Monthly Archives: May 2016

Trek to Sandakphu – Part 3 – Trembling Tumling & Kickass Kalipokhri

Recap from the last post: On 26-04-2016 (Day 2) we left Darjeeling by van early in the morning.

It was fun listening to Bollywood songs on the way. DJs Nilofar and Vihari didn’t fail to play a few of my favorite tracks like Patakha Guddi from Highway. First, we made a short halt at Manebhanjan (or Mane Bhanjyang) which is the gateway to Singalila National Park. Bhanjayang means Junction in Nepali and Mane means Buddhist Stupas. So the name Manebhanjan means the junction of Stupas. Then, we resumed after collecting our entrance and camera passes from the Forest and Wildlife Department check post there. After an hour drive, we reached Dhotrey around 11.00 am. It’s a small village 2550 m above the sea level, most of its residents are guides and porters enabling trekking and tourism. We relaxed and clicked some pics around while our organizers were busy fixing a few logistical issues.

Around 12.00 pm, we started to trek along with our 2 guides Mr. Avinash and Mr. Rajan. The path is an elevated one with more than 500 m in altitude and with the added weight of my backpack, trek has already become a back-breaking one for me. I was surprised to see a couple of women selling tea from nowhere, and that happened to be our first resting point. Just the tea and the rest weren’t enough for me to cover the rest. I needed electrolyte, pep talks, nature, and music to keep me moving. It was already 3.00 pm when we reached Tonglu (3036 m). The weather has changed to cloudy and the view of the village was breathtaking. While my eyes were feeding on nature’s beauty, my stomach demanded its part. An awesome lunch was provided at the Trekker’s Hut there, their Tamarind Chutney tasted very unique.

Though we were done with the tough stretch of 5 km uphill, we still had 3 km downhill left for the day. So, we didn’t rest much post lunch and started our decent by 4.00 pm.  The weather was perfect and the route wasn’t that tough, can’t ask for more to admire the beauty all around. All it took us was some 45 minutes to reach Tumling (2970 m). We were welcomed with hot tea and some snacks at the Siddartha Lodge. There is this one incident which I can’t get out of my mind. I was sipping my tea glancing down the beautiful valley and was conversing with Upma. Now don’t ask me, how I could converse with my least favourite breakfast. Upma is my friend from Delhi, whom I meet at the trek. She was like, “I am feeling too happy, I wish I could shout out loud here” and I was like, “You should actually do it, you might not find a moment like this again”. She actually did it, she did shout out loud. Then, she asked me to try the same, but I was feeling kinda shy, yeah, It’s easier said than done. Though I was kinda skeptical, she went ahead and dared me to do it. Then, I gathered all my guts and screamed out loud “This feels Awesome”, moreover, it was awesome to hear my voice echoed back from the mountains. And, the craziness was followed by Giri teaching us some awesome steps to dance and “Pudhiya Vaanam Pudhiya Boomi” steps are worth mentioning.  At times, silly and crazy things like this do give us so much happiness, don’t they?. We all gathered at the guys dormitory for the evening for some entertainment. We were also joined by Mr. Biswas and Family from Kolkata. Tushar from Pune started off the evening with a fine rendition of Bombay Meri Jaan song in his mouth organ. He along with Kishor, Mayur, and Akshay (Pune Guys) sang few Marathi songs that eve. Sachin, Rupali, Manali, Gargi and Akanksha (Mumbai Gang) along with Pune guys sang yet another Marathi song “Hi Chaal Turu Turu“. Though little Miss. Biswas was too shy to sing any song for us, her mom, Mrs. Biswas sang us a nice Bengali song. We Tamil guys sang Tamil Songs, mostly A.R.Rahman’s which have got a Hindi version too. Nilofar sang a solo Hindi song. Upma narrated us the plot of her debut novel, ONE DAY INSIDE A BLACK HOLE. The closing song of the eve was one of favourite John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane sung by Shubam. It would be a shame on me if I am not crediting our MC Mr. Giri for all the fun which we had on that eve. The fun was followed by food and sleep, that’s an end of an awesome day.

