Tag Archives: Trek

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…

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 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 …

Trek to Sandakphu – Part 4 – Sillunu Oru Sandakphu

Recap from the last post: We were at Kala Pokhari

The title “Sillunu Oru Sandakphu” directly translates to “Sandakphu, the one which is cold”. On 28-04-2016 (Day 4) I woke up with the sound of the wind vibrating the metal panels of our room. With nothing much to do, I laid down for a while beneath those thick woolen blankets. I did what I like to do often, dream with my eyes open, for no reasons too many things rushed into my mind. You will know the tea is ready when you hear the whistle. I filled my cup and headed outside hoping for some fresh air. All it resulted in was my tea getting cold in minutes. Here, the Sun rises as early as me. Probably cos it’s summer and one common time zone across India. The morning looked too beautiful than yesterday eve, think the sunshine made the magic. I went around with my camera to capture some light along with Prem and Lavanya. Everything around appeared fresh and green. The sky was clear and the view of sun rays reflecting over the small dark lake was spectacular. As usual, had out breakfast, clicked the customary group pic. packed our bags and by 9.00 am we started to trek further.

The path was much steeper than ever. My fine stamina and some good company helped to cope up with the terrain. Initial 3.5 km wasn’t that demanding. On the way, Sowmya climbed somewhere and got a bunch of Rhododendron, a flower quite abundant in that area. We even tasted a bit of its nectar. Then, there was a huge staircase kinda structure which housed a small shrine on its top. We all sat on those steps and took a group pic. Our guide Avinash (Cute Avinash) took us through all those sharp shortcuts. They were too steep that at times I have to catch hold of those small bushes to climb. With occasional rests, I somehow managed to keep myself moving. Around 12.15 pm, myself and whistle Vihari reached Sandakphu (3636 mt) and we were the ones in out group to reach there first. Our camp leader Mr. Abhijit Roy was already there on the top to welcome us. While waiting for other friends in the group to return, we simply relaxed outside the lodge as the weather was clear and pleasant. Once everyone is in, rooms were allotted and was served a hot & spicy soup. Soups are always comforting, especially in the cold weather, aren’t they?. The Soup induced my appetite which was later neutralized by the lunch. As the water is much scarce here, we were advised to use it very wisely.

A few of us decided to take rest in the lodge while the rest (including me) were too certain about trekking further to the viewpoint along with our camp leader. We trekked another 500 mt uphill to reach there and it marks the highest point in West Bengal. “Yaay, Mission Accomplished” I shouted out of joy and that feeling is worth all the pain trekking all along. It felt like being on the top of the world. The place was awesome and the view was spectacular with the clouds pass by. I really pity the ones who missed it. As we were on the Indo-Nepal border, there was a pillar with “India” written on one side and “Nepal” on the other. So, all I did was, kept on jumping between two countries and try to be in both countries at the same time. Though it might sound crazy, it was total fun. In a fine weather, one could view both Mount Everest and Kangchenjunga from the viewpoint, but unfortunately, the weather was cloudy. We waited for the Sun to show some mercy and show up, but no luck. As they say, the weather was unpredictable on the mountains, suddenly it became freezing and windy. We started to descend back after having some hot tea and soupy Magi from a small hotel there. As much as you, I too wonder about the existence of hotel in such extreme places. The visibility went down below 30%, luckily our guide’s torch and Mr. Abhijit’s headlamp guided us back safely to the lodge. As usual, our MC took charge of the evening. This time, we played truth or dare and for a change, Mr. Biswas sang a song for us as his daughter and wife felt too shy to sing for us. We all decided to finish off our dinner quick and sleep early so that we could see the sunrise early the next morning.

As always, our Whistle Vihari was spot on in his duty. His whistle woke up all our tired souls. It was too cold outside. Only a few of us were there, patiently waiting for the sun to raise. After a few minutes, I saw the Sun slowly rise between two mountains, just like how I used to draw when I was a kid. I witnessed one of the beautiful sunrises in my life, as beautiful as that bright bindi between her eyebrows.  With my hands trembling out of cold, I managed to click a few pictures.

To Be Continued …

Trek to Sandakphu – Part 5 – Gleaming Gurdum

Recap from the last post: We were at  Sandakphu witnessing a beautiful sunrise.

