in Shaanxi province by a group of farmers when they were digging a water well around 1.6 km east of the Qin emperor’s tomb mound at Mount Li (Lishan), a region riddled with underground springs and watercourses. The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits.

For more Xi’an images click here

Guangxi

Guilin
Guilin is situated in the northeast of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on the west bank of the Li River. Its name means forest of Sweet Osmanthus, owing to the large number of fragrant Sweet Osmanthus trees located in the city. The city has long been renowned for its unique Karst scenery which is a landscape shaped by the dissolution of a layer or layers of soluble bedrock, usually carbonate rock such as limestone or dolomite. Along the 100-kilometer stretch of the Li River, mountain peaks rise into the sky. It is one of China s most famous scenic areas. The area is about 28km2 in total and has a subtropical climate.

the Li river near Guilin  Guilin
Next to a cruise on the Li river from Guilin to Yangshuo (2-3 hours), you should bring a visit to the Reed-Flute Cave: a limestone cave with a large number of stalactites, stalagmites, stalacto-stalagmites, rocky curtains, and cave corals. But one of the main symbols of Guilin is Elephant-Trunk Hill: a hill that looks like a giant elephant drinking water with its trunk. If you take a close look, the scenery from the twenty Yuan bill is that of the Li River

Guilin city  Elephant Trunk Hill

Yangshuo
Yangshuo town is surrounded by karst peaks and bordered on one side by the Li River it is easily accessible by bus or by boat from nearby Guilin and has good hotels. Over the years, it has become popular with foreign backpackers and it is a nice place to stay. Visitors to Yangshuo can swim in the Li River or the cleaner Yu Long (Dragon River), climb one of the many nearby karst peaks or hire a bicycle for a cycling trip through the karst scenery. Additionally, there is a butterfly cave near the town and a number of cave systems. Yangshuo is also China s foremost venue for rock climbing, with around 300 bolted routes and several companies offering guiding and equipment hire. With mountain biking and kayaking becoming more popular, Yangshuo is becoming an adventure sports centre as well as a stop on the traveller s trail.
Most of the original culture of the town has been absorbed into the tourist industry. For example, you can pay a fisherman with cormorants to watch him go fishing with them. You can also pay local women, in traditional ethnic dress, to pose for photographs.

Anyway: Guilin, Li River and Yangshuo is a must see area in the world, dispite the many tourists.

For more Guilin images click here

Beijing

Beijing is the capital of China and has approximately 11.3 million inhabitants. The city is frequently on the itinerary for travellers when travelling to other destinations within China, so try to have at least a 1-2 day stopover in Beijing, because there is so much to see. The city has a rich history and in the middle of Beijing there are many districts, buildings and temples that are well worth a visit. Don’t forget to visit Tiananmen Square, The Temple of Heaven and, of course, the Forbidden City. The Great Wall is easy to visit and is located near Badaling, approximately a 1.5 hour drive from the centre of Beijing. A visit to the thirteen Ming-Tombs are also easily combined with a trip to the Great Wall.

For more information about a visit to Beijing, click here.

Great Wall  entrance Forbiden City

Tempel of Heaven  in the Forbidden City

For more Beijing images click here

Rila & Pirin mountains

Bulgaria is a country in southeastern Europe.  It is bordered by Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the east. Its nature is stunning and travelling by car is easy. If you’re looking for more friendly fauna and flora, you can find over 200 species of butterflies, over 400 species of birds and over 3000 plant species. This is a country with unspoilt countryside and traditional methods of farming.

Rila lakes BulgariaPrimula deorum

The Rila mountains in southwestern Bulgaria (just 2 hour drive from Sofia) belong the highest mountain range of Bulgaria and the Balkans, with its highest peak being Musala at 2925m. More than one-third of the mountain is occupied by the Rila National Park, the rest lies within the Rila Monastery Nature Park. To visit the Rila mountains the best place to stay is Borovets. More of a ghost town in summer, but a good place to stay to explore the area. It is possible to get high into the Rila mountains by cabin lift  “Yastrebetz” in Borovets to Musala Peak and the Panichishte cable car from Pionerska lodge to visit the Seven Rila Lakes.

