Monthly Archives: January 2012

Gurdum – Village of Serenity

After having conquered the great heights, our next two days of trekking was all about the descent. As much as people would love to say that I like to descend down on treks of these scales, I’d have to say, it’s easy for the ones with strong knees. You might get exhausted and find it tiring to climb up, but as long as your thighs and calves are strong, you won’t have to worry at all… But no matter how resistant and enduring your fitness is, there’s little you can do to work those tiring knees when you come down.

Having said that, the journey becomes all the more enjoyable as there is no fatigue and there is very little amount of time you keep thinking… ‘Are we there yet?’ Also you feel a lot more relaxed when you do stop by whenever you want to take a break, which again is reduced as compared to the number of times you take a break while climbing up.

Our descent started early in the morning around 8 AM. The sky was not yet as clear as we hoped it to be. If it was, we’d have given another shot to go to the top, just for the breathtaking view of Kanchenjunga and Mt. Everest from the highest point. Sadly, that was not something we could manage… Nonetheless, our journey was going to be great anyways and I’d made up my mind that I’d stay far ahead so that we reach soon and relax at Gurdum. I was told Gurdum had a really peaceful and serene basecamp… It was pleasant and really cozy… One of our fellow trekkers had done this trek before and from what I heard, I really wanted to reach there soon.

The day began with a walk down the woods… Before crossing a couple of valleys we had to cross through these woods… Brilliant weather for a brilliant start of the day…

A perfect picture for a Trekker's Calendar
A perfect picture for a Trekker’s Calendar

Doesn’t this make for a perfect picture for those trekker’s calendar?? My friends, Sanjay and Twisha, gazing across the horizon while we stopped to take some rest after a while…

Beautiful Rose at the Gurdum camp
Beautiful Rose at the Gurdum camp

After a few hours, we reached the Gurdum camp, and I wasn’t surprised, for Twisha had told me about the beauty of this camp.. Here is my first view to an amazing Rose blooming outside our camp cottage. :)

While roses and other flowers attracted our attention, apparently we attracted this beautiful dog’s attention… We met him just about a few kms before we reached the camp and he lead us through till the end…

That’s Balram, our guide, washing his shoes, his livelihood, with sheer intensity… This must have been his 63rd trek to Sandakphu and he just doesn’t seem get tired of it… I can imagine why..

While Gurdum wasn’t so cold, we certainly enjoyed the beautiful view and the most amazing serenity that spread across the camp. Most importantly as soon as we touched down, we got amazing soup and some really nice veg momos… Truly tasty I tell ya… But  the best thing about this camp had to be this bench from where I took this picture… A place to sit and ponder across the horizon.. A horizon as beautiful as it gets… Wonder about the mystery of nature without worrying about the worldly pursuits that keep bothering your otherwise idyllic minds…

As much as I didn’t want to think about it, the thought already creeped into my mind… Tomorrow’s the last day of the trek and the final descent of this beautiful journey… Sigh…

Sandakphu conquered…

The weather in Kalapokhri gave quite the chills. Freezing as it may, we certainly felt the pinch even when we had to step out of our wooden cottages to go have dinner in the hall. Our saving grace was that we didn’t have to wash our hands with cold water. There was provision for warm water and that was something all of us desperately desired for, after having dinner. Washing your hands with warm water in that freezing cold is much similar to dipping your hands in fingerbowl while at a restaurant… Only this time, you truly understand the value of this warmth…

Since drinking was not allowed as it was a YHAI trek, we could only stare at this bottle of rum that was right opposite the hall while we were having dinner. What’s more, it was locked in the glass shelf and there was no way anyone could sneak into the shelf… But I guess, the warm horlicks after dinner sufficed… We slept quite early as the trek was one of the longest so far and steepest… So it was but natural that we were tired, besides, there was no guitar no music around here in Kalapokhri, except a strict camp leader and a grumpy housekeeper who was a stickler for serving you ample food… Yeah, I guess you win some, you lose some…

The next day we got instructions that this path, though 10kms, is going to be steeper than what we had already covered so far. Also, there would be a lot of crossroads and we should not take shortcuts as there are chances for us to get lost… Well, thankfully for us, we had a really great guide. So with his help, we started off our trek towards Sandakphu… Our aim, to reach 14000 feet before it got dark and cold…

