A Walk On The Wild Side
The pains of trekking in Sikkim are worth the effort to see the Kanchenjunga.
BLURRINESS, born out of intense cold, welcomed each blink as I slowly made my way up. Each step was an effort; a lesson in patience and accuracy. I had stopped visioning the horizon, for it had begun to remind me of the unending path that lay ahead of me.Mountains, gorgeous from a distance, somehow fail to inspire when you are trudging through them. Starting from Yuksom (four hours from Gangtok), I expected a pleasant walk through the mountains. However, this trail came across as a surprise mix of rock-climbing and strenuous walk. With each measured step, I constantly searched for suitable cuts in the stone laden path to stack my worn out shoes. My aim was to reach Dzongri, with a day's stop at Tshoka for acclimatisation. With a total trek length of 26 km, Tshoka lay 16 km away and 1000 m higher than Yuksom. Dzongri lay another 1000 m up, a much tougher walk.This being my first trip to Sikkim, I had planned in advance. However, confronted with the beauty of this place (subtly sensed even in the cold shower and mist that welcomed me the moment when I entered Gangtok) I let go all my carefully-prepared plans, and seized the first opportunity of taking a trek in the thick dense forests of Kanchendzonga National Park (KNP) that unfold to snow-covered mountains. Also, I had decided to trek alone with a porter, which heightened the risk involved. At 3.00 p.m., I reached Tshoka, middle-of-nowhere, and slumped on the hard bed at one of the government provided log huts (Rs. 50 a night). There are privately owned log huts as well, and they charge the same. After a sound sleep, I set out to explore this small village. I planned to check out the food joints, since I was not carrying much to eat. Soon it would be dark, and this small hamlet, already engulfed in white fog, would have surrendered to complete darkness.
Prompted by the beauty around, I broke to the nearest hill, searching the possibility of exploring the surroundings from there. Not much was visible except for a few metres around me. However, I could hear crisps words trickling from a distance - a group of Israelis, with at least one girl among them. Perhaps the darkness fell too early or I absentmindedly let the time pass, I soon found myself amid darkness so complete that it was almost impossible to find my way back. Basking first, but soon panicking in the growing cold, I grappled my way ahead. As I marched back, with my hands bruised by the effort of my all-limbed walk, the group of Israelis burst forth from mist and helped me back to the log huts.After a fitful night, I woke up to find a bright morning. Stepping outside, I found exposed snow-covered peaks. Tshoka has a multitude of eating joints. I sat in one of them and ordered freshly baked Tibetan bread with peanut butter. Surprisingly, a radio was blaring songs at a distance - as if the radio catching signals at an altitude of 3000 m wasn't enough, I found my cell phone ringing!After breakfast, I hung around till lunch and lunched on noodle soup. A trek to the small hill checked out last evening marked the late afternoon. In the evening, after swapping travel stories with a few fellow travellers, I crawled into my bed early. It's very important to get enough rest during such endurance trips.Dzongri was 10 km further. I set out early next morning with my porter following me at an hour's length. I failed to catch his name though we were together for more than two days now; it sounded like "Rabu". He didn't seem irritated when I called him by that name; may be I got the sound right. Rabu, a regular on this path, seemed to know every porter we met. This time we were much slower than from Yuksom. It's my third day without a bath, and my deo-spray was coming handy. The ice-cold water numbed my limbs, and my hopes of finding hot water springs were fading past.
A few kilometres more and I encountered my first snow on the way - sparkling white and blinding, crunching into thick balls when gathered in palms. Slowly, the whiteness became more prominent till the entire landscape metamorphosed into a white sheet, with a wet, dark track curving at the centre. Out of nowhere came a cloud and everything became misty and surrealistic. I wanted to sit there but my porter had other ideas.I reached Dzongri at 4.00 p.m. A few log huts separated by a narrow stream, that's all there is at Dzongri. Not much was visible since clouds were all round. Restless, I found it difficult to sleep, and ventured out to find a Belgian team coming from further up - Goechala. And the porters were dancing and singing while cooking. A little time there and my spirits renewed.Later that night, lying in my sleeping bag, I heard the wind blowing and shaking the structure of the hut. What if the roof blows away? How would it be in a tent on such a night? A few more such apocalyptic scenarios and I fell sleep.I woke to hear someone whispering in my ears in the lonely room. It was still dark outside. It was my porter urging me a cup of tea, which he had prepared. "Wake up before the sun rises. We have to go further up to see the sun rising and the first rays falling on Kanchenjunga."Happily accepting the much-welcome tea, I looked outside at the stream that sparkled in the mild moonlight. Soon it'd be light, and we had to walk a further 200 m to the nearest hill. My enthusiasm melted when I realised that it wasn't a 200 m walk, rather a 200 m climb! Huffing and puffing, I made my way up, racing against the increasing light. Reaching the top I was stunned to see the Greater Himalayas populating the landscape all around. All of them clearly visible and preparing to gather the morning rays of the sun. Disappointingly, the great Kanchenjunga was covered in a thin layer of cloud. The sun slowly rose, bathing the mountains all around in glory, melting the night grey away. And I stood there congratulating myself on the well-rewarded effort, with Himalayas lying ahead and dense forests of KNP behind me.
This story appeared in The Hindu