Tag Archives: YHAI

Trip To Remember – Trekking Sar Pass – Part 1

Finally, surpassed all the procrastination, laziness and mental blocks to write about our trek to Sar Pass (Did you note the word play?).

It was an exciting trip and plenty of stories to be told. But, From where do I start? Just like my last trek, this one is also with Youth Hostel Association of India (YHAI). Being one of the most famous and sought after trek organized by YHAI, we had to plan well in advance, almost before 5 months. Like any other trip, few opted out, a few added in and finally left with Myself, Jayashree (Buddy), Nigilan and Lavanya. Yeah, the same friends from my last trek and many other trips before. It was quite unfortunate that Giri opted at the last moment, it was great fun with him the last trek.

Day 1 – 18th May 2017

As planned Buddy and Myself started from Chennai whereas Nigilan and Lavanya started from Bangalore. Here is something funny that happened at the airport. We were there well ahead of our flight schedule. With a poor consciousness of time, we lazed chit chatting and charging our mobile phones. It was a great shock when we were denied to check-in our luggage as we crossed the 50 minutes to departure check-in window. Phew, Thankfully, our kind apologetic words worked and the ground staff agreed to check-in with a strong warning to be on time. That’s a great lesson learned. We boarded our Indigo6E 26D, despite checking-in together we both were given different seats however the only consolation for that ultimate boredom was a seat by the window. Most time was spent listening to music and reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (Yet to be completed). After a long haul at Hyderabad, we reached Chandigarh around 2 pm.

Nigilan & Lavanya were already waiting for us at the airport and we were joined by Giri’s friends Prasad, Sunil & Sunil’s sister Sharon. More the merrier, the gang count raised to 7. With our bus to Bhuntar scheduled at night, we decided to hire cabs and roam around the city in the mean time. As we were terribly hungry, we decided to finish off our lunch first before doing anything else. The cab driver recommended Pal Dhaba at Sector 28, one of the popular Dhabas in the town. Yes, the food at this place lived up to its reputation without burning hole in the pocket. I loved their Butter Chicken & Mint Chutney and finished the meal with delicious Kulfi sold outside the hotel. Our next stop was the beautiful Sukhna Lake. Despite being a hot summer day, it was quite breezy there. With my friends complimenting my superior photography skills the time moved pleasantly as we walked around the lake. I am in still love with the yellow blossoms there.

Our next stop was the most famous Rock Garden of Chandigarh. It was secretly built by Nek Chand, a government official out of waste and throw away items. Though it was illegally built in a protected forest area, public opinions were asked and the park was officially inaugurated in 1976 as public space. Isn’t it true when they say “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”? it was really amazing to see how day to day waste items has been transformed into beautiful sculptures. It’s awesome of Nek Chand to make us see and the feel the same beauty he saw in those disposable things. The place was magnificent, even got waterfalls and I really wish we had enough time to roam around.

Our next hop was Zakir Hussain Rose Garden or just Rose Garden as dearly called by the locals. Spanning across 30 acres, it’s the largest garden in Asia. It’s a home for 50,000+ rose bushes, as a result of being there at off season, all we could see is rose bloomed in very few bushes and that was quite disappointing. One big mistake we did was to extend the cab. The cab driver didn’t communicate us properly on the extra tariffs, as the result, we end up paying a lot more than we supposed to when we reached Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT). The Sad part is, even my buddy’s conversation with the cab company’s customer care in Hindi didn’t help us. After a light dinner at a restaurant in ISBT, we boarded our bus to Bhuntar and that’s how the first day of our trip came to an end.

Day 2 – 19th May 2017

With bumps and sharp turns, all of sudden I felt like being on a roller coaster. It took some time for me to get into my consciousness and realize that the bus was in the middle of mountains intensely tracing its curves. As everyone is asleep, the whole bus was quiet and I silently enjoyed the dawn slowly breaking over the mountains. Little perks of being an early riser. As soon our bus dropped us at Bunthar, I could feel the cold breeze caress me and my body struggling to adapt to the same. My friends easily vetoed my idea of reaching the base camp by bus, so we hired a cab. On the way, we halted a little for our morning tea. The taste of the tea was completely contrary to the driver’s claim of the best tea in this area. View of the Parvathi river and the Hindi songs on the way make the drive much memorable one.