Leaving Kalapokhri

Leaving Kalapokhri

As anticipated, the route was certainly steeper, there were some shortcuts which had steps on it, but we chose to climb, than take a flight of stairs… The Stairs can get to you sometimes, especially if you are trekking long distances… It’ll suck your energy and break your knees down… So even if the route is long, it’s always good to go via the climb as opposed to stairs…

Stairs enroute Sandakphu

Stairs enroute Sandakphu

While one of the best things about this trip was the beautiful weather, we had to stop at a couple of places at it started drizzling and there was a bit of a downpour too… Thankfully we were near a teashop, where we took shelter! We weren’t even halfway through then… In fact, we were hoping that this downpour would clear the clouds and the mist, hoping to be sure that, when we reach the topmost point 3600 meters / 14000 feet, we’d be able to get a sight of the Kanchenjunga up close and Mt. Everest from there… We just had to keep our fingers crossed!

The Sandakphu Border Post

The Sandakphu Border Post

After a tiring hike and extremely fatigued run of this last stretch of uphill mountains one could only feel joy and glory when we saw that flag flying high. We knew we had reached Sandakphu… While the weather was still at it’s worst, we hoped it’d clear, by the time we had our lunch and took some rest. After that was our time to go to the highest point in Sandakphu, another 1 or 2 kms walk… After which we had to do some rock climbing to go on top where the beautiful view of both the mountain ranges awaited us.

Alas, our hopes and dreams were shattered, the mountains were engulfed with clouds and there was no way, that we were going to get to see the mountain ranges… Nonetheless we decided to go ahead and scale the top most peak of Sandakphu.. At least we would have made it to that point as we had come this far!

Before we did that, we explored a couple of places on the Nepal side of Sandakphu. A Buddhist Monastery near a Shiva Temple and a small pond of water… One that never dries…

Buddhist Monastery in Sandakphu

Buddhist Monastery in Sandakphu

 

This is near the Buddhist monastery of Nepal part of Sandakhpu… This is apparently the head of the river Maahi…. a very famous river of Nepal. Never dries.. This well or a small pond as they’d call it is perennial.  Once we were done visiting these places, we headed towards the top and after a short walk, and a bit of rock climbing we moved to the top and even though it was foggy, the beauty of it was in the amazing feeling we got there on top. With us were a lot of people, but one of the most amazing thing was that one of the trekkers who was a 50 year old Suchita aunty, she bravely climbed the rocks and made it on top… That was something no one from the other groups had done so far, said the camp leader!
We finally reach the top...

We finally reach the top...

That’s the spot, the highest peak on Sandakphu… 3600 Meters around 14000 feet! Our trek is finally complete… Well, at least the climbing… The next couple of days were a lot more stressful, especially since alighting means, knees would have to bear the brunt of your body weight… Nonetheless, despite the fact that we couldn’t see the Kanchenjunga and Mt. Everest, we enjoyed every bit of the trek so far. If we were lucky, maybe we’d get to come back again and see them… or better yet, go to Mt. Everest Basecamp… ;) It was time for us to go back to the camp, have dinner and rest as much as we could… For the next day beckoned a lot of walking… only downhill…

Kalipokhari – Land of the Black Lake

So, as soon as we set off for Tumling, we actually entered mainstream Nepal. Tumling was still on the borderland but as soon as I received a Vodafone SMS letting me know they gobbled up 99 bucks for International Roaming, I was sure about the fact that we had entered Nepal. Anyways, my phone would be obsolete soon as the network and battery was going to desert me soon. Having said that, it was not even something I should have bothered about.

One of the best things about these treks is the fun of disconnecting yourself completely to the world and hibernating in a true sense. With great landscapes, beautiful view of mountains and valleys on both sides, what more do you want? So, one of the things I was waiting for was the Jaobari Monastery. It was a monastery in one of the villages in Nepal. Having said that, there was an interesting story I’d like to share here…

Lakhpa - One who's born on a Wednesday
Lakhpa – One who’s born on a Wednesday

After an hour or so, we managed to reach Jaobari… where I happened to meet this cute kid, called Lakhpa… I asked someone later what Lakhpa meant? I got to know that a lot of Nepalese folks, name their kids after the day that they are born on. Which would mean, there would be a whole bunch of Lakhpas and Pembas (One who’s born on a Saturday) and many such names, which I don’t remember all that much now… But why this guy was interesting, was cause of his insatiable smile and his spirited greetings to us when we entered the Tea shop. He had a fire as well as heartwarming gracious look in his eye. Another thing, I’m also born on a Wednesday… So if I was Nepalese, I’d probably be a Lakhpa. ;)

Jaobari Village
Jaobari Village

A beautiful view of the remote Jaobari Village in Nepal….

