Category Archives: Tales from Himalaya

Interesting Stories from the Land of Himalayas!

5 Most Beautiful Himalayan Towns

Originally posted on AsiaRooms

No matter how much I write about this beloved destination that I adore, there’ll never be enough to express the awe inspiring, breath taking, beautiful wonders that the Himalayan Mountain Range brings to all! While trekking within the Himalayas during the summer is quite a popular thing to do, there are many other ways to enjoy the magical spirit of the mountains – especially if you aren’t an ardent mountaineer, a huge trekking enthusiast or an avid lover of walking across the mountains. For starters you could try experiencing the beautiful serene towns that lie at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, and these five are my recommended.

1. Joshimath, Uttarakhand

The city of Joshimath serves as a good base to explore the mountains and smaller towns across the North Western Himalayas in the Garwhal and Kumaon reigons. If you drive 250km southwest, you will get to the holy town of Rishikesh and Haridwar, a glimpse of the beautiful escapades in the Uttarakhand Himalayas. From this place you can drive up to Govind Ghat, which is the base for the trek to the Valley of Flowers National Park. 20km away is also the beautiful skiing resort in Auli. Auli is known to be a skiing paradise in the Kumaon Himalayas. If not for skiing in the winters, this place makes for spectacular views and a ride on the cable car ropeway is quite fun even during summers. With a sneak peek towards many beautiful regions within North Western Himalayas, this is the perfect spot to snuggle up and relax if you want a peaceful retreat away from the madness of cities.

Auli is a famous skiing resort in the Kumaon Himalayas

2. Leh, Jammu and Kashmir

Leh was the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh. It now forms part of the Leh district in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. Though this is a huge stretch and has beauty varied with geographical diversities, it is more popular for its roadtrips on high altitudes, and the view of the expansive and different landscapes it has to offer. More importantly, the lakes and waters of this place make for magnificent viewings. On one side, there’s Tso Moriri and on the other side by the India-China border is Pangong Tso Lake. If it were up to me, I’d just go and settle down in this beautiful haven. With beautiful monasteries, the highest motorable road and the cold deserts of the Nubra Valley, Leh has a lot to offer and makes for a great stay especially during the months of July to October. What’s more, there are direct flights to Leh from Delhi, making the commute a lot easier.

With the view of the Himalayas in the backdrop, Tso Moriri Lake is a magnificent stopover

3. Kaza, Himachal Pradesh

Situated in the Western Himalayas, Kaza is the gateway to the forbidden valley of the Great Western Himalayan Kingdom, known as the Spiti Valley. While getting there is an arduous task without any direct flights and the roads being one of the most dangerous in the world, once you’re there, the experience makes up for all the bumps and backaches you’ll incur on your journey there. Check out the views across Rohtang Pass and the short hike to Chandertaal Lake, and yes, once you’re there, the opportunity to visit one of the coldest villages in the world, Kibber, at 14,200 feet is the most blissful experience you’ll ever discover. One of the most spectacular views is of a gorgeous tall statue of Buddha sitting in the middle of nowhere, looking out onto the majestic mountains. The feeling you get out there is nothing short of magical.

Take a short hike to Chandertaal Lake before arriving in Kibber, one of the coldest villages in the world

4. Darjeeling, West Bengal

Known as the Queen of Hill Stations, Darjeeling is one of the prettiest towns in the North East Himalayas. As soon as you near the town, you’ll start to see views of the Kanchenjunga Peak. But there’s more to this place than just that view which almost sits in the background no matter which part of town you’re in. Darjeeling has some amazing restaurants, beautiful vantage points and a splendid ambience with its rustic Victorian legacy having served as a British hill station in the past. Wake up early at 4am for a visit to Tiger Point for a stupendous view of the sunrise. On your way back down, you can visit theGhoom Monastery, Japanese Pagoda which has some really amazing statues of Buddha in different poses.  Darjeeling is also famous for its teas, so stop by for a cup of Darjeeling tea as you view the sunset on the terrace of the century-old Keventer’s Café.

