I sat in front of a pile of clothes. Most were jeans and full sleeved cotton shirts, as recommended by the organisation which was organising the Sandakphu-Gurdum Himalayan trek that I was leaving for in two days time. I wondered how to fit all my belongings into the new branded backpack that I had shopped for, yet keeping it light enough for my diminutive body to complete the five day trek as I had to lug it around the whole time.
While I grappled with the ‘crucial’ decision of what clothes to carry and which ones would look good in pictures, the news of the earthquake in Nepal trickled in. First was the alert I got on my phone from a news app. Next, the TV channels went berserk about the magnitude and the death toll. Within minutes, friends and well wishers starting calling to ask about the trek and advising against going ahead with it. After all it was me and another female friend – just two girls who were set to join a larger group at the base camp in Darjeeling. Well, we did make it though, assured by the organisers in Darjeeling that all was well and that the trek was still on.
Once at Darjeeling, we realized that many trekkers had cancelled their bookings at the heels of the earthquake and the several aftershocks that followed. The only thing me and my friend were concerned about, however, was a call from home that could bring our ‘Himalayan adventure’ to a grinding halt. Luckily, such a call did not come.
Get, set, trek!
Our Himalayan trek began at Dhotrey, an area close to the West Bengal Nepal border. We were told that two of our camps, where we would spend our nights after an entire day of trekking, would be in Nepal – Tumbling and Kalipokhri while two others – Sandakphu and Gurdum – would be on the Indian side. One of our camp leaders later told us that the Sandakphu – Gurdum trek is a ‘ladies trek’ as it is the simplest of all the Himalayan treks. However, make no mistake, it does require one to be physically fit, more so because you will be carrying around your backpack which is likely to be around eight kilograms or more.
The trek route is as scenic as it could possibly get. Reaching Tumbling from Dhotrey one would be walking amidst towering mountains and pristine greenery. The fog would flit in and out, enveloping the mountains in an instant and clearing out to leave you spellbound with the sight of the mighty Himalayas at the very next. We even spotted a red panda, as it slept peacefully on one of the branches of the lush green trees that surrounded both sides of the trek route.
Kalipokhri is at an even higher altitude and I found myself trailing my group most times. Here there is a water body with dark inky water which almost looks as if it is black. Hence the name ‘Kali’ which means black in Hindi. At Kalipokhri Himalyan yaks will make an appearance along with domesticated cows. One can even spot eagles soaring high, looking majestic against the backdrop of the rocky mountains.
Next night halt was at Sandakphu, the place from where on a sunny day one can get the clear view of the snow covered Mt Everest and Kanchenjunga mountains. While the uphill trek is arduous, we woke up at the crack of the dawn to watch the sight we had trekked all this distance for. Our group which had 25 other enthusiastic trekkers from different states of the country couldn’t hide their excitement when the fog cleared and the snow covered peaks made an appearance. Temperatures were sub-zero, the wind so strong that even the well built found themselves swaying and yet all everyone had eyes for were the mountains – Mt Everest and Kanchenjunga. A sight all of us walked back with, as it was unlike any other that we had seen on this trek so far.
The trek down after Sandakphu was easy and the landscape a treat to the eyes. While we had left the snow covered mountains behind, the terrain now had a blanket of delicate forest flowers. From flaming red rhododendrons to lush green moss that was like a carpet beneath our feet, it was a sight straight down from heaven.
Our second last halt was to be at Gurdum, which is a quaint village nestled in the Himalayas. Here potted flowers dot the homestays and your ears suddenly pick the sound of flowing water. Our group plonked near one such stream, stopping for some pictures, lots of fun and for gulps of cold water that was flowing down straight from the Himalayas.
The last camp at Rimbik in Darjeeling district brought us back to the city life. The terrain changed to motorable roads, small cozy homes dotted the landscape and markets closed by the time it was six in the evening. The place seemed to slowly nudge us to get used to the city life again, with the beautiful journey that we just undertaken settling down as a cherished memory in our minds.