As said in the last post, 29-04-2016 (Day 5) started with an amazing sunrise. After near zero degrees temperature last night, all my body wanted was some sunshine on it.  With water scarcity here, taking a bath is completely out of the question. Leave bathing, even rinsing after brushing froze my mouth, that cool it was. After our typical breakfast and the customary group picture, we started to trek further to our next camp around 8.20 am.

The Customary Group Pic @ Sandakphu

The Customary Group Pic @ Sandakphu

What’s more painful than climbing up is getting down too quickly. The same not only applies to the life but also to the trek too. Yes, it’s a 10 km long downhill path with a steep elevation drop of 1300 mt. My heavy backpack and no trekking poles made the trek even more difficult for me. Though I took each and every step with precaution, I did slide and slipped a couple of times. Luckily I could get hold of the shrubs and trees all along the path and save myself. But, the best part is that the route is right through the heart of Singalila National Park. Man, this place is captivating with colorful and pleasant smelling Rhododendron flowers all over.

Going down further, the Rhododendron got replaced by the bamboo forest. They say it’s the home of the red panda, but had no luck in spotting one, they are too shy types it seems. At times, I find myself walking alone on the narrow trails. That solitude and the sweet sound caused by the breeze flowing through the bamboo forest are priceless and soul-elevating. I would say it’s one of the best experiences during the trek. While we were resting near the bamboo forest, few of our guys happily started playing Gilli-Danda with the bamboo sticks there. What’s happiness, if not from these tiny pleasures.

As we walk further, the Bamboo got first replaced by fresh smelling pine trees. I even picked up a few pine leaves and pine flowers as a souvenir. These pine flowers are unique and I like them. Most flowers are appreciated for their fragrance and vivid colors, but I admire these pine flowers for their characteristics to stay strong and beautiful in extreme environments. If you want to compare women with flowers, then pine is my type. We took some rest in a small clearing in the pine forest. One thing we found out was, our guide cute Avinash not only climb mountains effortlessly but also climb trees in the same fashion.

Around 1.20 pm we reached our camp, Himalayan Sherpa Lodge at Gurdum (2400 m). This one is located in the valley, so one could see the beautiful view of mountains covering the place from all sides. Not just that, the sunshine and the warmth of the place felt comforting. As I haven’t taken a bath for straight 4 days, all I wanted after reaching there was to take a shower and I felt too relieved when I took one. While I was relaxing after the lunch, few of us played UNO and it was fun see them play. The lodge people were kind to give us their small hall for the evening. So, we had an eventful fun filled evening that day. Sowmya and Geetha danced classical, kathak and Bharatanatyam respectively. Honey danced folk and our MC Giri’s amazing dance moves made us all go crazy. It’s not just dance, we had Pune guys, Mumbai group, Nilofar and Shubham contributed well for the music department too. After all the fun, we headed back to the lodge for the dinner.

Post dinner, I was relaxing outside a small garden kinda place just opposite to the dining area and just gazed above. OMG, I never saw such a beautiful night sky in all my life. It was densely filled with stars, like millions of them. All I did was, lay myself down in the open and gazed at the eternity with my favorite tracks playing in my ears. In me, repeatedly prompted the below lines from one of my favorite Bharathi’s poem “Suttum vizhi sudar thaan kannamma”, where he compares her beauty in dark blue silk saree and diamond ornaments to the night sky and the stars.

“Pattu karuneela — pudavai
Padhitha nalvayiram
Natta nadunisiyil — theriyum
NatshathirangaLadi”

IMG-20160515-WA0000

That’s quite a lot a lot of stars. PC : Akanksha

star trail 2d

Earth rotates, so do I. Star trail well captured. PC : Akanksha

Wow, what a magical moment that was, the one I wanna cherish all my life. Luckily, Mayur and Akanksha patiently clicked the night sky. Then, Myself, Vihari, Upma, Honey, Rishab and Nilofar spent a while listening to Tamil and Hindi songs. We also did click some scary night pics :D, One can call it low light photography :D.

I went early to bed, while the rest of the Tamil gang enjoyed playing cards. I was woken up by my friends just before the strike of midnight. Then, we all wished our beloved MC Giri a very happy birthday. We gifted him our wishes which were written on a small paper napkin and a wonderful impromptu bouquet which buddy Jai managed to make just with the flowers there. After the celebration, I went back to continue my sleep and that’s an awesome day ended.

Trek to Sandakphu – Part 6 – Refreshing Rimbik And The Rest

Recap from the last post: We were at Gurdum celebrating Giri’s Bday at midnight.