Darjeeling was a British hill station that is popular for its tea plantations

5. Mcleod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh

If you want to experience cool weather all year round, complete with chilly breezes, magical misty roads and some serious time and space to think about the meaning of life, then you’d want want to head to Mcleod Ganj. Located in the suburb of Dharamshala, it is also home to the Dalai Lama’s Temple known as Tsuglagkhang Temple. The town is also nicknamed “Little Lhasa” due to the large population of Tibetans living there. For me, a visit to the temple during prayer times was an enchanting experience. Whether you believe in any form of God or not, the spiritual journey is something that you’ll cherish for quite a while. The town centre gets crowded due to the hoards of tourists that come from all over the world to catch a glimpse of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but you can quietly slip away to a small part of town called Naddi. It’s quiet, beautiful and serene here. Either way, don’t miss Mcleod Ganj, especially if you’re in Manali or New Delhi.

McLeod Ganj is home to the popular Tsuglagkhang Temple, known as the Dalai Lama Temple

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A glimpse of Gorgeous Nepal!

Originally posted on Gorgeous Nepal

One of the most brilliant sights across any landscape is the sight of Mountains reaching out to great heights across clouds! While I’m an avid mountaineer, trekker and have great aspirations one day to reach out to many mountains across the world, especially Everest Base camp and with Nepal’s Namche Bazaar being on my bucket list for certain, I’m yet to explore Nepal to the fullest. However, my first experience of Nepal was a mere glimpse of the beautiful and chivalrous mountains across the Indo-Nepal border on my Sandakphu trek in Darjeeling.

Indo Nepal Border

Yes, I can say that ‘technically’ I’ve been to Nepal, and boy, it has been quite a brilliant expose so far. This was back in November 2011, when I decided to take a trek with Youth Hostels Association of India into Sandakphu, the route to which was interspersed with entry and exit points across a few villages up the hills in Nepal. Specifically Jaobari and Kalipokhari. And while one may say, that’s hardly any experience in Nepal, I might beg to differ and have a completely amazing experience of the beauty those desolate places had to offer me. One thing that this trek offered, when you reach the top most point in Sandakphu, was a glimpse of Mt. Everest and a closer view of Kanchenjunga.

Tumling, Nepal, Himalayas

Our first stop at a point where we entered into Nepal was at a small pit-stop in Tumling. Though not proper 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, a 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 mostly 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 Nepali songs while we hummed along.

Sunrise, Mountains, Sunrise on Mountains, Nepal

What was even more wonderful was the glimpse of a very early sunrise at 5.30 AM. Though the clouds and the mountains tried their best to hide the sun, the tinge of a yellowish orange sky made for one of the best views I’d ever seen across these mountains.  A much needed refresher for the journey up ahead on Day 2. That was the time when we had to scale a daunting climb, to take us into Kalipokhari. While there is a lot of effort you might need to take as soon as you move beyond Jaobari, another small village across Indo-Nepal border, you’ll realize that the most amazing landscapes of the young mountains will give you a sense of serenity that you would not really experience anywhere else. On your way, the Jaobari monastery is quite a small and melancholy stop, which will get you to think, how peaceful this region is.

Jaobari

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.

Nepalese Noodles Rum Pum

That was our last stop before we actually reached the Black Lake a.k.a 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. The temperature was freezing and it was already evening as we approached this village.

Kalipokhari, Kalapokhari, Nepal, Sandakphu

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 were Hindi songs, and some Nepalese! Was fun tuning into the radio as we had our grub.

There was an interesting structure is like an indication of the Indo-Nepal border, with the right side being Nepal and the Left being India. This was at the entrance to our camp in Kalipokhari. The weather in Kalipokhri gave quite the chills. Freezing as it was, 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.

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. Post lunch 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.

Maahi River's Origin

One that never dries. 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 that 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 where the beautiful view of both the mountain ranges awaited us. Unfortunately, the mist and fog didn’t allow for that to happen and we were a tad disappointed. However our walk across the trails within some really amazing landscapes across the border into Nepal was a journey I’ll never forget. Walking across the silent hills within the woods, gave an enchanting feeling of bliss amidst the fresh air with dry leaves crunching beneath your feet to indicate your beautiful journey across the path.

Trails of the Hills and Woods

Post lunch we went to the highest point in Sandakphu, another 1 or 2 Kms walk where the beautiful view of both the mountain ranges awaited us. Unfortunately, the mist and fog didn’t allow for that to happen and we were a tad disappointed. However our walk across the trails within some really amazing landscapes across the border into Nepal was a journey I’ll never forget. Walking across the silent hills within the woods, gave an enchanting feeling of bliss amidst the fresh air with dry leaves crunching beneath your feet to indicate your beautiful journey across the path.