Rila MonasteryRila Monastery

Culturally, Rila is famous for the Rila Monastery, Bulgaria’s largest and most important monastery, founded in the 10th century by Saint John of Rila. Alongside the cultural landmarks the mountain is also famous for the Seven Rila Lakes where you can find many endemic alpine plants like Primula deorum. Other plants to be seen here are Aquilegia aurea, Pinguicula leptoceras and Dianthus microlepis.

Pinguicula leptocerasRanunculus crenatusPrimula exigua

The Seven Rila Lakes are the most visited group of lakes in Bulgaria because of the inspiring natural beauty of the place. The lakes are located one above the other and are connected by small streams, which form tiny waterfalls and cascades. The lakes are situated between 2100 and 2500 m.

Gentiaan pyrenaicaDianthus microlepis

Another tour in the Rila mountains I can recommend is to explore around Malyovitsa. The valley of Malyovitsa is situated in the northwest parts of Rila Mountains – easily accessible from the capital Sofia, it is a good weekend, or even a day, destination. About 1,5 hour drive via the town of Samokov and village of Govedartsi takes you at 1730 m. There is numerous other options for hiking in this area – both for climbing the peaks around as well as just to enjoy the view of the beautiful lakes at their foot. If you are fit it is also possible to hike for a day from Malyovitsa valley to the Seven Lakes area or to the Rila Monastery.

Malyovitsa hutAquilegia aurea

Pirin  is probably the most beautiful Bulgarian mountain range and about 4 hour drive from Sofia. To explore this area you should base yourself in Bansko, the biggest ski-resort in Bulgaria, but also a treasury of numerous Bulgarian revival-style houses and a lovely old city center. As this city  has masses of hotels for the winter tourist, in summer you can get a very cheap deal to stay a week here. You can stay in guesthouses, family-run hotels or luxury hotels. If you prefer to sleep on higher altitude, you can stay in one of the huts or refuges in the mountain. Peak Vihren (2914m) is the area to explore here. Vihren it is only about 12 km away from Bansko. The Vihren hut, which is possible to drive to on an asphalt road, is the best starting point for many of the trails in the mountains. It is also possible to start your day trek at the Banderitsa hut, just 1,5 km before the Vihren hut. At the very start you will discover beautiful landscapes and scenery of the Pirin Mountains. The characteristic of Vihren is that it looks very different from any direction.

Vihren hutMount Vihren

Around Vihren you can find many rare, endemic species, glacial relicts or endangered plants. If you are very lucky you will see Daphne velenovskyi, Centaurea achtarovii and Leontopodium alpinum var. nivale, one of the best Edelweiss!. The trails up to Vihren are sometimes steep, but you need to go high to find these treasures. Near to the Vihren hut you can find the oldest tree from Bulgaria the Baikushev’s pine , Pinus heldreichii, which is around 1300 years old.

Centaurea achtaroviiLinum capitatumAndrosace villosa

You can also take the chair lift at the Gotse Delchev hut, 11 kilometers from Dobrinishte. This will bring you to the Bezbog hut from where you can start your easy daily walk at 2240m. A wonderful area with lots of plants.

Daphne velenovskyiLeontopodium alpinum var. nivale (Pirin Form)

Melnik is the smallest town in Bulgaria, is situated 175 km south from Sofia (1,5 hour drive from Bansko) and it is only 30 km from the border with Greece, but it has a long history. When you enter the town it seems like you fall into the past. There are picturesque houses with tiled roofs, narrow streets, stone roads and carts loaded with wine barrels. It is a calm and quiet town. The red wine which you can try here will make you doubt that the best wine is only in France. Wine of Melnik has rich taste. Wine makers from Melnik are famous far outside Bulgaria. Wine making has been prospering here for centuries. But Melnik is not famous only for its great wine. Among local attractions is the Kordopulva house (wine making museum) and ruins of medieval churchеs. The area around Melnik is also interesting. Sandy pyramids of  Melnik for sure are an extraordinary miracle created by nature.

MelnikMelnik

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Tasmania

Tasmania

Tasmania is an “Island of inspiration”, with a large and relatively unspoiled natural environment. Tasmania is an Australian island and state.