The day started well with a good cup of tea and breakfast. Before we could pack our bags and leave, we clicked a customary group picture with the awesome people who run the lodge.  It was 8.45 am and we finally started moving towards our next destination. Initial 7 km is a fine downhill path and it’s kinda flat, compared to yesterday’s terrain. We reached GairiBas (2625 m)  which is an army check post of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) on the border around 11.00 am. We got to rest for a few mins and resumed our journey back by 11.15 am. The next 2 km happened to be a steep uphill stretch. Luckily I had a great company of Manali and yet another guide Roshan. Did I forget to mention that Manali is an awesome baker and she gave us all muffins after the induction programme? As you might have guessed most of our conversations was about food. On the way, Roshan stopped near a pillar on the side of the road and wrote the word “MY” on it. When asked, he said, he does this every single time he passes the pillar and the word “MY” cos it belongs to him. That’s something kinda cute about him. It was 12.20 pm when we reached KaiyaKata, where we relaxed for a while and had our lunch. A hot tea at the end was energetic and refreshing.

A whistle from Vihari or Shubam always denoted only one thing, enough of parking yourselves comfortably and keep moving now. So, after one such whistle at 1.45 pm, we resumed again. Most time I walked alone with my music on cos I think, it’s probably the best way to enjoy the nature. Though this was an uphill stretch, it wasn’t as intense as GairiBas-KaiyaKata one.  I could feel the weather turn more foggy and windy as we go up. When I was almost about to reach Kala Pokhari (3185 m), I met Prem on the way and continued walking with him. I was surprised to see a small lake with many PrayerFlags over it welcoming us into the village. “Kala” means dark and “Pokhri” means lake in Nepali and that’s how this village got its name. With mist, small huts, cattle, grass, lake and mountains in the background, the view was spectacular. I spent some time trying to capture those eye-catching scenes with my camera. After a while, we were served tea and snacks. The rest of the evening was fun, as usual, few notable things to mention are Vihari and Sowmya doing the cartwheel and Sowmya teaching us Yoga, Salsa, and Zumba. After trying to follow Sowmya’s steps, it didn’t take us much time to realize how rigid our bodies are. Later that evening, just before the dinner we all gathered to played Anthakshari and that was quite a fun too. As usual, the day ended with a good dinner followed by a sound sleep.

To Be Continued …

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Trek to Sandakphu – Part 2 – Dear Darjeeling

Recap from the last post: We reached Kolkata by flight, roamed there for a couple of days. Then, we took a train from Sealdah to New Jalpaiguri.

Our late night train brought us to New Jalpaiguri around 10.00 am on 24-04-2016 (Day 0). The best way to reach Darjeeling (2,042 m) from there is by car or van. But, we had a tough time finding one for us. Most of the drivers weren’t ready just for the drop, they were looking for passengers who would take a package which is profitable for them. The other problem is the language which made the bargain hard. But, somehow our guys managed to get an SUV and a Car for a better price. Around 12 pm we had a pitstop for out brunch. I should call it lunch, as we haven’t had our breakfast, I would better go with brunch. That place served us yummy MoMos, Chowmein, and Fish curry. After the lunch/brunch, our cars continued to climb up the mountain. As usual, I enjoyed peeping out the window, observing the changing landscapes and feeling the temperature of breeze caressing my face drop. The enjoyment continued until our car’s tyre became flat, luckily it got a Stepney and we decided to take a walk around till it’s fixed. While walking we heard a voice “Neenga Tamil ah” (Are you Tamil?), probably it’s our looks. The voice turned out to be Harish’s, who’s from Pondicherry and got settled in Darjeeling. Though he made fun of us that none of us drink, he pointed us to his shop where his wife served us some good tea. In the meanwhile, the tire got fixed and we resumed our journey to our base station. For me this place, Darjeeling reminds me of only one thing, my uncle. Me being a naughty and talkative kid during my childhood, he always used to scare me that he would put me in a strict convent in Darjeeling if I am not behaving myself. He would also mention that it’s on top of the mountain and I can’t even escape. This thing flashed in my mind on the way and all I could do was laugh at myself.