Jaobari Monastery
Jaobari Monastery

So here’s a little bit of the story I encountered in the Jaobari Monastery… While this monastery is a very quiet one on the corner of the village, something I learnt and something I’ll never forget that day. As I walked across the place, I found a few kids with books on Buddhism, which they were reading with great joy! As I entered the monastery I was greeted by it’s caretaker and the monk who taught the kids.

Shange Norbu from Jaobari Monastery
Shange Norbu from Jaobari Monastery

Shange Norbu… Shange means Buddha as he told me with a bit of pride and subtle smile on his face. One that denoted the passion he shared towards the religion he followed. He gave me a short tour of the monastery inside. Showed me a picture of his master / teacher a certain Pemba Norbu… Said he’s learnt a lot from him and he also showed me a picture of His Holiness Dalai Lama…

He asked me if I knew who he was? Smiling politely I said, of course I know who he is… “He’s the guy who hosted a Google+ hangout recently and I’m following him on twitter.” :P as I sheepishly thought in my head…

Being a traveller that I am, besides anything, boundaries and horizons always fascinate me. Distances and roads and maps and calculations are always on my mind when it comes to my travel… Just an impulse sometimes… Sometimes a bit too much this trait, that it makes me realize how travel is and should never be about these trivial pursuits or these kinds of funny meaningless achievements…

So I was thinking in my head (I’m in a Nepalese monastery… Just admiring the fact in my head, that I’m at an international location, since I havent ventured outside India yet)

“Is this monastery in Nepal?” I asked him.

“There is no Nepal no India… It’s all the same”  he replied smilingly…

I was speechless for a moment… I thought I’d explain to him that I didn’t mean it that way, but I realized, I got my answer… And that was quite a profound moment for me… I just smiled and shook his hands as I walked away…

Sherpa Kid
Sherpa Kid

After trekking for 4-5 hours, when we reached a pit-stop, we decided to stop over at a small place, which served amazing food and great mint tea… While I’m not a big fan of mint tea or tea as much, I decided to try out the Nepalese instant noodles… This was their answer to Maggi. Rum Pum as it’s called.

Those are instant nepalese Noodles
Those are instant nepalese Noodles

That was our last stop before we actually reached the Black Lake a.k.a Kalapokhri or Kalipokhri… It is believed that Nepalese villagers worship the black lake and no one is allowed to take a swim or a dip in this lake.

Kalipokhri Lake
Kalipokhri Lake

The temperature was freezing and it was already evening as we approached this village. We were waiting for the camp leader at the camp and he was waiting for us… Once we settled down, we sat by the fire inside the kitchen and started mingling with the locals… So much so, that we even had a chance to listen to Nepalese radio channel. Koshi FM… Some bollywood songs, and some Nepalese… The hard part or at least the first half of the hard part of this trek was taken care of…

Now the most trivial and the most exciting journey awaited us as we were about to move on to Sandakphu…

Tumling – A hint of Nepal

Yes, Nepal, that’s right… After a great exploration of Darjeeling it was time for our group to head towards our 6 day trek. Our journey was definitely going through Nepal and back to India. In the literal sense, there were a couple of villages that we were going to stop-over in this 6 day trek which were part of Nepal. So it was quite an exciting experience for me, especially since, technically, I’ve never been out of the country. With high hopes of visiting the North Eastern Himalayan region, I had my eyes set for Sandakhpu. We were told that we will get an up close and personal look at

1. Kanchenjunga Peak

2. Mt. Everest too…

It was only time that would decide whether we would actually get to see it or not. With misty mountains and foggy altitude, we weren’t really sure how the weather was going to play. With a couple of days in hand, we decided to keep our fingers crossed and hoped for the best. We were going to cover over 50 kms of high altitude trek at 14000 feet above the sea level and with dropping tempratures, we expected the minimum to go below 0 degrees centigrade especially when we were going to be in Sandakhpu.

So here was our route Map

Darjeeling – Dhotrey(Bus) – Tumling (Nepal) – Kalapokhri(Nepal) – Gurdum – Rimbick (Final basecamp) and back to Darjeeling.