The first reported sighting of Tasmania by a European was on 24 November 1642 by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. Tasman landed at todays Blackmans Bay.

The early settlers were mostly convicts and their military guards, with the task of developing agriculture and other industries. In the fifty years from 1803 to 1853 around 75,000 convicts were transported to Tasmania.

Van Diemens Land was proclaimed a separate colony from New South Wales, with its own judicial establishment and Legislative Council, on 3 December 1825. It is 240 kilometers south of the continent of Australia. The state has a population of about 510000, of whom almost half reside in the state capital and largest city, Hobart. Almost 37% of Tasmania lies in reserves, national parks and World Heritage Sites. The island is about 365 kilometers long from its northernmost to its southernmost points, and 300 kilometers from west to east. Other major population centre includes Launceston in the north and Devonport and Burnie in the northwest.

traditional house at Stanley

Ben Lomond, Richea scopariaRichea scoparia

Tasmania has a cool temperate climate with four distinct seasons. Summer lasts from December to February when the average maximum sea temperature is 21 C and inland areas around Launceston reach 24 C. The winter months are between June and August and are generally the wettest and coolest months in the state, with most high lying areas receiving considerable snowfall. Rainfall in Tasmania follows a complicated pattern rather analogous to that found on large continents at the same latitude in the northern hemisphere. On the western side rainfall increases from around 1,458 millimetres at Strahan on the coast up to 2,690 millimetres at Cradle Valley in the highlands.

Ben Lomond National Park

The Ben Lomond National Park is located in the northeast about 50 km east of Launceston. The park has an area of 18,192ha and was established on 23 July 1947.

The highest peak of the mountain, the second highest point in Tasmania, is actually named Legges Tor (1572m), but the term Ben Lomond is more commonly used. The mountain is one of the few skiing areas of Tasmania which became possible in the 1930s when a road was constructed as far as Car Villa site of the first ski hut to be built. Carr Villa is now a Scout Hut and is a stop off point on the road before the climb to the plateau begins (Jacobs Ladder).

Bennets Wallaby at Ben Lomond many cushions of Pterygopappus lawrencei

The plateau is the home of a large number op alpine plant species many of which are endemic. 169 species have been recorded from here. The most dominant and the most notable of all are the wonderful Richeas (R. scoparia) with flower spikes varying in colour from white to almost orange-red. An other exciting plant is Bellendena montana (Mountain Rocket). On this mountain, growing in poorly drained water-logged soil you can see two endemic cushion plants. One with minute hairy rosettes, Pterygopappus lawrencei and the darker green cushions of Abrotenella fosterioides. Almost at top of the Hamilton Crags, is one more very rare endemic cushion plant, Chionohebe ciliolata. It is found only in this very restricted locality and ranges in size from 10-40cm in diameter.

Other exciting plants found on Ben Lomond are: Ewartia catipes, Senecio pectinatus var. pectinatus, Drosera arcturi, Epacris serpyllifolia, Euphrasia colliana ssp. diemenica, etc.

Athrotaxis cupressoides (Pencil Pine) at Pine Lake walkCradle Mountain (Dove lake)

Cradle Mountain National Park

This area is one of the most popular natural areas in Tasmania. The jagged contours of Cradle Mountain epitomise the feel of a wild landscape, while ancient rainforest and alpine heathlands, buttongrass and stands of colourful deciduous beech provide a range of environments to explore. The Cradle Mountain National Park is a significant location of Tasmanias endemic species. 40-55% of the parks documented alpine flora is endemic. Furthermore, 68% of the higher rainforest species recorded in alpine areas in Tasmania are present in the Cradle Mountain National Park. These areas contain some ancient plants, including the long-lived and endemic conifers such as King Billy pine, Athrotaxis selaginoides, pencil pine, Athrotaxis cupressoides, the hybrid Athrotaxis laxifolia, Nothofagus gunnii and and myrtle beech, N. cunninghamii.

Boronia rhomboideaNothofagus cunninghammii forest

The parks alpine vegetation is very diverse. On the higher areas you will find plants like Donatia novae-zelandiae, Dracophyllum minimum, Boronia rhomboidea, B.citriodora, Ewartia meredithiae, Euphrasia striata, Helichrysum milliganii, Herpolirion novae-zelandiae, etc.