30-04-2016 (Day 6) Started as usual with tea, breakfast, and our customary group pic. Just before we start to our next destination, Sowmya thought us all a lovely good night song as tonight will be the last one we all will be spending together. So, we all learned to sing the same tonight.

“The time has come to say good night, to say sleep tight till the morning light.
We’ve had so much fun today, tomorrow is just a dream away.
The time has come to say good night, it’s the end of the lovely light.”

To Be Memorized. Ordered by Sowmya Teacher

To Be Memorized. Ordered by Sowmya Teacher

Customary Group Pic. PC: Sowmya

Customary Group Pic. PC: Sowmya

I thought the last leg of the trek gonna feel tiring rather to the contrary, it felt energetic. The route was down the valley, almost flat, narrow and exciting. Since the start, we heard the flow of the water and that sound was very refreshing. Later, on our way, we saw water flow through. As it’s an unmotorable road, we saw a worker carrying a huge tank over his head. Life is not easy here and these kinda scenes make me realize that life is not easy here. After 6 km of trekking, we stopped by SriKhola (1938 m) for lunch. After our lunch, we spent some time playing with water in the nearby stream. We also did play UNO for a while before resuming our trek. It was fun crossing the iconic SriKhola Bridge. As it’s an old wooden bridge in not so good condition,only one or two persons were allowed to cross it simultaneously. After yet another 7km trek, by late noon we reached Rimbick (1917 m), our last camp. Finally, we got mobile network after 6 long days and the calls and emails began to flow. Believe me, days were much better without the network. As we saw a few MOMO shops on the way, myself and Upma planned to have some. But, all our glorious plan went in vain as the shops shut down as early ar 5 pm here. At the end, we had to console ourselves with some chocolates. To celebrate our MC Giri’s birthday, Manali & Co. surprisingly baked a yummy pressure cooker cake topped with melted Dairy Milk chocolate and Gems. The best part is that they pulled it off with limited ingredients available there. Lavanya and Lakshmi also made a yummy Paal Payasam (Kheer) to top up the celebration. After Giri’s cake cutting followed the grand dinner which officially marked the end of this awesome trek. As planned, the day got ended with Sowmya’s good night song. While my sleepy head went to bed early and dozed off, the other guys DJed and danced along with cool and awesome landlord aunt. Seems I missed so much fun.

Unusually on 1-05-2016 (Day 7) everyone woke up early and got done with our tea and toast as we had to leave early to avoid traffic on our way back to Darjeeling. It was a tiring 60 km Van ride from Rimbik to Darjeeling. Luckily we had a pitstop at Dhotrey, yeah exactly the same place where the trek started. I had one of the best chicken MOMOs of my life in a small shop there just for Rs. 30 for a plate of 8. I had 3 plates plus an Omelet, that yummy it was. The rest of the ride was spent discussing Sambar and Chennai with Sachin who hails from Mumbai. Finally, by afternoon, we reached our base camp at Darjeeling. After refreshing and collecting our certificates, we decided to spare the little time we got on shopping. All I could get was a small prayer flag and some good black tea leaves in the limited time we got.  Then, we packed our bags, bid goodbye to the beautiful Darjeeling and took a Van back to New Jalpaiguri (NJP). It is like Win Rar on vans with high compression rate, 11 of us went in the same van which usually carry 7-8 people max. All I witnessed during this ride was my favorite Thirukkural, “Anbirkum Undo Adaikkuntaal Arrvalar Punkaneer Pusal Tharum”. Which means, Is there any fastening that can shut in love? Tears of the affectionate will publish the love that is within.  We reached NJP well in advance, so we relaxingly had our dinner and boarded the Padatik Express back to Kolkatta. As they say, history repeats itself, this time also a family requested me and nigilan to take the upper berth as they got women and children, and as usual, we happily agreed.

I woke up on Day 8 (2-05-2016) and not so soon I realized that we are running late. As out train was delayed for more than an hour, we had to skip our breakfast and rush to the airport to catch our flight back to Chennai. The sad part is that we didn’t even have time to buy Rasagulla which I promised to many. After munching some MOMOs at the airport, we boarded our flight by 11ish and landed back in Chennai by the afternoon. Once I was out of the airport I could feel the harsh Sun rays on my skin and could hear it whisper “Welcome home my boy”. This is what I have been missing for the past 10 days and nothing feels like home. As I was too hungry then and as Sudhakaran a.k.a puppy decided to give me some company, we hit our favorite Biryani place before returning back home.

