I just decided out of the blue, an idea of spending the birthday with the Mountains. Giving a quick thought, decided it would be the best gift. So I embarked on this Journey into the Abundance. After all the preparations, flying from Chennai to Bagdogra via Bangalore, a long wait in the airport with the excitement, the actual journey started.
A Nervous Start and a Saving grace, the Nature itself
A pleasant drive into the abundance and it became more colder when we drove uphills. When we stopped for the tea in the evening, I knew I had to wear more warmer clothes. But this is just a beginning. When we reached the base camp to the village of Kopidana, it was raining. Slightly drenched, we reached one of the many Homestay through the following days.
There was no power and the nerve wrecking chillness to accompany with, I was in doubt would I be able to survive in this cold. Forget the mercury level, my excitement level was down because of the cold. Then switching on to warmer thermals and a layer of dress over it helped me get over the Chillness a bit. There was an intro session with fellow trekkers and the itinerary, essentials were explained by the trek lead. The caution word given was that this will be the warmest night that we’ll be experiencing the whole trek, which irked me. Then we had our dinner and decided to go out for a walk. With just the Moonlight Shining bright we went for walk into the woods and it warmed up our bodies and heart. The exquisite moonlight, the strong fragrance of the woods and the chilling temperature made some magic into my soul and I was back again excited and looking forward to the next day and further.
The day started with myself getting before the Sun and sitting in the view point waiting for the Sunrise! He came out all Shining and wiping out the chillness and shivers. I was clicking the pictures of the mountains and the Sun coming out, all while with a wide smile. And it was a great start to my Birthday with the Abundance!
After a relaxed morning, we started for the trek after the functionary introductions, conditions and group photographs. Today we would be trekking for around 11kms and climbing from 6300ft to 9700ft, the most altitude in a single day of this trek. And without any alarm and not knowing what to expect I started walking. And to my dismay it was a steep climb in stairs initially. With my trek bag and the camera bag in my back it was challenging. After initial struggles, my body got tuned and then was able to continue my trek at a comfortable pace. We used to stop for breath and simultaneously look around the beauty, the Nature is showing off. First stop is for tea, where we crossed the Nepal Border and a beautiful valley with a Monastery. A much needed break.
The trek continued after that and gradually we could see the scatters of snow on either side of way. As it’s the first time in my life witnessing snow, my heart started dancing with joy. We had a fellow companion, a dog which was also coming along with us. Guiding us the track, resting with us, looking around the mountains, the dog also seemed excited. Then as true as a travel companion, the dog left us in the place where stopped for lunch.
While trekking, the temperature was not a problem, it was manageable and as we are walking a lot, the body temperature coped up with it. Finishing the lunch our trek continued, into many ascends and villages on the way. Around 4PM we reached our campsite for the night, Tumling. We reached our homestay with warm welcome from the local people. All the walking made my body tired and I needed rest. But with the beauty around, I couldn’t rest for a long time. After a quick refreshment, I took my camera out and wandered around the place. In an altitude of 9700ft and Sun Shining around the mountains and standing in the same level where the clouds forming a huge wave like structures, it was a sight to hold on.
With my fellow trekkers, climbed to near uphill to view the Sunset. Clear Blue Skies, Mountains around, snowy white clouds and the Sun is setting. What else can a Photographer within me would ask. I was having a gala time, and the clouds were clearing one by one showing the hidden mountains behind them. As the Sun went down, and we at rest, the temperature became gradually colder. Others started to leave for the homestay, a warmer place. But I was stubborn to be there as I wanted to witness the Sunset in its all essence. It helped as there was network in my phone. I was calling couple of friends back home and sharing the happiness with them. As the minutes tripped on, the orange color now spread onto the sky from the fading Sun. Far across, the clouds started to clear and the Majestic Mount Kanchenjunga was on display. The hardship of wait, the temperature, now faded away and the joy of witnessing this Sunset and its shades in the Ice clad mountains were worth it!
While getting drenched in the abundance, I felt the fellow trekkers also should experience it. So went back to the homestay and informed them. Like kids they started running towards the view point and witnessed the beauty. As we had this show off from the abundance, we didn’t quite mind the cold as of now. After the Sun completely went down, we returned to the homestay, to hot tea and some snacks made by the people there. We gathered around the fireplace. The unique thing about our batch of trekkers are there are only 5 members, and we are from three different countries. Two Indians, a teenager from Holland, a couple from UK. Apart from the couple, all the other were strangers to each other and we met only at the basecamp. So we were discussing about the diversities across our countries culturally, linguistically and this would be the common them of most of our discussions in the trek. This helped in learning new perspective about how humanity can be faced. All the other were warm, helpful, and gave insights without any judgement.
The two local guides from Nepal with the people from homestay, threw a surprise birthday celebration with a candle and wished me with their own style of greeting people. Making a garland of white piece of cloth, they tied around my neck and they were a pretty warm hosts for the party. We then continued playing cards while conversing all along, and then to dinner. Once dinner is over we were hanging out around the fireplace for sometime and went to bed.
The next day, after fighting it out with the cold in the night, was a fresh start. We were tad unlucky as the clouds didn’t clear out in the morning for our Sunrise view. So we stayed indoors and got ready for the trek. After waving bye to the homestay people we started our trek around 8:30 to a bright day. The morning session was a relaxed walk, basically we were trekking through the Singalila Natioanl Park and it was a comfortable trek. In the middle we crossed some villages and had a tea break in one of the villages. We were expecting the rare sight of a red panda in vain. Marching along we reached Garibosa for lunch. The climate became colder now. As true to the all the hotels there, the people were so friendly and made us comfortable. We refilled our water bottles and started the trek again, which warned by the guides would be a tough 2 kms. And it was a steep climb in steps through a thick forest. While walking it started to drizzle as we entered into the motor way road.