Even though it was foggy, the beauty of it was in the amazing feeling we got there on 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. After which was mostly going back to Darjeeling, and downhill.

Atop Sandakphu

Overall from whatever experience I had had of the glimpses of Nepal so far, one thing I felt was most certainly a feeling of utmost magic, something that I had never experienced so far. A beautifully fulfilling experience if anything I may add. I can only imagine what other parts of Nepal may have to offer, if the glorious mountains across Sandakphu, Kalipokhari and Jaobari were this beautiful.

Route to Kalipokhri Village

Kala Pokhri (3186 m) is a small Himalayan village inside the Singalila National Park in the Darjeeling subdivision, Darjeeling district in the state of West Bengal, India. It lies on the trekking route from Mane Bhanjang to Sandakphu (the highest peak in West Bengal), and is roughly halfway between the steep final stretch of the trek from Gairibas to Sandakphu. “Pokhri” means “lake” and “kala” means “dark” in Nepali, and the village is named after a local lake with dark waters.

It is also the second camps en route the Sandakphu trek in the North Eastern Himalayas where you traverse across Darjeeling and get into some small villages of Nepal and head back into Darjeeling via Gurdum. And yes after you’ve crossed Tumling, you have entered for the first time in Nepal.

Now, for those who have done the trek, would know that the route to Kalapokhri has to be the steepest and one of the higher climbs as compared to any other, until of course you carve your feet out of the Himalayas from there on towards Sandakphu.

This journey is as beautiful as it could get. We started early in the morning, foggy and misty with a lot of silence across this journey. With ocassional rainfall, we did take some small stops before we decided to briskly climb up this route.  Some pictures from that trek.

Kalapokhri, West Bengal, Kanchenjunga, Sikkim, Darjeeling, Nepal, Himalayas

As soon as we left Tumling, we left behind these siblings

 

Nepal, Kalapokhri, Sandakphu, Darjeeling, HImalayas

Following the misty trail across Nepal border

 

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You can see the Indian villages down from up top in Nepal

 

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As you reach Kalapokhri, the ascend gets tougher

On the left side is India and on the right is Nepal

On the left side is India and on the right is Nepal

 

By the time you get to Kalapokhri, you’d be quite tired, but at the same time admire the fascinating and very quiet village, some of them playing Nepali songs on the radio and small huts with people sitting near the fireplace seeking some warmth that you’d end up getting relaxed all by yourself right there… One of the best routes on this trek for sure…

Seeking peace and serenity in Tumling

On one of our trips in the Himalayas, I remember how lines across various borders fade away and depict a path that just goes on beyond just the territories hazed within the minds of people caught in a rut, one that fails to distinguish a beauty of the nature so vast, and enchanting that we always tend to look at terrains as boundaries keep blocking us and our minds.

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Sometimes I wish for that as a traveler to do away with. Most often than none, whenever I take a trek to the Himalayas, an important thing that is always on my mind is to leave behind the clutter and the chaos that this urban mind has always carried around with it’s mundane inglorious life. I try to devise a plan and then I stop and tell myself that it’s not a strategy that I have to pitch to a client, I usually end up thinking twice about things when I’m out here in the city. Out there, I let the nature guide me by it’s own destiny and help me make a better choice with every step that I take in the wilderness of the mountains.

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One such trips was on the way to Sandakphu, where our first pit-stop was a glorious beginning into the Nepal bordering, crossing over Darjeeling and Sikkim the Himalayan regions of Tumling. A small village would be very popular among trekkers who are treading slowly towards Sanadkphu and Phalut. Both destinations which on a clear day, give a peek at the Kanchenjunga and the Mt. Everest, if you’re lucky.  One of the most interesting things that you’ll notice on this path is how serene everything is right from the time you start the trek from Mhanebhanjan, the base camp, usually for all the trekkers who head up to Sandakphu or Phalut.

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The occassional villagers going about their tasks, once in a while the sunlight taking a peak through the dense forests with maple and deodar trees. The ocassional Land rovers shipping food and gas cylinders and other than that there is complete bliss and total serenity. One can only feel an underlying divinity in this path across nature that cannot be described unless you actually go and witness the same.

