Wednesday 18th October 2017

Extraordinarily powerful description by FWC

A few days ago I was looking through some of the articles written by my grandfather, F W Champion, and I came across the following passage, which brought home to me again his extraordinarily beautiful writing style. It describes the view that he and my grandmother enjoyed when looking northwards from the foothills of the Himalayas, either from Naini Tal, Almora, Binsar, Kausani or Ranikhet. I was so moved that I sent it my friend Rosemary Fox, in Canada. Rosemary grew up in Lansdowne, another hill station, as did my father, and they would both have marvelled at this spectacular panorama as children. Rosemary said that these words had had moved her to tears, and I can well understand why.

One can gaze and gaze yet again at this snow panorama and yet never tire of gazing. In the dawn the sun rises almost behind some of the more distant peaks, giving them the appearance of being nearly black; an hour or so later the blackness will change to a dazzling white and the sun’s rays striking the mountains on one side will bring the thousand and one variations of shape and form into almost stereoscopic reliefs; by midday the sun will be to the south and the innumerable mountain peaks which in the morning appeared to be at varying distances from the spectator will now give the impression that they are all more or less the same distance away and will appear smaller and less inspiring; in the afternoon a few clouds will probably collect and some of the peaks will disappear from view altogether; in the evening the clouds will disperse and the sun having now reached the other side of the mountains will again repeat the morning’s process of outlining the peaks and saddles in sharp relief; then finally as the sun sinks below the horizon, the splendid array of peaks will turn to a lovely rose pink which gradually changes to the blue green coldness of the eternal snows by night – like life passing into death. Then there is the fairyland scene produced by this snow panorama when lighted by the soft glow of the full moon; the majestic sight of some lofty crest surmounting a fierce storm raging below, like a fine ship sailing confidently over a rough sea; the complete disappearance at times in haze, as though the mountains have retired into privacy behind a veil; the long drawn-out plumes of powdered snow flowing from the crests when a fierce wind is blowing suggesting that the gods of the mountain are warming themselves round a comfortable fire.

From “Haphazard Ramblings in Kumaon”, by F W Champion, Indian State Railways Magazine, c1931

The mighty Himalaya photographed by F W Champion, looking northwards from Kausani

Three of F W Champion’s staff gazing towards the holy mountain Nanda Devi, with the flat-topped Nanda Kot to the right

A rustic scene with Trisul in the background

The triple-peak of Trisul (now spelled Trishul), the trident

A glorious view of Trishul that I took in 2014

Trishul with Nanda Ghunti away to its left

The mighty peaks of Nanda Devi, formerly the highest mountain in the British Empire

The five peaks of Panchachuli

The panorama from Pangot, with a Mountain Hawk Eagle soaring above Trishul

One can gaze and gaze yet again at this snow panorama and yet never tire of gazing.


Saturday 14th October 2017

Reach for the Sky

In total contrast to the old part of Suzhou, with its tranquil gardens, canals and narrow, winding streets, the modern part of the city seems to reaching for the sky, with skyscrapers going up at an astonishing rate. I took the bus from my accommodation to the modern city centre (a journey that costs the princely sum of 1 Yuan; about 10 pence), and then walked most of the way back, curving along the western shore of Jinji Lake.

From the wildlife point of view, there was little to be seen, other than a few egrets, and a number of skipper butterflies nectaring in the flowers of a shrub whose flowers look like hollyhock, but which appears much more bushy than that.

Suzhou’s modern skyline is pretty impressive

Happily, many of the canals have been well landscaped with trees

Apparently this astonishing building is nicknamed “The Trousers”

Am I in Manhattan, or Suzhou?

China ancient and modern

Don Quijote and Sancho Panza appear to have made it to Suzhou!

I do not envy the workers who are building this monster on the east side of Jinji Lake

Suzhou is really a city of contrasts

A skipper, perhaps Borbo borbonica, nectaring in the flower

Is this shrub a hollyhock?


Sunday 8th October 2017

Strictly prohibit leisure

Despite a sign proclaiming the above, today I enjoyed my last day of leisure before starting my teaching here in Suzhou. I took the sparklingly clean Suzhou metro for just a few stops, and then negotiated a less than sparklingly clean street with no pavement and ran across a busy highway to reach the Shihu Lake Scenic Area…and scenic it was.

Shihu Lake is flanked on its eastern shore by numerous blocks of flats

But to the west it adjoins a hilly area, the Shangfeng Hill State Forest Park

The Sky Mirror Pavilion, with Shangfeng Hill behind

Although the zone closest to the entrance was busy with Sunday sightseers, it was not long before I was able to enjoy being semi-alone, and the tranquil lake with its backdrop of wooded hills was a joy to behold.

A boat passes in front of the distant hills

The walk around the lake crosses several stone bridges

The dreamy wooded hills, topped in the distance by the Hanyuan Temple

I walked along a causeway across the middle of the lake and then headed up the western shore. Birds were not much in evidence, apart from a few Night Herons and Little Grebes, but I was soon enjoying a fine selection of butterflies, many of which were attracted to the ornamental flowers growing along the shoreline. The highlight was undoubtedly the unfortunately named Common Bluebottle, Graphium sarpedon, which occurs all the way from India to Japan. Two of these agile and active butterflies were fluttering over the flowers, as usual with their wings constantly moving even when feeding, making photography difficult.

The Common Bluebottle is a spectacular species

Catching 2 Common Bluebottles in one shot was a fluke, even if they are not quite sharp

A Painted Lady posed cooperatively

As did a beautiful female Indian Fritillary

The other main highlight was several more Lesser Purple Emperors, Apatura ilia. At first I wondered if they might be Freyer’s Purple Emperor, Apatura metis, especially as they were often to be seen flying around and settling on narrow-leaved willow trees, which are apparently the larval food plant of that species, but my photographs clearly show a large black spot near the outer margin of the forewing, which is apparently diagnostic for the Lesser, not Freyer’s Purple Emperor.

The bold black spot on the forewing proclaims this to be a Lesser rather than a Freyer’s Purple Emperor

I saw at least 5 Lesser Purple Emperors during the afternoon

A few birds appeared in this quieter area, including a small flock of Masked Laughing-thrushes, Black-throated and Eastern Great Tits, Long-tailed Shrikes and some unidentified leaf warblers.

Chinese Comma butterflies were numerous here, but my attention was drawn to a new species for my China list, the Chinese Bush Brown, Mycalesis gotama. I had seen this species many years ago in Japan, where it is also common, but it is always nice to reacquaint oneself with butterflies after not having seen them for many years.

Chinese Commas were numerous around the lake

The Chinese Bushbrown was an addition to my list

Another old friend from Japan that flew past without settling at all was the Japanese Swallowtail, Papilio xuthus, but I contented myself with photographing a Pale Grass Blue, Zizeeria maha, that posed with its wings open for once, and a Common Grass Yellow, Eurema hecabe, that was too engrossed in nectaring deep in a flower to notice me approaching.

A Pale Grass Blue sat with its wings open

A Common Grass Yellow was busy with nectaring

A pleasantly rustic scene close to bustling Suzhou

Lotus plants thrive at the northern end of the lake

An ancient residence

The contrast between the traditional and the modern takes some getting used to

I finally reached the north-western corner of the lake, where a large area behind a derelict temple had been turned into a foul rubbish tipping area, but all in all it had been a very pleasant and relaxing walk, and it came as something of a shock to find myself back in the maelstrom of bustling Suzhou again as I walked back to the metro station.

The pace of development here is frenetic

Public To Lets? Are they really for rent?!