My Himalayan Sojourn - A Trek to Sandakphu

Tripoto
22nd Dec 2018
Photo of My Himalayan Sojourn - A Trek to Sandakphu by Yashaswini Ravishankar

"Chasing angels or fleeing demons go to the mountains" - Jeffrey Rasley

It all began on a Monday morning, first day of yet another long week and the thought of the amount of work that needed to be done was depressing to say the least. Although I had a refreshing weekend, I just couldn't shake off the lethargy and dragged my feet to work, feeling a strange restlessness that had been dogging me for quite sometime. I yearned to get away from it all; far from the maddening crowd, so to speak. Away from the bustling environs of the city, with its teeming crowd, the never ending wait in the traffic, and the humdrum existence.

As I enter my cubicle, I cast a look around me. I see people with their heads already buried in their laptops. As I go through my mails and look at the mountain of work that is waiting to be carried out, my sub conscious mind screams at me to run away from there. I gather my wits around me and force myself to concentrate on the work that's pending. By the end of the day I decide that I can take no more, both my mind and body need a break. All along the way back home, I rack my brains for a way out. While I was having my dinner, it came to me as a bolt from the blue, the clarion call of the Himalayas. A quotation by Jeffery Rasley flashes through my mind.

"Chasing angels or fleeing demons go to the mountains"

The mighty Himalayas! - the abode of the Gods it is, I decided. No sooner had the thought occurred, I started thinking about it with my heart racing with excitement. It was well over two years since my last trek to Roopkund in Uttarakhand. The memory of the nights spent under the sky, in tents, the simple but nutritious diet, the harsh but invigorating weather conditions sent my blood racing through my veins. This is the closest one can get to nature. With all the pristine beauty abounding mother nature, there can be no other heaven I thought.

After much soul searching, my guilty conscience tugging at my sleeve, urging me to think about all the work that was beckoning me at my work place, deciding to abandon it all at the drop of a hat, was no easy task. After doing much research I zeroed in on Sandakphu. A good friend of mine had spoken to me about the place and had told me that a colleague of his had quit his lucrative IT job to be a trek lead there. It was a major deciding factor for me, in choosing Sandakphu.

Having decided upon the destination, I set about calling my former trek mates to ask them if they were willing to join me. They were game and that set the ball rolling. Things fell into place with rather amazing ease and before long, we were all aboard the flight which was to take us to Kolkata. From there it was an arduous ten hour journey to NJP(New Jalpaiguri) by train.

Trek Details

It was well past midnight when we reached NJP. The trekking company, Indiahikes, had made arrangements to have us picked up the next morning. The thought of yet another long ride in the car to the base camp was daunting to say the least. But all the tiredness vanished in a jiffy at the sight of the scenic beauty with its picturesque little villages that we passed through.

DAY 0 – REACHING JAUBARI

We reached the base camp at around four in the evening and the breathtaking view from Jaubari was simply smashing! As we set foot on the ground, trying to walk on our wobbly legs, we espied a girl sitting on a patch of grass engrossed in capturing the scenic beauty in her painting. We later learnt that she was Preeta, our fellow trekker, who had already reached the base camp ahead of us from Darjeeling. She had come all the way from US, all by herself for this trek. I couldn’t help admiring her indomitable adventurous spirit.

The pretty little inn was to be our halting place for the night. Exhausted to the core though I was, the thought of the faraway hills and mountains that were awaiting me the next day was too exhilarating. I fell into a deep slumber dreaming about them.

Day 1

DAY 1 – REACHING TUMLING

After a good night’s sleep, we set off early in the morning. It was to be a six day trek and I mentally pulled myself up to face a gruelling day ahead.

As part of their Go Green initiative, Indiahikes has made it a point to provide all its trekkers an ‘Eco-bag’ to prevent littering in the mountains. The trekkers are also encouraged to pick up trash they see along the trails, during the trek. This, I think is a thoughtful initiative by them to help keep the mountains pristine clean.

The trail to Tumling, our first day destination was a journey of 14 km with steep ascents and descents. As we set out for the day, the youngest member of our trekking group, Shrihita, who was all of eight years, took the lead, skipping and dancing all the way. She was accompanied by her parents and I was amazed to learn that it was her fourth Himalayan trek! The world is full of surprises.

Walking amidst the tall pine trees with the sun playing peek-a-boo and the occasional glimpses of the faraway mountains was enthralling. The forest soon gave way to a clearing and lo, behold! the Sleeping Buddha was in sight. The sight of the snow capped peaks brought a lump to my throat and oh, how I had missed them! Just at that point in time, I remember thinking I would give anything to stay here always, soaking up the simply divine atmosphere.

The Sleeping Buddha

Photo of Tumling, Nepal by Yashaswini Ravishankar

Halfway through the trail, most of us, there were 21 of us, were already struggling to catch our breath. Huffing and puffing, we trudged on and finally managed to reach the base camp for the night, having gained an altitude of 3000 feet in a day! After the mandatory stretching session, we spent the rest of the evening playing a few indoor games and got ourselves acquainted with the rest of our fellow trekkers. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Day 2

Day 2 – Reaching Kalipokhri

The next morning, the sight of the strikingly beautiful Kanchenjunga simply took my breath away as we set out to Kalipokhri, our next camp site, a journey of 14 km. It took us nearly 6-7 hours to get there. The highlight of the day’s trek was spotting the majestic Mount Everest. The panoramic view of four of the five highest peaks in the world, the Everest, Kanchenjunga, Makalu and Lhotse, was a sight to behold. We all stood there, awestruck, unable to take our eyes off the spectacular vision.