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One beautiful thing about this place is that it has an arduous look about it the moment you reach the small village. As you settle down and look up at the mountains you will feel the ease of the mountains and the beautiful path that holds a great canvas in front of you, one as a trekker or a mountaineer, you’d be raring to have a go at, painting your journey across the beautiful terrains of these North Eastern Himalayas…

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Truly a Tibetian Tigress

This is my submission to IndiBlogger’s  Expedia – Around The World Contest

“Brrrrr…” Freezing cold weather in Darjeeling in November. The Sun setting down as early as 5 PM in the evening. Rising across the Kanchenjunga peak and it’s horizon early in the morning, as early as 5 AM on the North Eastern Himalayan terrains! Yes, that was the time when Darjeeling was to be visited… And thankfully I was there at that very moment. I went there to trek the Sandakphu-Gurdum ranges and hopefully climb the mountains at the highest point of Sandakphu to see the Kanchenjunga & Mt. Everest up close and personal. Before we started our trek, we had a couple of days where we could acclimatize ourselves to the conditions and get to know Darjeeling a little more…

I took that opportunity to tour the city in search of interesting people, stories and certainly take some really great shots of the local culture around. As soon as I entered Darjeeling, everything about it fascinated me. Looking at the small town like manifestation of the entire location felt very close to home and gave a significant amount of warmth in itself. Everywhere I looked around I could visualize the beauty of the North East India that started here. I was told that girls and women in Darjeeling are truly beautiful, but this was the first time I got to see it and indeed, “Seeing is believing.”  Besides their beauty and aura, every girl and even guys had a strong, bold empowering style to themselves. They definitely knew what fashion was and could teach a thing or two to Bombayites like me.

Having said that, another aspect of Darjeeling I really admired the most, was that one could, at any point in time always keep an eye on the Kanchenjunga peak. It’s magnificence bore a stark resemblance to divine feeling of spiritual transcendence. And why not, Kanchenjunga is also called as the Sleeping Buddha, for it resembles HIM sleeping and his features show across. Look carefully and you will see the head, prosperous tummy & feet. 🙂

Kanchenjunga Peak

Kanchenjunga Peak

So the first day we whiled around the town, checked out the local places, shopped for some warm clothes, hung out at a local pub ‘Joey’s’ mostly I was with Mr. Shashi Patel, an American Indian from the Bay Area whom I met while strolling around the railway station at Sunset. So after hanging out with him and talking about travel and my experiences across India, we headed back to our respective hotels. Our plan the next day was to catch the view of the sunrise early in the morning at Tiger Hills.

While returning back we decided to stop by at this local place and check out some interesting items that we could purchase. He wanted to take some gifts back home. Something easy to carry and not too much on his pocket as he wanted lots of gifts for all his friends.

Tibetian Woman

Tucking away her earnings…

We began strolling across and started to scan the place for interesting items. There were caps, clothes, strolls, scarves, glares, Darjeeling special Tea and a lot of other interesting items. But what really caught my eye was this old woman, who was pretty occupied within herself. She looked very busy and had a certain aura about herself. She was very bold and mostly her voice was very prominent. Certainly caught my eyes and ears. But that is not what made me go check out what she was selling… I looked at her, she was around 60-65 years old, had sharp features… Her eyes were certainly a lot bigger than others around. She not only spoke in Hindi but also had a sharp way of speaking in English as well. More importantly, she was out there as if she meant business.

We looked at what she was selling and did find it pretty interesting. They were small purses, caps, scarves and strolls… All of them handwoven with a special pattern that they had about themselves. They were excellent pieces of handicraft. Certainly intrigued me and I wanted to buy a few purses for some of my friends and my mom.

So, I decided to take a look at the items on sale and thought of which ones to pick. Mr. Patel also was interested and we told ourselves, let’s buy 10 of these purses together. She will give us a good deal if we take in bulk.

I asked her “How much does this purse cost?”

“Rs. 30,” she replied, while hastily giving money to her previous customers and sorting out her own sets of the products that were bit off the carpet she kept them on.

“We’ll take 10… How much will they cost then?”

“They’ll cost as much as they cost now…”

“But I’m buying in bulk…”

“That doesn’t matter, the cost doesn’t change…” she replied calmly…

We both looked at each other and smiled. Looks like she needed some more incentive probably for us to get a better deal. So my newly found friend picked up some other products and asked for their price… Surprisingly they also were priced at Rs. 30. Except a couple of the items all of them were priced at that amount.

We asked her again, but she wouldn’t budge.

“I won’t change the price for you, If you want to buy you can buy… It’ll sell anyways, if not today, tomorrow. I’ve been making these purses on my own for 30 years… and never have I gone without selling all off every year. Besides, we don’t work off season cause of the cold.” She smiled at us mischievously. 

