Sandakphu at 3636 metres was an anticlimax – I expected to see views that would last a lifetime but all that I found on the top were lodges and an acute water shortage. I did not even try to locate the Kanchendzonga, the way I did at previous camps – imagining where it should be and then superimposing the postcard I bought. Post the ritual of room allocation, we settled down for a nap. Later in the evening, our YHAI guide – Abhijit Roy, took us to the sunset point, although by now fog had entirely enveloped us and the visibility was a few metres, as we set out to see the sun which was millions of kilometers away. Instead of being a sunset point it was truly a wind point – for it was super windy and cold there! It became tough to maintain balance. I remember Sowmya exclaiming – “It’s so windy I won’t fall” with her back to the wind. The moment reminded me of the Battle of Minas Tirith in Lord of the Rings, when Aragorn would summon the ghost army as it swooped across the war plains decimating the foe. Meanwhile, our tea champion – Soumya found a nice shop for tea, twenty bucks a cup, served hot in chinaware, while some among us had maggi. The night yet again was cold and windy, blatantly challenging us, the outsiders, as we hid in the warmth of the lodge, meekly giving up against the will of nature.
Gurdum our next stop was 14 km away, all downhill. Easiest of the easy paths passing through a Rhododendron forest and then through the sovereign of bamboos. Earlier in the day, I woke up at 3 to see if the Kanchendzonga had presented itself to the stars, but the veil wasn’t lifted. By around 5, all gathered to see the sunrise – to witness the burning peaks, braving the cold winds; but the warmth of our hope dismissed the conditions as we sat facing the now purple crimson horizon. We waited and waited, for the sun was late – as if the great peaks were forbidding the sun to appear, till it was high enough to hide them away. And then we saw the reddish purple sphere, we saw it through the conifers, we saw it from the glass cabin, we saw it through the fluttering prayer flags at a point higher than any found in West Bengal, we saw what 7 billion others see everyday but the mountains made it different. Back in the cottage, there was a picture of Sandakphu captured sometime in December, with pristine clear views of the Kanchenjunga, as pristine as the snow that had covered the cottage – perhaps I had chosen the wrong season to travel here.
We arrived in Gurdum by 2 PM just in time for lunch. After being on a diet of rice, dal, potatoes and cabbage, the fresh peas and soybean was a delight. The courtyard was skillfully lined with flowering plants, all blooming to their full glory – roses, orchids, daisies, poppies, succulents and so many more whose names I barely knew.
In the evening we had a small ceremony in the community hall where everyone was asked to put up atleast one performance. The group of Tushar, Kishor, Mayur and Akshay sang Bawara Mann, while Geetha, Honey, Giri put up a solid dance performance. Our group of Akash, Soumya and Abhinav opted for skit enacting Tony Greig and Navjot Sidhu. The other Sowmya put up a breathtaking solo indian classical dance performance. Amidst the darkness lit by torch light with sounds effects using Bluetooth speakers the night indeed became memorable.