Animals present in the park include: pademelons, Bennetts wallabies, quolls, Tasmanian Devils, echidnas, wombats, possums, ravens and currawongs.

Herpolirion novae-zelandiaeXerochrysum subundulatum

There are a number of excellent walks in the area, including the Dove Lake Loop Track which takes you through the stunning Ballroom Forest, an area of cool temperate rainforest nestled against the slopes of the mountain. Other walks include the Weindorfers Forest walk or take a walk to Crater Peak with masses of endemic alpine (cushion) plants.

The area around Weindorfers Chalet (Gustav Weindorfer, 1874-1932, Austrian-born Australian amateur botanist, lodge-keeper and promoter of the Cradle Mountain National Park.) is well worth a look. Rich in history, the rustic chalet was once home for Gustav Weindorfer, the founding father of the Cradle Mountain National Park. The area in which the chalet is set is simply beautiful.

The Visitor Centre at the entrance to the park provides details on walks and other activities in the area.

Cryptostylis subulata (Tongue Orchid)Dicksonia antarcticaUtricularia dichotoma

More information about Tasmanian National Parks click here.

For more Tasmanian images click here

Australia

Alpines in Australia

Canberra is the capital city of Australia, within the State of New South Wales and the starting point of our trip. Before we went to The Snowy Mountains, our main goal of the trip, we discovered other parts east and north of Canberra and found wonderful places and plants. Both the botanical Garden and the National Museum of Australia in Canberra are worth a visit.

Thysanotus tuberosusRainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus moluccanus)

Snowy Mountains (about 200km from Canberra)

The Snowy Mountains are in the south-east corner of New South Wales, about 200km south of Canberra with the highest peak of Australia, Mount Kosciuszko, 2230m. Here are the only ski fields of Australia. Snow normally falls the most during June, July and early August. Most of the snow has melted by late spring. The Tasmanian highlands are the other Alpine region in Australia. The higher regions of the park experience an alpine climate which is unusual on mainland Australia. However, only the peaks of the main range are subject to consistent heavy winter snow. The climate station at Charlotte Pass (1760m) which is easy accessilble and good starting point for flower walks, recorded Australia’s lowest temperature of -23.0°C on 28 June 1994.

The Kosciuszko National Park is full of (alpine)wildflowers and they are more a less easy accessible by various roads in the park or by the cable car from Thredbo which goes to the top of Mt Kosciuszko. From the top of the chairlift, the walk follows a footpath, passing the Kosciuszko and Cootapatamba lookouts, as it winds up to Rawson Pass. At Rawson Pass, the walk meets the old Kosciuszko road and Australia’s highest public toilet. From here, the walk continues up the footpath to the top of Mt Kosciuszko. Enjoy the view, and return the same way. Click here for more information about walks in this area.

Banksia caneiEuphrasia collina ssp. diversicolorBlandfordia nobilis

Some of the plants you will encounter on your walks near Mt. Kosciuszko and Charlotte Pass are: Stackhousia pulvinaris, Aciphylla glacialis,  Neopaxia australasica, Craspedia lamicola, Caltha introloba, Epacris microphylla, Celmisia pugioniformis, Celmisia costiniana, Prostanthera cuneata, Kunzea muelleri, Ozothamnus alpinus, Ranunculus niphophilus, Ranunculus anemoneus, Colobanthus pulvinatus and many others.

Celmisia pugioniformis (near Charlotte Pass)Celmisia costiniana

Ranunculus niphophilusStackhousia pulvinaris

Bad weather? You can find many mountainhuts in the Kosciuszko National Park. Today these huts are maintained by the National Parks and Wildlife Service or volunteer organisations like the Kosciuszko Huts Association. In the 19th century gold was mined on the high plains near Kiandra. At its height this community had a population of about 4,000 people, and ran 14 hotels. Since the last resident left in 1974, Kiandra has become a ghost town of ruins and abandoned diggings.

Epacris paludosaRanunculus anemoneus

The Australian Mountains have far more to offer that you expect!

For more Australia images click here.