Valley of Flowers
1939 The English botanist Lady Joan Margaret Legge ("LAY-gee") died after she slipped and fell while collecting samples in the Western Himalayas at Valley of Flowers in India.
When she died, Lady Joan was 54 years old and unmarried, and the youngest daughter of the sixth Earl of Dartmouth. In addition to enjoying botany, Lady Joan served the poor through her local church. In 1922, she was nominated for Sheriff of Staffordshire county, but her dad disqualified her on the grounds that she owned no property.
Before traveling to the Valley of Flowers, Lady Joan had spent the previous three years tending to her sick father. Then, she had spent the winter before her trip battling pneumonia. Although some of her friends were against her going to India, Lady Joan was eager to go, and many remarked that it was her first real holiday in ten years.
The Valley of Flowers was an exciting destination. It had only just been discovered in 1931 - eight years before Lady Joan's visit. Three English mountaineers had stumbled on the Valley after getting lost. The Valley enchanted them, and the flowers made it seem like they were in a fairyland. One of the climbers was a botanist named Frank Smythe. He wrote a book called Kamet Conquered, and in it, he named the area the Valley of Flowers.
The Valley of Flowers is a seven-day trip from Delhi. It is now a protected national park. As the name implies, it is a lush area famous for the millions of alpine flowers that cover the hills and slopes and nestle along icy flowing streams. Through most of the year, the Valley of Flowers remains hidden, buried under several feet of snow throughout a seven-to-eight-month-long winter. In March, the melting snow and monsoon activate a new growing season. There is a brief 3-4 month window when the Valley of Flowers is accessible – generally during the months of July, August, and September.
The Valley of Flowers is home to over 500 varieties of wildflowers, and many are still considered rare. Along with daisies, poppies, and marigolds, there are primulas and orchids growing wild. The rare Blue Poppy, commonly known as the Himalayan Queen, is the most coveted plant in the Valley.
Lady Joan ended up traveling to the Valley of Flowers as a direct result of Frank Smythe's book. Smythe's work inspired many, and it attracted the attention of Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden, and they sponsored Lady Joan's trip.
After arriving in the Himilayas, Lady Joan was accompanied by guides and porters. As she made her way over the lower foothills, she collected alpine specimens.
On the day she died, Lady Joan was traversing the slopes of Khulia Garva, which still attracts tourists. After she fell, her porters recovered her body. They buried her in the Valley at the request of her older sister, Dorothy. All of Lady Joan's belongings were packed up and sent home to England.
The following summer, in 1940, Dorothy visited her sister's grave and placed a marker over the spot where she had been buried. Today, Lady Joan's marker is visited by tourists, and it includes poignant words from Psalm 121:
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills
From whence cometh my help