Handicraft, Tibetian Lady, Tibet, Tibetian Handicraft.

Smiling Away…

While we realized, our deal won’t happen, we both admired her headstrong, entrepreneurial sense of ownership. She was a true businesswoman of sorts and I can’t think but admire her perseverance that at the age of 61, which we found out later in our conversation, she had this energy and level headed and amazing attitude about herself. We got to know that she migrated from Tibet in 1972 and has been making and selling these works of art. She is alone and lives in the city below. Every morning she wakes up at 4 AM, finishes her chores and sets off to come here, by walk with her backpack of items to sell. Once people who come down after viewing the sunrise to shop at her place and more often than not, her inventory gets exhausted by 9.30 AM. If not, she takes the remaining ones back home and then goes to a tea shop that she runs outside her house…

Reminded me of ‘The Steve Jobs’, I was reading that book on the trip, but clearly I could identify her sense of feel and value for quality and niche business value add. Don’t go by the price, but her stubborn yet confident decision to not back out of the price for a product that was of true quality. Something that many wouldn’t hesitate to pay ten or fifteen times the amount if it was a designer product, much like this one and in fact made out of the same material, only added with an elitist price tag… Salute to the Tibetian Tigress! For the beautiful work of art, Thuk Ji Chhe (Thank You in Tibet) 

What do you think about her attitude?

The Tiger Kid of Himalayas…

Himalayas, Nepal, Jaobari, India, Travel, Mountains, Trekking,

Jaobari Terrains of HiImalayas

This was a few months back when we were trekking in the North Eastern Himalayas… The Sandakphu trek to be precise. Every once in a while you meet spirits that give you such great vision of your own life that you can’t even imagine what heights you can reach.

Buddhist Philosopher, educator & peace builder Daisaku Ikeda once said

“The human spirit is as expansive as the cosmos. This is why it is so tragic to belittle yourself or to question your worth. No matter what happens, continue to push back the boundaries of your inner life. The confidence to prevail over any problem, the strength to overcome adversity and unbound hope – all reside within you.”

This story is a true depiction of how this really applies. A lot of times we are so overwhelmed by the many tasks which we give utmost importance to, we tend to forget the real reason we are here on this planet. Many times we focus on the tasks which have no underlying purpose or very little importance, that we forget what we can do if we stop thinking in boundaries or shed the limits. This story tells us how we as adults have stopped imagining behind certain boundaries and stopped pushing the envelope when it comes to achieving something.

Buddhism, Monastery, Dalai Lama, Monk, Spirituality, Himalayas

Shange Norbu of Jaobari Monastery

While trekking the Himalayas, we came across a small monastery in the Nepal side on the Indo-Nepal border. Jaobari village to be precise. We decided to visit the monastery and spend some time while catching our breath. We met the monk who lived there, Shange Norbu. Shange is another word for Buddha, he proudly told us. He gave us information about the monastery. He also told us that he teaches the kids there. We could see some kids playing outside eating some porridge in a small bowl. When we went inside, what was most striking was the utter peace and serenity which made the monastery quite blissful. Besides the striking calm, we realized that it was much warmer inside than it was outside. So that was quite a relief as we knew we had to trek a lot more and climb about 10 kms with a steep ascent.

While the others were resting, I decided to take a stroll around and click some pictures around. After getting a few shots of the breath-taking view I headed a little further, I met this kid. The kid was very playful and he was enjoying himself and doing just nothing. Generally this is probably the last point where civilization ends and the terrains start. A few houses here and there, otherwise the whole plateau after this is just mountain ranges. So most tourists who have come, would stop going further at this point while the trekkers move on to climb the magnificent Himalayas.

The Tiger Kid of Himalayas

The Tiger Kid of Himalayas

With a really nice winter cap covering his ears and a denim jacket to keep him warm, he looked very comfortable and was in his own world. His smile was innocent and his brown eyes were like deep ocean. He had a stick with him, which he held on to very closely. I took a few pictures of his and tried to initate conversation. But communication in a common language was a mystery to the both of us. We resorted to our body language and yes, eye contact… He smiled at me, I smiled back… Then he put his hands to his head.. A gesture to tell me something.  Probably, to show me that he had great imagination. Imagination that made his mind greater than the regular one. To me it looked pretty much like the thing Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory does when he stares at you and tries to get your brain to explode… But obviously this gesture had a different meaning altogether.

