So right after a heavy breakfast consisting of Tibetan breads and mashed potatoes with eggs, well I hated to fill up myself so early in the morning but didn’t have much of a choice; we would finally walk - trek in the truest of sense.
Though it was bright and sunny, the winds made the chill unbearable. We took one group photograph and Amar gave us the last minute briefing. But no one seemed to pay attention to him.
We put our best foot forward and there was no looking back.
Tumbling is at an altitude of 10,000 feet and our next destination was Kaalpokhri which is at 9000 feet. The very thought of walking down was good. But we had no idea what was in store for us! The distance between these two points is fourteen kilometers. It sounded okay to us.
We entered the Singalila Wildlife Sanctuary and our entire route would be through this sanctuary. This place has a large number of Himalayan red panda, barking deer, black bear and leopards. The park has an area of 78.60sq.km with mixed vegetation of Magnolia, Rhododendron, Oak, Pine Hemlock, Silver Fir, Juniper, Mailing Bamboo, Buk, Kawla, Bhujpatra etc. The Singalila Park also has a priceless collection of different species of rare orchids that adorns the forests.
The walk was good. Dipanjali and I walked together. Far ahead of us we saw Niru & Jun. They were giving our porters quite a competition where speed was concerned.
I wanted to tell them that this was not about speed. We were not competing against each other in a race. We were here to enjoy the beauty, the silence, the fresh air as we walked. But then I let that pass.
The road was rocky and it went up and then it went down. Like a see-saw sliding coherently. Amar switched on his transistor, which was a constant companion to us throughout the walk. At times depending on the frequency of winds it caught different channels. But music knows no language and it was so soothing to hear those unfamiliar tunes in this age when we are fed heavily on Bollywood music!
We reached our first pit stop Joubari, after walking about four kms. It was a small village, with a few houses and this was our tea/coffee break. We rested for a while and again we were on our foot walking.
I never asked Amar or Tshering how long we’d have to walk to reach Kaalpokhri. I knew it was “fourteen” kilometers, but there is a huge difference when you walk that stretch in plains and in hilly terrains. All said and done things were looking good.
I put on my portable music devise and kept walking at my pace. The walk was amazingly good and at one point we saw the Sleeping Buddha. It looked marvelous. And it motivated us to walk further, so that we could see this beauty from a closer range.
We must have walked for another two hours and passed by many trekkers like us when we reached another small little hamlet – it was Garibas. By then the girls had pangs of hunger and they ordered some instant noodles in the first shop they spotted. The rest was good. We were all relaxed and as Amar showed us the way, we knew things would not be a cake walk for us. The up hill had started.
Simple geographic logic. From Tumbling we descend about 550 feet till Garibas and Kayakatta and after that we walk uphill another 1500 feet.
There was nothing much to say, because this is what we had come for in the first place.
As I stared my uphill climb, I remembered what Nirav told me. “Take ten steps or a curve, rest for ten seconds or until and unless you start breathing normally and then walk again. Baby steps, mind you. And don’t sit. It slows down your pace”
And this I followed with all my heart and soul.
Kayakatta was our third pit stop, but no one was too eager to waste time. We did not know how long it would take to reach Kaalpokhri. Even the girls with speed now slowed down and we all walked in tandem. The only high point about Kayakatta was the cell phone signals. After twenty four hours we were able to make calls to home and speak. My phone was some hidden inside my back pack and I was not in a mood for a game of treasure hunt. So I let that pass.
Tshering noticed that I was the only one who was not making any calls. When he asked me, I told him, it would take quite a while to dig the phone out from my bag.
“Don’t worry Ma’am, once we reach Kaalpokhri, I will call Sir from my phone and you can talk to him”, he assured me. So it was a deal and I agreed.
In the mean time Amar, the sweet chap he is, tried calling my home from his phone and it was surprise when he handed his phone to me and said, “talk to your daughter, she is on the receiving end!”
At times both Dipanjali & I would look at each other. We had the same expression – the “cannot take it anymore” signs showing on our face. But we shrugged and let that feeling pass. We’d crack a joke or say something silly and kept walking.
The road seemed endless.
Exactly at three in the afternoon we reached Kaalpokhri.
We hogged liked pigs when our lunch was served and soon realized we had nothing else to do! Amar, Dipanjali and I went for a leisurely walk around the place, you know, again to acclimatize ourselves with the weather while the rest tried taking a cat nap.
As we were walking around, Tshering came running and pulled me by my hand and dragged me to a hillock nearby.
“What is the phone number?” he asked me.
“Whose?” I asked him back! And then I remembered our deal. I told him that I had already spoken with my girl and “Sir” when Amar called them while we were in Kayakatta but he would not listen. He insisted that he wanted the phone number.
And I guess I had an attack of black out. I simply could not recall Nirav’s phone number. I kept on mumbling one number after another but I was at loss. I tried to spot Amar to ask him what the phone number was, but both he & Dipanjali was far away and they would not hear my voice. It took quite a while for me to remember the right number!
After speaking to Nirav & Nior as I thanked Tshering, he said, “its okay Ma’am. And don’t worry about forgetting. You will forget a lot more as you scale up the altitude due to lack of oxygen”.
I was clueless. Did not know whether to take this as a warning sign or laugh off.
As we sat in the dining hall, charcoal was burnt to keep us warm and we ordered some Tomba.
Tomba is a local wine, made with millet seeds and fermented rice. The wine is served in mugs made of bamboos. The rule is, you keep sucking the wine with a straw which is again made out of bamboo. As the wine decreases, you pour some piping hot water into the mug and you have another Tomba for yourself. Tomba tasted similar to champagne and as we all gathered around the fire place, we had a good time laughing talking and getting to know one another better.
Soon dinner was served and we retired.
But then again it’s a different story that both Dipanjali and I could not get a wink of sleep. Both of us were worried about the next day’s trek…