I was too occupied watching my steps and not fancying being pushed around. NJP is a busy junction. My concentration was however broken when I heard Amar introducing me as “Ma’am” to someone. As I looked up I saw Tshering, our Sherpa and the man I’ve seen in so many photographs, heard a lot and also had carried an important gift for him.
I joined both my hands robotically and greeted him with a “Namaste” and also added, “I have brought your “thing” with me.” And before I could say anything more he took my smaller backpack and walked towards the parking lot, keeping a watchful eye on me while crossing the street. As we walked towards our cab I knew it’d be a wise idea to buy some fags. Just in case. I knew soon we’d be out of civilization. When the chances of finding a phone booth were one in a million, getting some good fags was an absolute zero. So when the others were scurrying for their favourite seats in the cab, I walked across the street again to buy fags. And I think it was a blessing in disguise because as I walked towards the car, the front seat was all for me! Yippie!!! Nothing could be better than this! Tshering opened the door for me and closed like a true gentleman as I hopped inside and also asked me if I was comfortable. Comfortable? I smiled! This was a treat.
As I looked to my right, I saw Shyam a.k.a. Titu, the driver. We exchanged “Hellos” and soon the engine roared and we set off. We were on the outer fringes of NJP town in no time. The four girls took the middle row and Amar, Tarun & Tshering sat behind.
We crossed Mahananda wildlife sanctuary as we slowly began our climb. The weather was bright and sunny. Within an hour and half we reached our first stopover. It was a small place, barely consisting of a few shops, a temple and a few houses. Dudhia is the name of this place. Our breakfast was ready and it consisted of rotis, alu sabjee, boiled eggs (optional) and tea. As I took my first bite I felt I was hungry for ages! But I did not gobble like a fanatic. I prefer traveling empty or at least light stomach. We took a few pictures and soon we hopped inside the car and as the engine roared yet one more time there was some music playing too. This came as a surprise. Because I did not see a music system when I first got on to the car in NJP. But there was too much to do than calculate about the music system. The road was curvy, went up and down, well maintained and with such a bright and sunny weather the view was amazing. It looked like a picture postcard. Tea plantations and pine trees together was quite a heady combo.
And our journey was definitely getting better every minute.
By two in the afternoon we reached stopover number two. Maneybhanjan. It was a small little town, seemed busy and looked as if the number of tourists were more than the locals.
We now felt the chill. There was a drop in temperature, the winds were strong and the sun hid somewhere behind the clouds.
Our lunch was again ready for us. Amar, like I said earlier has excellent networks and he had ordered our lunch prior. And believe me; we had the tastiest lunch. It was simple, very much home made consisting of rice, dal, cauliflower tossed lightly with spring onions and pepper and chicken curry.
By the time we were done with our lunch, Shyam had already unloaded our bags and it was time for us to move on to Land Rovers. We managed to jostle and bustle anywhere we saw the sun. Dipanjali and Niru were busy looking for a paan shop and their happiness was evident when they found one!
We hired two Land Rovers and moved further up. Dipanjali and I took the front seat with the driver, whereas Amar, Tshering and one of the porters sat behind. On the other were Niru, Kakoli, Jun, Tarun and two more porters.
As I looked behind and asked Amar how long it would take us to reach, he said an hour and half at the most.
And the bad road had just begun. The curves were steep, the road was rocky and it got more and more narrow. The land rover at the most moved on second gear. Midway we had to stop. The driver asked us to get down and enjoy the view while he, our Sherpa, Amar and the three porters got busy with some local people. We realized much to our surprise a man lay fast asleep in the middle of the road. On checking him, we realized he had a drink more than he could handle and had passed. It was Holi and maybe the festivity had got the better off him. With the help of a few locals we managed to take him to a small hut nearby and then hopped again inside the land rover and move further.
The road was so bad it seemed as if we were galloping on a horse that had gone absolute berserk! And we passed a few people who seemed more at ease walking.
Dipanjali and I had the same thought and the same time and in unison told Amar, “even we could have walked”.
“We start our walk from tomorrow girls”, he replied.
It was four in the evening when we reached Tumbling. By then it was already misty and very cold. Our lodge was a cute one, neat rooms with clean sheets and quilts and a clean bathroom as well.
Dipanjali and I were sharing a room. As I opened the tap to wash my face, with a good amount of face wash already applied on my face, I gave out a sharp cry! The water was freezing and it felt as if a thousand needles and pins were hitting my face. I immediately knew the less contact with water, the better off I will be. I explained this new found theory to my roomie and we both decided that hence forth “thou shall use wet wipes and spoons only”!
Dipanjali is a red tea no sugar drinker whereas I prefer milk tea. But in such places I did not fancy having tea. I am bit fussy about how my tea is made. So I had carried small sachets of Nescafe with me. Enough to last me a week.
We put on some more warm clothes and walked towards the kitchen. The kitchen was spotless clean, warm & people gathered around the charcoal that was being burnt. I asked for a cup of hot water and my roomie wanted some red tea. After filling our system with some caffeine, we went out for a walk with Amar. It was more to acclimatize ourselves with the air pressure and temperature. We were at an altitude of 10,000 feet. The air was light and at first we had difficulty in breathing as we took the first few steps.
Tumbling is a cute little village that falls in Nepal. Mist engulfed us and literally we were walking on clouds. We could take the cold no more and so we came back inside the kitchen. But soon the lady who manages the lodge asked us to move to the dining area, as there were other people too and the kitchen could not hold so many people. In the dining area there was a big chimney, logs of wood burning and we sat cozily by the fire place and befriended a few more people. We particularly got along well with one German and an Israeli.
Soon it was dinner time. I asked Dipanjali what was the time and it was 7.30 p.m. That was way too early by our standards to have dinner. But in hills people wind up early. They run on generators. There is no electricity. So they shut down the lights by 9.00 p.m.
Post dinner, Dipanjali and I talked for a while and I don’t remember exactly when I dozed off.