Nonetheless, after a few exchange of glances and communication through our eyes, he said something… something which I didn’t understand but I asked Shange to translate, who was standing nearby. He laughed when he heard what the kid said. That made me even more curious as to what was this kid saying. I asked him to translate it to me and this is what he said.

“If you go on top, the tiger will come and kill you… But don’t worry, I’ll help you and fight him off with this stick.”

I’m not kidding, that’s exactly what he said, according to the monk. Hence the laugh. But I was blown away, blown away by the astronomical level of thinking and ultimate confidence within himself. Now, I’m pretty sure, he was told stories of great white tigers in the Singalila National Park stretch of Sandakphu. One that ‘we’ know do not exist, stories of great ‘dragon warriors’, which we think are myths and kings who have slayed tigers with their bare hands. Considering that, using a stick to kill a tiger is definitely something which is easy for him, now isn’t it?? Something he believes in and in his world, that’s how the ending of this story is. Him emerging victorious and a saviour to my life. The great hero of Jaobari as I’d like to call him. Come to think of it, it could be achieved scientifically if you hit the right spots, but that’s a different point altogether.

Do you remember as kids we had so many dreams and for us boundaries meant nothing. Do you remember as kids we wanted to go to space as astronauts, we wanted to become actors, we wanted to become cricketers and a lot more… What happened to those dreams? All that was possible and for some it became a reality. For a those who couldn’t get there, well, it’s never too late…

We have to stop putting boundaries to our thoughts, limitations, and stop compromising by just saying, life is a compromise. Actually when I recollect this story, I truly feel it isn’t… As Daisaku Ikeda says, The confidence to prevail over any problem, the strength to overcome adversity and unbound hope – all reside within you. How many of you have realized this?

Mhane Chandra – What Future Holds??

Freezing cold at Sandakphu base camp was something we managed to get acclimatized to. After climbing 14000 feet from the other side of Nepal and feeling on top of the world we had embraced the joy of the cold weather and at the same time the soreness of climbing such heights was quite a battle. Having said that, we had also embraced one downhill descent from Sandakphu to Gurdum. That was a bit of an ordeal, especially for those weak in their knees… No pun intended 😉

During our entire duration of the trek, Gurdum base camp was one of the best ones as most of us managed to climb down quite easily, though nurturing some levels of knees and joints pain, time taken and the stress plus energy burnt was much lesser than earlier ones. The flipside of it was since there was no ascent, most places we had to be careful of our stepping and ensure that we didn’t lose our balance at certain stages.

We stayed in Gurdum overnight, enjoyed delicious soup and fantastic veg momos for snacks! Even the dinner was one of the best and it really felt like we had a sumptuous meal after our arduous journey had been completed. Now we just had to alight Gurdum and reach our final destination (Rimbick) This was again a descent and there was hardly anything that we thought would bother us during this trek. Having said that, sometimes it’s just not your body but also your mind that takes a toll during this trek. It’s something that we think we can manage, but a lot of times struggle doing the same… I guess that’s why trekking is not just a physical but a mental challenge too.

Nonetheless, once we woke up in Gurdum, early in the morning, we decided to go down soon and camp at the final destination. Since it was the last destination of the trek, we wanted to make the best out of it. At least that was the plan. So we quickly started descending the mountain and the terrains called for some really amazing and breathtaking views. Although we did stop at places to ensure we got to enjoy the view, we didn’t wait for a long while…

After trekking for about a couple of hours we could hear a few sounds. We were surprised as mostly very few people came on top from this route… But nonetheless, we thought there might be some locals who wander off here or come to cut trees… We imagined it could be a wood cutter. Someone who has come on top and probably climbs day in and day out to cut wood. So we didn’t think about it as much. We told ourselves in a joking manner, imagine how much weight the person would be losing everyday and how many calories he would be burning. As it is most of the times we go on a trek, we end up losing a few pounds, and once we resume our sedimentary lifestyle, we end up getting all that back. I wonder how fit that person would be who would come to cut wood here climbing at least 11 kms everyday, I said…

As I said that, I just saw someone climb on the hairpin bend across the mountain below… I was looking elsewhere and slowly my glance went towards him… What I saw was something that made me think, ‘What did I say?’ I felt so bad that I even thought about something like this… Although not my fault, I really felt guilty at making assumptions about something or someone whom I didn’t even know. And what I saw wasn’t something that pleased my eyes as much.