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To be preserved. ID sealed and signed by all camp in charge. PC: Jai

 

Epilogue

Now don’t ask me where is the Prologue or search for it, it’s not there.
This trip was a super awesome one. It still feels like a dream, cos it’s something I did much out of my comfort zone. The high altitudes, the harsh cold temperature, the language and the food, all those are really out of my league, but somehow I managed. What makes travel more interesting than the places are the people. The whole group along with our guides made this trek a memorable one. I should really thank Buddy Jai, Nigilan, and Puppy who urged me to join this trek in the first place.

I recommend each one of you to travel. For me, traveling is not going on a tour with everything planned. It’s an adventure where you aren’t planned for everything. Traveling gives you lots of exciting experiences, open your taste buds to awesome food, befriend strangers and at the end, you will have quite a lot of interesting stories to narrate, just like this. All you must do is shed your comfort a little bit and there’s a lot of adventure out there to last you a lifetime.

The End.

Lost & Found

Initially, I was planning to write a series of blog posts on my recent trek to Sarpass once I returned back. But, something interesting happened during the trip made me veto over that decision and write about it first.

After done with our trek, we had a day to spend at Kullu before catching our flight back home from Chandigarh. So, we decided to do some shopping and then visit a not so nearby viewpoint. As planned we stopped by a nearby wholesale shop for some woolen clothes, where I bought a small woolen dress for my niece and a Kullu cap for myself. Then, we took a crowded bus to the view point. Almost an hour after reaching our destination, my stupid mind realized that I left one of my bags in the bus overhead bin that contained the stuff that I had bought for my niece. Damn, how stupid and careless of me to make such a blunder. As I didn’t have the heart to go back home without buying anything for my nice, I returned to the same shop again.

The saleswoman at the shop was patient enough to get me the same exact dress that I bought earlier that day from a huge pile of clothes. When I went to payment counter, the owner was quite shocked to see me again and buying the same things that I bought that morning. When he enquired, I told him my pathetic story. He felt sorry for me. Then, he asked me the details of the bus and took a note of my phone number too. He also assured me that he would try to find the bag. Without much hope, I told “It’s ok” and left the shop.

Later that evening when my friends went shopping around that shop, he informed them that he successfully tracked down the bag. After hearing the same from my friends, I rushed to see him. When I meet him again, he told that he tracked the bag via his friend who runs a transport company and also assured to transfer the money back to me once he gets the bag back.

Owning a busy wholesale shop, there is no necessity for him to put efforts to find lost goods of trivial value, that too the one that’s sold out. However, he did it out of his own goodwill. I have seen many vendors who cheat the customers who don’t belong to the place or know the language. Though we are from another state and doesn’t know Hindi, he went beyond his way to help us. I was really overwhelmed by his kind gesture. As assured he did transfer money to my PayTm wallet. That awesome person is Mr. Atul of Jain Atul Trading Co. at Akara Bazar, Kullu.

It was such an awesome experience meeting such a nice person and it’s indeed an incident where I lost things and found good humans. If you are reading this, thank you, sir.

Trip To Remember – Trekking Sar Pass – Part 3

As you guessed, it’s my monthly target that pushed me to write this blog post. But, I love to write about my travel. I just love to revisit those beautiful memories and feel nostalgic about the same.

Day 6 – 23rd May 2017

As usual, I woke up early that day. As it was still dark outside, I spent time listening to music inside the tent until the sun showed up in the east.  To my surprise, no one except the kitchen staff was awake and they served me some hot tea. Then, I found myself a spot and got lost in the music and the serene nature. Slowly my trek mates started coming out of their tents and the kitchen staff served delicious Poha along with some hot tea. We didn’t just stop with the Poha, a couple of rounds of MoMos went on too, courtesy Mrs. Tarkur (I call her The MoMo Aunty). It wasn’t just the hot MoMos that added warmth, the burning woods inside her shop made the cold morning much pleasant.

