Field Work 2004 travel blog


Hi,

We went to Guwahati and then to Shillong, but unfortunately no luck finding Passiflora perpera. However, no one can say that we didn't have an adventure in the process. I shall recount the details:

We left Siliguri on 16 Nov, and we took a bus towards an area near the airport. Then we took a rickshaw with an (extremely) elderly man who couldn't pull us (two people, a plant press, and two backpacks) up the hill towards the airport. I felt really bad sitting on the back of his rickshaw while he pulled us up there, but Upkar, the student who went with me, assured me that it was OK. We got to the top of the hill and the old man got back on the bicycle and started us down the hill, which was easier work. Then we arrived at the gate of the airport, which didn't look at all familiar to me, having just arrived there a few weeks ago. It turned out that this wasn't the airport at all! The old man was disoriented. So then with no time to waste, he pulled us back up the hill and I suggested we take a taxi so we wouldn't miss our flight. We made it just in time, and four security checks later, we were on the way to Guwahati. This was basically the way the rest of our trip went, as a comedy of errors.

We arrived in Guwahati, but the professor who was supposed to meet us at the airport wasn't there. So we took a taxi to his office, but the building was locked and deserted. Then we called him, but no one asnwered at his house. The guest house was empty, and this is where we were supposed to be staying. Then we found out there was about to be a strike in Guwahati the next day, meaning no taxis would be available, so we had to leave that day for Shillong, our next stop, or be stuck in Guwahati for two more days! So we immediately got a shared taxi for the 3.5 hour journey to Shillong, and arrived to find a hotel (the Orchid Hotel) that night.

The next day, we went to the BSI herbarium, and we had to wait one hour for the director to arrive to get permission to look at specimens, since the work day doesnt start until about 11 AM. I found two collections of P. perpera, but they were not in Megalaya State, but in Manipur and Arunchal Pradesh (spelling is wrong). I was counting on finding more specimens of P. perpera there so I could get a better idea of where to collect, but no such luck. So then we met with Dr. Kumar at the Northeastern Hill University, and he referred us to the herbarium. This was great, since they had some more (ok, two more) specimens of P. perpera, but they were also from other states, about 300 km away. So we wouldn't have enough time to locate them. BUT, the good thing is that the specimens I saw there (recent collections) were collected by Dr. Kumar himself. Also, they looked EXACTLY like P. wilsonii, down to every last detail. They were collected in the West, and P., wilsonii is from China, in Yunnan, N. Vietnam, as well as through Myanmar. So since they looked so similar, I am currently thinking that actually P. perpera is not a real species at all, but is just P. wilsonii on the western most edge of its range, explaining the rarity of the species. Additionally, I checked the other specimens again, and matched them with the descriptions of the species, and really there is no significant difference between the two. The characters that vary are leaf shape, and number of glands, which are notoriously unreliable in my group, since adult and juvenile plants look completely different from one another. I think, actually, that the species I have in the herbarium at osu called "perpera" represent juvenile forms of P. wilsonii, since they look just like juveniles I saw in Vietnam. Anyway, I guess a morphological analysis will get at this question eventually, but it will have to be based on the herbarium material. I did get a small piece of leaf material from the 1980 specimen Dr. Kumar collected, but I am not sure it will work.

So then we planned a field trip to look for P. perpera, and some people came with us. I paid for a car all day, and we bought food and we drove 3 hours back towards Guwahati to a forest. This forest, as we later found out, was only 255 meters, which is too low for my species, which I had told them were at 1000-1500 meters. But they had misunderstood and thought I said feet (which I didn't!) and we ended up there. So we prompty turned around (after we saw wild elephant foot prints!) and tried to drive back and find another reserve. But by the time we got back towards Shillong, it was 4 pm and it gets dark there at 4:30! So it was a compltely wasted day.

the next day, we drove up to Shillong Peak, at 2000 meters and found only pine forests, but a patch of good secondary forest near by. This was an airforce base area so we had to register just to look at the peak. Anyway, I walked down the hillside into the forest and immediately we found P. geminiflora again. I was happy, but also sad since there are never two species in one place, so P. perpera was not going to be there. We collected more, and then we walked back. So at least it wasn't a complete waste.

We came back to Guwahati that night, and finally found a hotel that was decent... we went through two hotels before we decided on the last one, which was the least disgusting of the options... or so we thought! After we checked in, Upkar found his beds had no blankets on them, and the sheets were dirty. The promised to bring sheets but they never came back. I decided later to take a shower, and the tub was really, really gross but I was going to at least attempt. However, I turned the faucet and black liquid came spurting out everwhere! I wont mention the smell. So that ended the shower attempt! Then, oddly enough, the hotel staff came back to my room and decided I didn't need a towel anymore. The man just caqme in and took it! I guess I didn't have a choice. So it turns out that Upkar asked for a towel, so they came and took mine. At least I had blankets. All in all, it was OK, but exciting, that's for sure!

We arrived today without much incident, though our airplane should have been in a museum, it was so old. It had paisley lining the cabin, and the chairs had about 50 coats of paint on the arm rests like in a high school auditorium. But we made it, and now I am at a hotel that's really nice, and really cheap. Tomorrow we get the train tickets, and then leave on Monday.

The plan is: Fly to Bagdogra to Kolkata, Kolkata to Chennai, then a night train (1:30 AM, for 8 hours)from Chennai to Coimbator. Then from there, to the herbarium on 23rd to get better data for P. leschenaultii, and then collecting 24-27. Then back on 28. I really hope we have better luck this time- I have more localities, though they aren't more specific, really, but there are more specimens, making me think that this species is more common. I really hope we can get it!! I dont mind so much about P. perpera becuase of my new ideas about its close relationship with P. wilsonii, but I do know P. leschenaultii is unique, so it's more important.

I have changed my tickets for returning, I'll be flying Bagdogra-Kolkata on 2 December, then 4 December Kolkata-Bangkok, then 5 December Bangkok to Columbus.... still waiting for the travel agent (remember my favorite travel agent in Columbus?)to change the tickets. I am not surprised I haven't heard from her yet. She's "working on it."

At any rate, wish me luck!

Shawn

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