With great excitement we reached Dhotrey and got off our bus. It was about 8.00 AM in the morning that we started trekking towards Tumling. First day was quite  an easy hike across scenic locations to go on top of India, cross a border outpost and head into Tumling (Nepal) But the most amazing experience on this trip was the beautiful trees and birds chirping, while we overlooked the clear blue skies.  The true beauty of this experience was our feeling of being in a different country and trekking to it… A few moments of our journey as we went across:

Walking the silent road across the woods

Walking the silent road across the woods

Trekking Leader

Leading all the way..

That’s our group leader Mr. ChandraShekhar Padalkar (61 years old) taking a rest on the way… Besides being a really amazing story teller, trekker, leader… he’s truly an awesome singer!

 

That's one long walk towards Tumling

That's one long walk towards Tumling

 

Land Rover

Land Rover

That’s one mean machine made for roads as tough as these mountains…This is the ultimate savior for locals to transport their basic needs and mostly used for logistical transportation purposes in these terrains.

When we reached Tumling & Nepal :)

When we reached Tumling & Nepal :)

This was one location I was waiting for and the first thing I did was got myself clicked. Though not mainstream Nepal, this region was quite a charm when it came to serenity and the most amazing food they served here. The evening was quite chilly and fog set in even as we reached there in the evening. But that did not deter us from going out for a short walk and exploring a bit of Tumling. Once we did that, we had amazing dinner prepared by Neela Di, the camp leader, an glorious entrepreneur who ran the camp lodge all by herself. This is a common sight you get to see in North East, Himalayas and Nepal regions. Most of the setups are managed very efficiently by the women of the house while husbands are either homemakers or Sherpas… After dinner, we were joined by a couple of guides one of whom was really good at playing the guitar and he played some amazing songs while we hummed along…

The next day we woke up as early as 5.30 AM, to see if we got a glimpse of some Sunrise… Tried as hard as we could, this is all we could manage…

Sunrise at 5.30 AM

Sunrise at 5.30 AM

While the sun rises to glory, the moon sleeps tight...

While the sun rises to glory, the moon sleeps tight...

While we had quite a relaxed Day 1 of the trek, our Day 2 was going to be quite challenging, with steep climbs and 14 kms towards Kalapokhri (The Black Lake) we estimated at least 6 hours of trekking… Just as we set out to scale further heights, this picture just made our day… A pair of Goat kids playing along with each other… Made for a really amazing snap.

 

There was more in store for us.. While these diaries continue, I hoped to see some more sun and less of mist or rain even, was just praying for more of sunshine, since Mt. Everest is not something we could see everyday… I guess all that would follow with my next post. Until then, I hope you enjoyed reading this blog. Do let me know what you think?

Darjeeling – Queen of Hill Stations

So my visit to the North East finally happened. Yes, didn’t visit a lot of places in terms of going far east… But yeah, quite good for a start. First up on my list was the most beautiful and ecstatic Darjeeling… Brilliant place and no wonder, it’s certainly deserves the title  ‘Queen of Hill Stations’

It started with Delhi. That’s was my destination post my Amritsar trip and I was to take a direct train from Old Delhi to New Jalpaiguri, from where I had to catch a bus/jeep to Darjeeling. Now, one thing I know a lot of people know about Old Delhi… If you don’t then hey, a warning, Old Delhi, by far is really horrible in terms of Hygiene, so be careful.

Another mistake I made was I took the Sikkim – Delhi to NJP Mahananda Express. Never ever take this train as it’s always late, no charging points in the train and no water in the train either, with filthy washrooms… Trust me, this one you can avoid. All said and done, after being 12 hours late, I reached New Jalpaiguri… I knew the wait was going to be worth it, since I couldn’t wait to reach Darjeeling. So much so, that I had to stay overnight in a lodge as it was kind of dangerous to drive up, especially at 2 AM in the morning… I joined a couple of fellow passengers from  the train… They were to go some place near, but decided to do so the next day.

After waking up next day and eating an amazing breakfast in New my journey from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling began…

Amazing breakfast at New Jalpaiguri
Amazing breakfast at New Jalpaiguri

Once the breakfast was over, It was time for me to catch a jeep to Darjeeling. Usually they take you for 200 bucks and you have to share your ride with other passengers, but it’s a good deal. Either ways you can choose to wait for a bus and get a cheaper deal. But all in all it’s a great idea to go in a jeep as you’d end up reaching faster!