A little later, we packed our lunch and was all ready to leave the camp. Our camp leader gave us 2 choices. One, an easy route and nothing much exciting on the way. Next, a relatively tough route with a waterfall along. Can’t expect anything less from our energetic group, we unanimously voted for the tough one. The best part was, our camp leader Mr. Bharath even agreed to accompany us to the waterfall. It was a bit steep route with a couple of small streams on the way. Walking further we stumbled upon a small waterfall and started clicking pics assuming that it was the one that our camp leader mentioned about. Then we realized, it was just the trailer and the main picture yet to come. I was simply awestruck by the view when we reached the waterfall. The sheer force of water and the sun rays escaping through the dense trees made the place look magical. The feel of cold water droplets splashing on my face is indescribable, even just thinking about would give me goosebumps. We spent some time there enjoying the nature and clicking some pics. As our camp leader headed to Grahan getting farewell from us, we continued trekking to our higher camp.

The route was a bit steeper than I imagined, but the energy in the group kept us going. As usual, I enjoyed trekking in my own phase. Out of nowhere came our lunch point, a tiny shop where we ordered some hot Maggi and had it along with Chapatti and Potato Curry, the ones we picked from the camp. We resumed after our lunch followed by some rest. From the lunch point, it didn’t take us much time to reach our next higher camp Padri (9300 ft), actually quite earlier than expected. Cant expect anything less from our young and energetic group.

Padri is like a valley cleared for cattle grazing. One can see mountains with snowy peaks surrounding it. Cattles passed by the camp all the time, can’t blame them, after all, it’s their place we were occupying.  We had a lot of time to relax that day with most of my time spent in the company of music lost in thoughts. Soup, tea and dinner were served in the meantime. Post dinner something really interesting happened. As a tradition, signals were exchanged between our camp and yet another higher camp Nagaru using torchlight. All we could see was a tiny spark of light flickering in a pattern far away from the mountains. Nagaru is the highest camp in this trek and it would take us another couple of days to reach there. In my case, sleep comes out once the food goes in and it was cold to stay out. On the contrary, my tent mates were wide awake with playing both Uno and music. So, I switched to another tent full of similar sleepy souls and dozed off to glory. That’s how yet another awesome day on the trek came to an end.

Day 7 – 24th May 2017

The day started witnessing one of the best sunrises ever. The view of Sun rising over the mountains from the camp was stunning and the lighting was perfect to click some photos and selfies. To our surprise, they served Penne Pasta for breakfast along with some hot tea. We resumed our trek after bidding our farewell to the camp leader.

This one lovely view ❤

The route was initially steep downhill. With a bit of rain last night, it was damp and slippery. We had to carefully watch each of steps, luckily the Bamboo stick (pole) that I carried along came in handy. We came across a stream, think I can call it a small waterfall, from there the route elevated steep uphill, crazy mountains I must say. Out of nowhere on the route, we encountered a small tent shop which sold chocolates, chips and packed juices. Though the prices were up to thrice the MRP, it seemed fair to pay considering the location and the fact that we would be their only customers for the day. Energized by the brief rest along with some snacks, we continued our journey.  The route was a bit flat until our lunch point, I even saw a  tree burnt by lighting and my favorite Rhododendron flowers on the way. The lunch point was the most scenic of all. A perfect place to take a lot of pictures with mountainous background and I didn’t miss it either.

Panorama from lunch point

It was all fine till then, the route was kinda flat until we reached this spot which I call the great wall of Mingtatch cos it looked like a wall between us and the camp. It was a highly steep zigzag path uphill, so steep that they even had supporting ropes to hold and climb. It was not just the tough path that caused trouble, the most unpredictable mountain weather had also decided to join the party uninvited and It rained all of sudden. We took shelter under the tree covering ourselves with the rain cover and Pancho. Added to the steepness, rain made the path slippery too and that wasn’t fair at all. Just a slip and we would be dead in the valley few thousand foots below us. That was one of the scariest parts of the trek for me. Somehow we safely managed to reach Mingtatch (11200 ft), our next higher camp.

Within a few minutes, the clouds disappeared, the sun shined back and there wasn’t a trace that it rained. Mysterious mountains, I must say. The hot Tea and Potato Pakodas they served felt heavenly. The dispersion of sun rays through the clouds at the time of sunset was an awesome view to watch. I whiled away clicking pics and playing our favorite UNO. Then, as usual, sleep followed the dinner and yet another awesome day on the trek came to an end.

To Be Continued…

Trip To Remember – Trekking Sar Pass – Part 4

I know it ain’t right, but I enjoy finishing my tasks in the nick of the moment, just like this blog post. It does give me a kind of rush.