Kalipokhri, a tiny little village with a lake, which we were told does not freeze even during winter, when the temperature remains at subzero level! The blackish appearance of the water gives it its name Kala Pokhri. The legendary tales that one gets to hear from the natives, literally sets your spine tingling.

The Everest, Kanchenjunga, Makalu and Lhotse

Photo of Kalipokhri, West Bengal, India by Yashaswini Ravishankar

Joyous barks greeted us as we reached Kalipokhri. I, being an ardent dog lover, was thrilled at the sight of two dogs. I forget their names, one was a Pomeranian and the other was Shih-Tzu. I have never seen a more shaggier dog in my life than the Shih Tzu, nor have I come across a more needy dog than he. I use the word needy because he was so hungry for human attention that no amount of petting seemed to satisfy him, he kept demanding for more!

Day 3

DAY 3 – REACHING SANDAKPHU

Braving the chilly winds and biting cold, off we went the next morning. Lying on the border of India-Nepal, the trail led us to our destination for the day, Sandakphu, and the view of the peaks kept getting better and better.

The howling wind simply did not allow us to put up our tents and we had to settle for yet another night inside a tea house. After having our tea, we all settled in a dome-shaped shelter nearby to watch the sunset. As we waited, we were entertained by our fellow trekkers, a couple of talented crooners who sang wonderful songs. I sat there, lost in the melody of Prashant’s voice in particular and oh, what a mellifluous voice he has. As the day came to an end, the setting sun painted the entire sky with a brilliant orange hue and it was sheer magic. The feeling of being at such a high altitude, with the clouds right beneath our feet and surrounded by awestruck company, there are simply no words to describe it! I wished the night would never end. The enthralling music coupled with breath taking sunset view. Sheer bliss!

Sunset at Sandakphu

Photo of Sandakphu, Nepal by Yashaswini Ravishankar

Exhausted, with our legs almost falling off, we were ready to turn in, when Vivek, our trek lead, coaxed us to come out and have a look at the starry sky and gosh! never had I seen so many stars in such a crystal clear sky. The Milky Way is visible from here, no need of a telescope here!!

Photo of My Himalayan Sojourn - A Trek to Sandakphu by Yashaswini Ravishankar

DAY 4 – REACHING SABARGRAM

Day 4 dawned bright and shining, with the big four tallest mountains visible at a distance and with white fluffy clouds separating us from the Sleeping Buddha.

We were to trek another 16 km today and as it turned out, our only experience of camping out the night in the tents. As we reached the checkpoint, a few Yaks greeted us. The difficulty level of the trek was the toughest at this juncture and took its toll on us, I heaved a sigh of relief when we were told that we could stop for lunch once we reached the valley. Some of us grabbed a few winks of sleep before we were forced to move on again for Sabargram, which was another 4 km away. After trekking for nearly two and a half hours, we finally reached Sabargram at tea time with the great Kanchanjunga just 60 km away!

That evening, Vivek, gave us an option of either going onto Phalut the next day and then reaching Gorkhey or skipping Phalut altogether and trekking directly to Gorkhey. A few tireless enthusiasts opted for Phalut while the rest of us decided that we would directly go to Gorkhey. Though my inner voice urged me to go on to Phalut, the thought of trekking an overall of 21 km the next day seemed impossible and my tired muscles groaned in protest and that was that, I decided with a heavy heart.

Photo of My Himalayan Sojourn - A Trek to Sandakphu by Yashaswini Ravishankar
Day 5

DAY 5 – REACHING GORKHEY

The next day turned out to be bitterly cold but the golden hue of the sunrise made it worth leaving the warmth of our sleeping bags.It was almost a down hill trek. We trekked through the enchanting bamboo forest, which took us nearly 5 hours. I was numb with cold and was thankful for the lunch break. Samandan was amazing, pretty as a picture, nestled as it was in a valley between two mountains with a pristine stream flowing nearby. Gorkhey was another two km away.

The day’s trek ended in Gorkhey, a quaint little village with a gurgling stream. The water in it was freezing! Just as we were getting ready for dinner, I asked my friend to pour water for me to clean my lunch box, but the water froze half way through the pouring! I was forced to abandon my cleaning and had to eat out of the greasy box. The price one has to pay, living in the rough! It certainly makes you appreciate the niceties that one takes for granted back home.

Day 6

DAY 6 – REACHING SEPI

Today was the last day of our trek and we went to Sepi from Gorkhey and then it was back to Samandan and from there the entire stretch was both uphill and downhill with gushing streams giving us company. Three hours later, we reached the checkpoint. From there, it was pretty much downhill all the way and we were back to civilisation.

As we sat down for our lunch, I realized that the time had come for us to go our different ways. I marveled at the way the adverse conditions had made us bond with rank strangers, helping each other and looking out for each other’s safety. I would certainly miss the lot of them. After lunch and exchanging pleasantries with our fellow campers and bidding them goodbye, we finally left for the railway station.

I realized with a sinking heart that I now had to go back to the concrete jungle that Bengaluru has now become and back to mundane existence once again. I console myself that all good things have to come to an end. Au revoir dear mountains!

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