We reached our base camp Youth Hostel Association of India – Hotel Kadambari around 3.00 pm. Then, we got our rooms allotted in no time after registering by submitting our admit card and medical certificate. After freshening up and resting for a while we assembled for tea followed by induction programme. Out of 40 registered 38 reported  and the programme started with an intro section, where we all gave a brief introduction about ourselves. Then, the programme coordinator instructed us about the schedule, route, safety and other DOs & DONTs. Then, he also distributed our ID cards which are must be worn through out the trek. We also selected the group leader, sub-leader, Master of Ceremonies and environment leader who are Shubam, Sowmya, SakthiyaGiri and Geethakala respectively. After some chit-chat, we wrapped up the day with dinner.

The next day, 25-04-2016 (Day 1)  started with a short run and some stretching. Post our breakfast few of us visited a nearby Buddhist Monastery, it really felt calm and good to interact with the monks there. Then, we had an acclimatisation walk to the Zoo and to Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI). It was fun all the way, singing and enjoying the beautiful scenes around. HMI not only train mountaineers but also got one awesome museum where so many artifacts related to mountaineering, especially mount Everest. Even the original gears used by Mr.Tenzing Norgay and Mr.Edmund Hillary, the ones who successfully summited the Mount Everest is preserved. Unfortunately, it’s not allowed to click pictures inside the museum. But, outside the museum, there exists the final resting place of Padma Bhushan Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and a beautiful sculpture commemorating his Everest summit, which was unveiled by his companion and friend Sir Edmund Hillary himself. Mr. Norgay was also HMI’s first director of field training and HMI is one of his most favourite place on earth. Just thinking of this man would give me goosebumps, such an inspiration he is. The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park a.k.a Darjeeling Zoo is home and captive breeding center for endangered species which are adapted to alpine conditions like snow leopards, red pandas, gorals (mountain goat), Siberian tigers and a variety of endangered birds. After roaming around the Zoo for a while, we walked back to our base camp with singing, even more, louder all the way in spite of strange looks from the locals and others in the group. We never miss a chance to enjoy, you see. Taking a bath (as we won’t be able to bath for next 4 days), a bit of shopping and finally packing our bags for the trek consumed the rest of the day.

We woke up early on 26-04-2016 (Day 2), had breakfast early and prepared to leave. After the ceremonial flag off we boarded Vans that would take us till Dhotre which 2+ hours drive from our base camp.

To Be Continued…

Trek to Sandakphu – Part 1 – It’s Kolkata again

They say history repeats itself. Yes, in my case it almost did. Last time I was in Kolkata for my best friend’s wedding, hope you have read my blog post on the same. But, this time, it’s on our way to Youth Hostel Association of India trek to Sandakphu.

First, let me start with the story of “How It All Began”. About 8 months back we a set of friends had an awesome trip to Coorg and Goa, which I never wrote about. The same gang decided to go for yet an another trip and we ended up with this. Fortunately, a few got added and unfortunately a few couldn’t make it. As some of us are from Chennai and some of us are from Bengaluru, we decided to meet up at Kolkatta and continue our journey from there.

On 22-04-2016 (Day -2) We Chennai guys, i.e, Me, Jai (Buddy), Sudhakaran (Puppy) and Thiyagarajan (Daddy/Thagappa) had our early morning flight to Kolkata by 2.20 am. We boarded our Jet Konnect and the best thing about that flight is, they gave me something good to eat even as early as 3.00 am while I was half sleep. We touched down around 4.30 am and headed straight to our hotel after a tea. The hotel was in a century-old building on a rustic narrow crowded bazaar lane and that was a huge shock for us. But, the rooms were neat, clean and modern as if they got no connection or relevance with the locality. Sincere thanks to OYO Rooms and our friend who booked it. Prem yet another from Chennai and our Bengaluru guys Nigilan (Padhala Dhadha), Sakthiyagiri (Giri), Lavanya and Lakshmi joined us later that morning.

