Peak district: Anna Pavord came across plenty of magnificent flora on her recent trip to the Himalayas

Almost as soon as we got back from our Himalayan journey last autumn, I began planning the next one. Friends suppose I must be going for the plants, and certainly there is no shortage: pleione orchids plastering rocky banks along the tracks, tall sheaves of deep pink Arundina graminifolia on the grass slopes. That's not an orchid I've ever seen in cultivation in Britain, but the general effect is rather like magenta-coloured Gladiolus byzantinus.

Yes, the plants are magnificent and the ferns particularly breathtaking. But I'm there for the mountains. Not to climb, of course. Just to look, to walk, to watch as the Himalayan range – Rathong, Frey Peak, the swooping tent shape of the two Kabru peaks, Khangchendzonga's knife-edged slopes – emerges into the dawn. I'd never realised that because they are so high (Khangchendzonga, at 8585m, is the third highest mountain in the world) the mountains get dawn before the rest of us do.

It's a slow process. At first, peering into the dark, you think there's nothing there. Ghost-like, around five in the morning, the mountains begin to take shape, but their colour is scarcely different from the grey of the sky. Gradually, the shapes become stronger, the tone of the range paler. You start to pick out the individual peaks, covered in snow. By about half past five they shine brightly white, as though illuminated by some extraordinary light within. Then the first rays of the sun reach Khangchendzonga's tip and the snow glows pink and orange, the colour running down the flanks and then catching the tops of the lesser mountains, Goecha Peak and Pandim. By the time the first light hits the foothills, the mountains have lost their colour, but the growing intensity of the light begins to show up the pleats and crevasses, the curtains and folds of snow that make the Himalayas such a mesmerising presence.

Last year, though we saw them almost every morning, the mountains spent the rest of the day coiled in clouds. This year, for three stupendous weeks, they were with us all day, every day. The sun shone brilliantly, the sky was vivid blue, the atmosphere as sharp and clear as ice, the air still. And whichever direction we went in – west to Yuksom, east to Gangtok, north to Lachung – they never left us.

Our journey this year took us back to a few of the places we particularly liked – Kalimpong, Yuksom – but stitched in others such as Borong and Martam that we had never heard of. The chief difficulty in planning a journey in Sikkim is the lack of decent maps. The Discover India series is very basic, but it's the best Stanfords map shop can supply. And the thin spidery lines connecting places on the map aren't necessarily passable unless you are on foot. Fortunately, it's a wonderful place to walk. Off the few main routes, there is little traffic and you are never far away from the savage, milky-green rivers, hurtling down from the mountains.

Even though the rhododendron season is the time that plants-people are supposed to go to Sikkim, there is plenty to enjoy in autumn – cymbidium orchids as well as pleiones, the lippy white blooms of the bauhinia trees, spider-flowered hedychiums, brilliant red berries of arisaema. And a shrub called Luculia gratissima which I thought at first must be a viburnum. It has similar, waxy-looking heads of pink flower and is wonderfully scented. I wanted to plant it in our garden, a talisman for our next journey to Sikkim. But as nobody seems to stock it, I'll have to make do with a pleione instead.

Anna Pavord's new book, 'The Curious Gardener', a collection of her columns for The Independent, is published by Bloomsbury, priced £20. To order a copy at a special price, including p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Content Manager - Central London

£35000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Central...

HR Business Partner - Banking Finance - Brentwood - £45K

£45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: ** HR Business Partner - Senior H...

PA / Team Secretary - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: PA / Team Secretary - Mat...

Mechanical Lead

£65000 - £75000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Mechanical L...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on