Rather this is who I saw.

Sikkim, Darjeeling, Sandakphu, Gurdum, Rimbick

Mhane Chandra

Meet, Mhane Chandra! To him, this sickle is going to be a life, a life full of what his parents told him about. A life full of dreams and a life that will provide him and his family what they need.  But who will guarantee that these forests and the trees will last long? A question that I wonder for his future…

I felt so bad, that I promptly removed a packet of biscuits that the camp leader had given earlier and handed it over to him. At that time, that was the best I could do for him. I tried talking to him for a bit, but he wasn’t the kind who would speak a lot. Must be that his dad was behind or maybe not. Couldn’t really talk to him for he didn’t know our language. He just said, that he’s going up to get some wood to take home. Then he smiled and walked away…

Rimbick Basecamp

After having spent more than a week wandering across mountains of Himalayas, with a hope to witness the beauty of the Kanchenjunga we had hoped for a better ending especially when we had reached Sandakphu. Bearing the freezing cold of Sandakphu at 14000 feet was all worth it and could have been a complete experience, had we witnessed to see the Kanchenjunga peaks up close and personal especially from the top most point of that beautiful location. Nonetheless, we salvaged some of the situation after our alighting to Gurdum was truly enchanted by the stay there. Since we got down sooner than on other days, we had a lot more time to spend in Gurdum and we had made the most of it with the beautiful, serene and silent cottage at that camp.

While we did that, we were really hopeful that there was a lot more to the Himalayan trek than just this… Sadly, the time for the trek was about to come to an end. We were to alight to the final destination on this trek after Gurdum camp. Yes, of course, there would be civilization, local markets, hot water to shower, lesser cold and very little clenching of teeth… But that was all worth it when you come up to these heights. A world of it’s own, you began to be enchanted and somewhere deep in your mind make up a world of your own… Something that you would always want to enjoy without having to let go of the experiences that you underwent. We all had that kind of a feeling. The place was much more relaxed, by this time all of us had began to understand each other a lot more. Some had drifted from their regular group and joined others… We had bonded very well in a span of this week… Once we reach the basecamp, we knew all that was going to be over… With our goodbyes and farewells, we knew we may not be able to spend much time later. So I guess, this was that one last trip as they say… One last shot at making the most of our entire journey.

With that thought in our mind, we set off on a journey towards civilization, a last descend downwards to the chaos of life. One that we all had missed for days, but never complained. Such was this journey and such are treks of these kinds, especially in the Himalayan terrains, terrains where there is peace and redemption.

Himalayas, Sandakphu, Darjeeling
The final journey begins…

We started our last trekking bit on this expedition with a stride in our step and a heavy heart… Nonetheless, we had to make sure that this last journey was going to be full of great memories and beautiful pictures. We were hoping this terrain to be a bit different.

Villager Farmboy
Mhane Chandra

On our way we met Mhane Chandra. He was going up to cut firewood. To him, this sickle is going to be a life, a life full of what his parents told him about… A life full of dreams and a life that will provide him and his family what they need… But who will guarantee that these forests and the trees will last long? A question that I wonder for his future…

 While there was descent, we had to walk through some of these paths, where we had to carefully tread along the sides and worry about not slipping down the cliff…
Norgyal Sherpa Memorial

Norgyal Sherpa Memorial

While alighting, we found a few small villages within the mountains. There we also found this. And this was something which took my breath away and held my head high and hands close to my forehead, to salute the heroism of this small village within the descents of the great eastern Himalayas. This is a great story of a local lad, who gave his life for our Country… It’s a War Memorial in this Sherpa’s name… of the Gorkha regiment… A salute to Norgyal Sherpa.

Srikhola River
Srikhola River

This was one of the popular landmarks on this route. Once you know you’ve reached the Srikhola River, you know you’re 5 kms away from Rimbick.

Bridge over Srikhola River
Bridge over Srikhola River
Nishing Leng
Nishing Leng
Nishing Leng
Nishing Leng

That’s Nishengleng, cute kid… we were walking past her school and she saw my camera.. She said, take my picture… We did and she said Namaste to us… besides the picture, she enjoyed some great candies which we dished out 😉

From then on, it was just a little bit for us to walk to the base camp… And that would mark the end of a journey, beginning of a cherished memoirs something to remember for…

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…

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?