While others were resting, I had a critical mission to complete. To meet my friend Srijani’s mom and deliver her the thing which my mom got for her. Luckily Jai and Nigilan voluntarily accepted to give me company. I think it was a wrong decision to take a bus to her home as the weather was hot and humid as much as Chennai. My friend Srijani’s mom is so sweet and lovely person. Last time she gave my mom a beautiful Bengali cotton saree, this time, she gave my sis and my friend Shaul’s wife a beautiful Salwar suit. She also fed us with yummy authentic Bengali food. The Potol, Prawns and Fish curry were super yummy and Rasgullas are something to die for. She must have made food with so much love, It filled our stomach as well as our soul. Couldn’t thank her enough for it. From there we took a cab back to our hotel.

On reaching hotel we realized that we are already running late for the wedding that we had to attend. Yaaay, yet another Bengali wedding. Knowing that our stay at Kolkata coincides with her wedding, Nigilan’s friend Madhura Banerjee has graciously invited all of us to be present at the auspicious occasion. As the wedding is in Bandel, a suburb of Kolkata, we decided to take a train from Howrah to reach there. As it’s peak hour and that too on a weekday, the trains were heavily packed. We somehow managed to board a loaded compartment and ended up standing for rest of the journey, which is around an hour. We had a warm welcome at the wedding. After wishing the couples who were busy with the wedding rituals, we enjoyed our favorite part of the wedding, FOOD. After having a sumptuous wedding dinner, we boarded the train back to Howrah, but this time, it was lot emptier. It was already around 11 pm while we reached there and the taxis demanded an atrocious fare to drop us back. So, we decided to take a walk as the hotel was just 2 km away and as it would aid a bit in digestion. We walked over the famous Howrah Bridge. The full moon, the strong breeze from the Hooghly and my favorite track in my ears made the moment memorable. I was dead tired when we reached our rooms and my body refused to do anything other than sleeping, and that’s how the day ended for me.

Next day 23-04-2016 (Day -1) started with something funny, our friend Nigilan went to the nearby shop and this happened.
Nigilan: Bhaiya, Ek plate Vada (Bro, 1 plate Vada)
Shopkeeper: Thambi neenga tamil ah? (Bro, Are you a tamil?)
Though Nigilan used his best Hindi, sad that he couldn’t conceal his original identity.

Then, we started to Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission which is one of the significant institutions in Kolkata and was founded by Swami Vivekananda himself. But, one doesn’t get lucky always, the Math got closed for lunch the time we got in there. After finishing off our lunch at a nearby shop, we all headed to the famous Victoria Memorial. As I wrote enough about this place in my last Kolkata post (Sun TV, Top 10 movie style) let me better introduce the ones who joined us there. It’s none other than Geethakala (G2/Puli) from Bengaluru and Monica (Micky/Eli) from Chennai. From there we hopped to Babughat to experience the ferry ride to Howrah. From Howrah, we hoped to go to Kalighat, but we had to drop that plan due to the insufficiency of time. We went back to our rooms, got freshened up, checked out and started to Sealdah railway station. What else, It was dinner time, we finished our lunch at the railway canteen and boarded Padatik Express to New Jalpaiguri (NJP) around 11 PM. This city has been very kind to me, Wish I could have met a few more beloved ones there. But the situations are such that I couldn’t, my apologies, hopefully, will meet when I am there next.

Isn’t the pattern Kolkata, Bengali Wedding, Rasgullas, Aunty’s Gift, Victoria Memorial and ferry ride to Howrah sounds familiar? Definitely, it won’t unless you read my previous Kolkata post. That’s how History Repeats Itself.

To Be Continued…