Bishal from the Indian Armed Forces
Bishal from the Indian Armed Forces

Meet Bishal, from Section 2 IC of the Indian Army. Posted at Kargil LOC (No Mans Land) He was going Home to meet his folks in Darjeeling.

Teesta River
Teesta River

As our jeep swayed into the curvy mountains heading up towards Darjeeling, we got this beautiful and picturesque view of the Teesta River. An enchanting look into the blue waters surrounded by the amazing Mountains leading up towards the Kanchenjunga peak!!! Was quite breathtaking.

Near Tiger Bridge enroute Darjeeling
Near Tiger Bridge enroute Darjeeling

A flavor of the North East India, with a dragon statue near the tiger bridge while on our way towards Darjeeling.

Kanchenjunga Peak
Kanchenjunga Peak

As we approach Darjeeling, we get a clear view of the Kanchengjunga Peak. Also known as the Sleeping Buddha for it’s stark resemblance to the Buddha and the peaks representing him sleeping.

As soon as I enter Darjeeling, it’s cold and we can feel freshness in the air and also a chilled out atmosphere which really gives me a completely different feeling. It’s as if we’ve entered a fashionable town with a lot of guys and girls on a fashion parade while the towns modern fresh look also blew me away. Besides that of course the Municipal tower and a couple of other heritage / ancient structures gave me a mixed feeling about this place all together. I had about two days to explore Darjeeling before we head out for our Sandakhpu-Gurdum trekking expedition.

So I decided to make the best out of it.

Darjeeling municipality building tower clock. Since 1850.

Darjeeling municipality building tower clock. Since 1850.

I settled down at our basecamp / Hotel Broadway Annexe… and after a nice sumptuous lunch, I decided to explore the town a little bit. Little did I realize that sun was already on it’s way to set and soon it would get dark… Without losing much time, I got towards the station, which is quite nearby and if you look at it, Darjeeling as a town isn’t that big…

Early Sunset at Darjeeling

Early Sunset at Darjeeling

It was probably about 4.30 PM that the Sun set that day… By 5.30 it was already dark in Darjeeling and there is no way you can tell whether it’s 5:30 or 8.30 pm…

Darjeeling at 5:30 PM

Darjeeling at 5:30 PM

That also meant that pretty soon I had to go to bed cause the next day I had to wake up early and go to Tiger Hill to view the Sunrise across the Kanchenjunga Peak! But not before I beat the cold with some drinks at Joey’s Pub. Yes a very small British ambiance tavern, where you’ll find mostly British or Canadian tourists hanging out listening to retro numbers and chilling out! I went there with Mr. Shashi Patel, a businessman from Los Altos California I met while strolling around Darjeeling station. He was going to be my company to the sunrise point as well. So we decided to chill out and hang around for a while and talk about stuff here and there over a couple of drinks.

While I did that, I must say, the amazing Chow Min I ordered from the Joey’s Pub, was superb!!!

Veg Chow Min @ Joey's Pub

Veg Chow Min @ Joey's Pub

The next day was a short trip across Darjeeling where we visited the Sunrise Point At Tiger Hill, the Ghoom Monastery and a few other spots early in the morning. Also fascinating was the rooftop breakfast at Keventer’s cafe which is a 100 year old Cafe in Darjeeling!

Sunrise At Tiger Hill

Sunrise At Tiger Hill

Sun shining across the mountain ranges

Sun shining across the mountain ranges

Ghoom Monastery

Ghoom Monastery

Shing Theng - A saleswomans kid outside the monastery

Shing Theng - A saleswomans kid outside the monastery

A 61 year old Tibetian refugee manufacturing & selling handicraft since 1972.

A 61 year old Tibetian refugee manufacturing & selling handicraft since 1972.

A view from the top...

A view from the top...

Keventer's Cafe - A 100 year old cafe in Darjeeling

Keventer's Cafe - A 100 year old cafe in Darjeeling

Darjeeling Tea

Hot Cup of Darjeeling Special Tea

After the visit at the Keventer’s cafe and of course the early morning trip to Sunrise point, Ghoom Monastery and other places, nothing was better than a hot cup of special and very tasty Darjeeling Tea!

Japenese Pagoda

Japanese Peace Pagoda in Darjeeling

All in all it was totally a trip that was worth it. Darjeeling is definitely the Queen of all Hill Stations I must admit.