After an hour journey, finally, we reached YHAI base camp at Kasol. It was nothing like our previous base camp at Darjeeling during Sandakphu trek. Once done with our registrations, we were allotted our tents. Yes, you heard it right, we would be staying in tents in base camp as well as all other higher camps to come. After having our breakfast and collecting our blankets, we spent the forenoon resting in our tents. One can’t expect much on a rest day. At any given point of time, this camp houses 4 batches, 1 x reporting batch, 2 x training batch and 1 x departing batch. That’s quite a lot of people. No wonder when they say it’s one of the most famous treks of YHAI. One of the best things Nigilan did during this trip was finding an awesome place for lunch. The Evergreen restaurant served some of the authentic Israelian cuisines in Kasol. I really loved their Chicken Schnitzel and Hummus. We were not allowed to be out of the camp post 6 PM and that’s very little time to finish our late lunch and shop some essentials. After roaming around the street of Kasol, we returned to the camp just on time. Then the dinner was served and a yet another awesome day came to an end with campfire event organized by our previous batch in the camp.

Day 3 – 20th May 2017

Though the day started much earlier for me, for most of them at the camp the wakeup call was the long whistle from the camp leader. We all assembled for a quick count check and jogged to the exercise spot half a kilometer away. An hour was well spent doing stretching and strengthening exercises. The best part is, Sunil and myself would run back to the camp while others would walk exhausted, runners you see. A girl in the camp seemed familiar but couldn’t even recollect her name and was quite hesitant to talk to her. Later, she introduced herself and happened to be my fellow Yatri during Jagiti Yatra. It’s no mere coincidence that I keep meeting Yatri’s during my treks. It was a pleasure meeting you Amrita. The breakfast was followed by tent cleaning activity and the acclimatization walk. We had to carry a minimum of 10 kgs and walk a total of 8 km, almost near Manikaran and back. We took a small break on the banks of Parvathi river, had some juice and rejoiced the beauty of the mountains and the flowing water before returning back to the camp.  Post lunch we had our induction session, where the program director gave a brief talk on the trekking route, Do’s & Dont’s. The rain spoiled our sneaking out plan and we spent the rest of the day inside our tents. Like any other awesome day at the base camp, it came to an end with dinner followed by campfire event by our batch. Our guys did put a spectacular show on the stage. Did I tell you that Sharon is an awesome singer? We even some how convinced her to sing that day.

Day 4 – 21st May 2017

The morning routine is pretty much same at the base camp. Just like the last day we had the wakeup call, count check, exercise session, breakfast and tent cleaning. We were then taken to a pine forest for the rock climbing training. The trainers gave us clear instructions and even thought us how to tie a double bowline knot. We had to climb an almost flat vertical surface with a few cracks to hold on. Most of us tried and only a few of us succeeded. Even though we mocked Nigilan a lot, he is the only one in our gang to complete the climb successfully and did it like a piece of cake. While others were trying hard to climb, I relaxed eating cherries and playing cricket with the local kids. They were gracious enough to allow me to bowl an over. Ours was a 50 member batch and the time wasn’t enough for all of us to try, consequently, few of the brave souls like me returned back to the camp without even giving it a try. Post lunch we were supposed to go on Rappelling, but nature had other plans. It rained heavily and Rappelling got canceled. By evening, we packed our bags. Initially, my backpack weighed around 9 kgs. Lighter the better during the trek, eventually, I reduced it to around 6 kgs and deposited the rest with the base camp. When the rain subsided we had some time to go out and munch some cakes at the German Bakery and some hot Momos at the small shop opposite to it. It seemed to be a perfect climate to munch those deliciously hot Momos. By this time you must have known how a day ends at base camp. Unlike rest of the days, one feeling dominated that night, the sheer excitement of climbing mountains the next day.

To Be Continued…

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.

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.

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”

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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 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 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 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…