Day 8 – 25th May 2017

It seemed to have rained the last night also. The place was damp and much colder when I woke up. In spite of sleeping bag and blanket, I felt my body struggling to cope up with the cold temperature out there. Though I got up early, I didn’t dare to step outside our tent until the sun showed up. Some hot tea and Chole Bhature made things better for me. It wasn’t only us from YHAI who were camping there, there was also a camp by another organizer nearby. Why I am mentioning this is, while I was returning to my tent after my breakfast, I saw folks from both the camps happily dancing the Garba (a traditional Gujarati dance) outside our tent. It was fun watching them go round and round dancing those simple yet elegant steps in total sync. Then we cleaned out tents, packed our bags and started to the highest camp of this trek.

The dawn breaks

With no doubt, it was the steepest route uphill on this trek. Though the altitude change was only 1300 ft compared to 1900 ft and 1600 ft in the last two days, we had to gain it in the short distance of just 5km. That was definitely a challenge. After a slow and steady climb, we reached our lunch point. Unlike the other lunch points, this one was tucked in between a crack on the mountain. The only common factor was a tiny shop that sold Maggi and Biscuits. Seems Maggi is inevitable in the mountains. Totally, the most frightening lunch point on the whole trek. We were even able to view our Mingtatch camp and the other trekking groups from there. Our guide pointed to a flag, not so far away and told that’s our next camp. With a clear target, we marched towards it. In not more than an hour, we reached the highest camp of this trek, The Nagaru Camp (12,500 ft).

View from lunch point

Once reaching the camp, everyone began calling their parents and their loved ones as they had the cellular reception in one particular spot. But, yours truly was quite stubborn not to use my mobile until the trip gets over. We were served Guava juice as the welcome drink and served tea and fried peanuts later. As we reached quite earlier, we whiled away the time singing and chit chatting. While I was in my tent, I heard some splashing sound. Initially thought it was raining. But to my surprise when I opened my tent flaps, I witnessed the first hailstorm of my life. It’s not just that, we were lucky enough to witness a double rainbow too. Wow, what a mesmerizing view it was. Yet another goosebumps-inducing experience of this trip. We slept early by 7 pm post our early dinner by 6 pm cos we must rise as early as 2 am the next day for one of the most exciting parts of the trek. That’s how an yet another awesome day came to an end.

The double rainbow

Day 9 – 26th May 2017

Waking up at 2 am is absolutely fine, but how about having your least favorite Rava Upma for breakfast at 3 am. My taste buds might have instantaneously rejected it, but my survival instinct thought the other way. The snow melts when the sun starts to shine and that would make the trek extremely difficult. So, we had quite an early start around 3.30 AM that day. Initially, it was too dark and most of us had torchlight or headlamp for the rescue. I was fascinated by the scene when the dawn broke. We were surrounded by snow and for me, the first snow of my life. It was my dream forever to see, touch and feel the snow. My excitement level was high and was overjoyed to realize my dream. That was one memory that will be etched in my memory forever.

After more than a couple of hours of trek, we reached the summit of the trek, the highest point of the Sar Pass (13,799 ft). With all the sides covered with snow, we took a lot of pictures. The joy of reaching the summit is beyond description and you feel just being on the top of the world. I would say, that joy is worth going through all the pain.

The Sar Pass is the route that connects the summit of Tila Lotni and Biskeri Ridge. So, we had a lot more to cover to reach our next camp Biskeri, predominantly on the snow. The snowy ice surface was very slippery and the poles helped extensively. In the middle, we halted at a shop that sold tea and Maggi for some rest. To the contrary, being surrounded by the snow, we were all totally restless and started playing with it. Either be it throwing snowballs at each other or making snow angels, I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. It was all fun, fun and fun. That place also had a small lake and the view of the sky reflecting on it was priceless.

After an hour from there, we reached the edge of the Sar Pass. Here comes the best part of the whole trek, an 800 Mts free slide down the snow. I was anxious when I saw my friends sliding down. It even worsened when my buddy rolled down instead of sliding. Then came my turn and I felt the adrenaline rush. Wow, what an experience sliding down the snow and the cold wind caress the skin. We were too tired by then and somehow pushed ourselves to reach the lunch point a kilometer ahead. We could see the snow around slowly being replaced by rocks and grasses.

Out of hunger, I munched the packed lunch and took a brief rest at the lunch point. My legs were sore and the rest was highly relieving. I also met a few porter women. In spite of carrying heavy backpacks of the trekkers, anywhere between 20 – 30 kgs per person, they had their warm smile intact. So much respect to them.