What followed was a long walk of 5 kms with nothing but snow and trees through the ghat road. Though it was a relaxed walk, we had toiled hard in the last 2 kms that made me walk slowly. And all the while there was a light snow fall which couldn’t be seen, but felt. One thing about that walk while reminiscing now is, all along I was in that moment and nothing else. No memories, no expectations about what’s going to happen, I was just in the moment, gazing around and watching how my body copes up with this extreme temperature and this tiring workout. The zig zag roads finally ended in a black lake. We couldn’t see the full view of lake as it was totally covered by snow and mist. The trek was exhaustive and adding to that is the freezing cold temperature. I changed into warmer clothes with multiple layering, we decided to spend the night inside the homestay. We were served hot food and we started our card game along with it. One of my fellow trekker pulled out a card trick which made the people around excited. We were talking and usually the topics circled around the diversity of this world and each of us perspective on that. Then I was introduced to the concept of hot bottle, which was really helpful to make myself warm in the bed. It made my sleep comfortable and all set for the trek next day, the toughest day in the trek!
Day 4, after our morning rituals, we were set for the trek around 9 AM. The guides informed us it would be the toughest climb, steep and into the snow all through. It’s 6 kms and the plan is to reach the summit for lunch. With curiosity and excitement of reaching the summit, started the trek. The warnings were all true and indeed it was a tough climb which was steep, and snow fall around making it more difficult. The altitude is now getting higher and higher and the lungs needed more oxygen which made me to take long deep breathes. As usual, I would take my breaks and start shooting photographs, videos. I was thinking many creative ways to divert the daunting climb ahead and the abundance around helped. After all the walking, climbing and crawling, finally reached the Summit.
The experience of this particular 6km trek was out of the world and really pushing me my limits. So after it culminated it was a great sense of achievement and relief. The sweet moment of success as a result of all the toil my body went through and you ought to have a new meaning to life. More about that later. To our dismay though it was completely snowing and there was no view and only clouds around us. We placed our bags in the homestay there and changed to warmer clothes and settled in a restaurant nearby. Throughout the trek we had roti and rice, and for a change they served Chowmein, which I felt was delicious and a welcome change to my taste buds.
It was around 3 PM and as it was a tiring trek, and the temperature in negative outside, we thought we would comfort ourselves in bed. After a few minutes in bed, thought that after all this hardships, I shouldn’t be spending the day in bed. So got up and went to the restaurant and sat down there. Made myself comfortable, gazing through the glass windows, with some music on. Spent the evening hoping the clouds would clear away. The local guide informed that according to the weather forecast it would be clear the next day.
At this moment when I had completed one of the pushing things that I’ve done in my entire life, and with nothing much to do other than sit and wait for the clouds to clear, I started reminiscing. The past four days were entirely a new experience in my life. I have never been in a trip without my friends, and never visited the Himalayas before and never believed that my body and mind would possess the strength to achieve this feat. My passion to explore the abundance was always there but this new found courage to get into action and embark into such journey was a delightful pat on my back. It gave me a confidence that anything can be achieved when you’ve the heart, passion and effort to go in with it to make it a success. This may be a moderate trek and not the toughest one out there, it still was the first time experience for me and at that moment I decided I should be doing more and more such journeys into the Unknown. Exploring the life with all the experiences and working hard to make that happen, being in the moment, and the abundance would always be there to guide you through all your endeavors. My fellow trekker compared the evening we were spending in the restaurant to Purgatory. A new word to me and the answer to my question what it means was, a state where we wait to enter into heaven or hell. With the day’s trek and the much expected colder temperature in the night, I replied, definitely it’s going to hell for us in the night.
But You may Never no, don’t You?
The morning started with thuds in our door and shouts of wake up soon. I jumped and went to look through the window. It was clear. With all the hurry burry I took my DSLR and ran outside. There it was, the view of the village so crystal clear with snow covered at literally everything. We ran to the view point and there we had the much talked about and the USP of this Sandakphu Trek. A 360 degree panoramic view of the snow clad Himalayas. The Sun started slowly coming up on the horizon ensuring us a great view. The Majestic Kanchenjunga much closer and much more stunning that we can’t take our eyes for few minutes. After a long hard look at them, I turned around to witness other beautiful peaks surrounding us. We were searching and finding out many other peaks. The White snow, Blue Sky and the Sunrise was a true visual delight and now it got me back to our last night’s conversation.
The Purgatory ended up in Heaven!
The Final Stroll
After a prolonged photo session, we got ready for our descent. With heavy heart, we left Sandakphu and started our trek into the bamboo forests with the Sun blazing. The total distance of this day’s trek is 16 kms, the longest in the Sandakphu trek. But with the descent, the Sun out there, and the changing nature of the paths, it was turning out to be quite easy. This day we trekked through the snow, muddy paths, into a bamboo forest through most of the morning, then a dense forest, then through some villages, across a river bank and finally a motorway road, it had it all. The view in the morning, where the nature cleared out for us to witness, the trek that followed made this day the best day in the whole trek.
It all culminated so nicely to our last homestay in the evening. As always we were greeted with a warm welcome. And we are finally allowed to take a bath. All cleansed up and fresh from the beautiful day, we all sat around the table for one last time in the trek. We were distributed certificates for successfully completing the trek, hot dinner and chats through the evening. And thus this marvellous experience finally ended on a bright, exciting, bit tiring, very happy note. Cheers!