On the Himalayas

The Himalaya Mountain range is home of the highest mountains on earth. This is the true rough side of nature. The mountains are snow covered, high, steep and not easy to get close to.

My love for mountains and my interest in bonsai has been the stimulus to take me to the mountains to be inspired by trees and the way they adapt to survive in a hostile environment. I have not been disappointed by my visits to the high places of this world.

Before getting to the snowline, the valleys and plains are home to some of the most interesting plants on the planet. The biggest influence on the way trees grow in the valleys and lower slopes of the Himalaya is nature itself. Wind, rain, snow, rock falls and fire all contribute to the way trees adapt in order to survive in the Himalaya.

The other major contributor to the shape and form of some trees is man himself.
What can be so inspirational in the way the trees grow when trekking in the valleys on the way to the higher peaks. On the lower slopes of the mountains the influence of man dominates the way trees grow. The higher and more inaccessible the terrain gets, nature itself has a say on the shape and form of trees.

This year my intention was to visit the southern base camp of Annapurna, the tenth highest mountain in the world. In order to acclimatize before attempting to ascend to greater heights, I first visited Maktinath, Kagbeni, Tukuche, and Marpha down to Tatopani following the swift flowing waters of the Kali Gandaki River. Here the influence of man and wind and cold temperatures has a great influence on the shapes trees acquire for survival. Juniper Nigra is a true survivor here, so are various fruit trees, pines and closer  to Tatopani the beautiful Taxus bacata

Approaching Ghorepani the spectacular Rhododendrons in flower takes one’s breath away.

The huge ancient trees are covered with different shades of pink and red flowers never to be forgotten. Although the Rhododendrons dominate the scenery from Ghorepani to Chomrung, exceptional Silver Fir trees show their survival skills on the high inaccessible slopes of the 3, 000 meters high hills. It is a cold cloudy day and the trees create their own atmosphere of survival in the hostile environment of lightning strikes and high cold winds. Just by looking at the trees and giving your imagination free reign you can hear the stories of survival told by the silhouettes of trunks & branches both dead and alive. Here the influence of man goes by unnoticed.

From Chomrung to Sinuwa it is hard work going down and harder work going up, energy conservation is now uppermost in ones mind but trees growing at acute angles from steep slopes still captures ones attention. Walking through the snow on the way to Machcapuchhre (Fish Tail Mountain) base camp the influence of snow on the surroundings is now dominant. Here spring has not yet arrived and branches of the Yew trees are carrying heavy loads of snow but impossible to photograph properly. The way to Annapurna base camp is devoid of any trees, snow is now ruling. Extreme cold is present and oxygen.

What have I brought back from the mountains, which may influence the way I will style bonsai in the future?
First I realize that a tree does not have to be beautiful to stop me and demand my attention.
The presence and role of dead branches (Jin and Shari) is of utmost importance for an old tree to be able to tell a story of its life. I tend to remove dead branches and remnants of dead branches to present nice clean trees.
Trees will strive to expose as much of themselves to light as possible and will grow towards the light and sacrifice those parts of themselves that don’t get enough exposure to light.

Some Leterati trees may be young and is influenced by man removing branches for fuel. Some literati trees are very old and are usually all that is left growing after a major disaster  destroyed the rest of the tree.

To exactly capture the true spirit nature should always be an illusive dream to keep on improving one’s bonsai skills.

Louis Nel is a Bonsai Artist and keen mountaineer.
We are fortunate to travel together in February 2008 to Japan & China. His courage to walk in the snow-laden yellow mountains, gave us inspiration and also his love for nature. He obliged us with a feature on Himalayan Mountain range!

Nichin Bonsai – 02/ 2008

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