From there, within an hour we reached our next camp, Beskari (11,000 ft). It felt like an accomplishment completing the most grueling and demanding day of the trek. To give a snapshot, it was a total of 14 km and an elevation change of 1,300 ft uphill and 2,800 ft downhill. That’s quite a lot for a single day. We were served hot tea and Pakodas for the evening snacks as soon as we entered the camp. The rest of the time was spent on playing UNO. Then, as usual, sleep followed the dinner. I dozed of badly wanting the next day to begin, one of the significant days for me in the year. That’s how a yet another awesome day came to an end.

To Be Continued…

Trip To Remember – Trekking Sar Pass – Part 5

Dear Reader,
If you are growing impatient about this ever going series and wondering when would this end? Just be patient as always, probably one more post after this one. All you have to understand is, yours truly is neither creative to come up with new content frequently nor blessed with frequent awesome trips like this one. So, got to manage with this for the love of blogging.

Day 10 – 27th May 2017

I woke up wishing someone would wish me that morning. Wondering why? It was my birthday. The day started with a great disappointment as my only expectation wasn’t met. I was absolutely fine with the fact that others in the camp had no clue about my birthday. But, what let me down was my friends forgetting the same. Can’t blame them either, it was actually a bit hard to keep track of the day and date during the trek.

The only thing that I gave me comfort was a bunch of candies that I carried all the way from Chennai. Sudeshna, my pen pal sent me some chocolates and candies for my birthday all the way from Guwahati, Assam. She also made sure that it reaches me before I leave for the trip and in her letter, she instructed me that I must have them only on my birthday. Being a sucker for chocolates, it was too hard for me to resist having them all along the trek and save it from myself for the D-Day. With a strong will, I made it happen. Thank you Sudeshna for all the love. Following is a small video I recorded to thank her.

For the first time on my birthday, I felt lonely without anyone around wishing me. I restrained myself telling my friends that it’s my birthday. On the contrary, the narcissist in me acted otherwise and let them know by my own mouth. They served noodles for breakfast along with some hot tea. As usual, we cleaned our tents, packed our bags and assembled for the count before leaving the camp. To my surprise, all of sudden, everyone sang the birthday song and wished me. Wow, isn’t that awesome?. Once complete strangers are now my friends and wishing me for my birthday, this is what I call the beauty of traveling. These sort of instances make me realize that traveling is definitely not about the destination, but about the journey and the people whom we come across. Think it’s enough talking about my birthday, let’s move to the trek part.

We were excited about the next camp not just cos it’s the last camp of the trek. Since the induction, have heard plenty about the serenity and beauty of this place from the camp leaders and the batches who have completed their trek. I would say, this was the easiest leg of the whole trek. All we got to cover is 12 km with an attitude change of just 3000 ft. The only exciting part of the route was doing rappelling that too with a minimum vertical drop. Other than that, It was more like walking in midst of the woods all the way. Not soon after our lunch, an excited bunch of us, including me, lost our way to the camp and got stuck in the pine forest. Thankfully, our guide came to the rescue and directed us to the camp.

One of my most fav pic from the trek

No wonder every one praised the beauty of this place and call it the Switzerland of India. Around 2 PM, we finally reached the most beautiful camp of the trek, the Bhandak Thatch (8000 ft). It’s grassland and a grazing land where the cattle are reared in the summer, everything there seemed lush and green, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I haven’t been to Swiss yet, but this place made me wonder if Swiss is as beautiful as this one. We were able to spot Cows, Horses and Sheep. With plenty of time in our hand that day, we played UNO, Kabadi and did some funny Dubmashes too. At times, I would just climb up the slopes, spot a silent spot and get myself immersed in the mesmerizing beauty of the mountains.

The guys managed to arrange for the campfire after getting permission from our camp leader. Later that evening, we had our dinner early and gathered around the campfire. The burning pine logs gave a distinct pleasant sweet smell uplifting the mood around. From there on, it was all fun. We sang, danced crazy and everyone wished me again for my birthday. The craziness continued until the rain disrupted the fun. With half a heart, we dispersed into out tents and dozed off.

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One best pic of the trip. Still feels like a magic

Started with full of disappointments, it turned out to be one of the best birthdays in my life. That’s how a yet another awesome day came to an end.

To Be Continued…