My friends had long been planning to go for a trek somewhere, that literally had to be ‘less travelled’, away from the routes frequented by trekkers. The choice that they made was a route, that would start from Phamtam (a small habitat in the bosom of the Sikkim Himalayas) and end in Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary, Sikkim.
The walk through this mystic trail left us all marvelling about the majestic demeanor of the mountains once again.
Thus the journey began…
One cold afternoon, the bus rounded up a meandering road encircling the green mountains, and left us in the small village, Phamtam. It had a handful few houses, and a little picturesque school. The neat primary school proudly displayed the enthusiasm of the small children to learn over there. We stayed in the schoolyard for the night. Next day, our trek started along the evergreen pine-clad trail through Phamtam. Curious, smiling onlookers could be spotted along the way, in neat little houses decorated with flowerpots; in busy cowsheds; in patios, thrashing crops; or in the green meadows just outside the village, grazing sheep.
Phamtam was soon out of sight and the lush green forest loomed in the distance. The uphill walk began. The path was covered with a thick layer of dead leaves that gave way under the pressure of our footfalls. On both sides were huge trees, their origins dated back to time immemorial. Their aged trunks were all covered up with cracked bark, bearing the signs of heavy rains during the monsoon- creepers and a blanket of moss from tip to toe. Their long branches tried to reach the sky, and in the process, formed a thick canopy of foliage, making it impossible even for the delicious sun rays to penetrate…
Siraney was the place where we took our first halt. A ‘U’ shaped green valley surrounded with hills, was the place in its totality. The source of water was a little far. We formed a queue and followed our local guide blindly to where he led us. A little far down the slope, we scrambled towards the source of water on all four. We filled our containers with water that was coming down the slope, as if from a choking pipe.
Slowly and silently, darkness crept along and covered us all. It was pitch black and creepily silent whenever I happened to be a little far from the campsite. With our stomachs happily full, we went off to sleep quickly after the tiring daylong journey, cocooned inside the warmth of our shelters made of plastic.
I didn’t know what time it was, but it was in the dead of the night that I suddenly woke. My dazed eyes instantaneously started gulping down the beauty of the amazing night. The sky was black, many shades darker than ebony, studded with glittering stars, and galaxies, and meteors, and a pale crescent of a moon. It was not as silent as I had assumed it to be in the evening, when people were bustling here and there. Now, with everyone asleep, I could actually pay heed to the different sounds across the vale- some night bird calling for its mate, the continuous chorus of the crickets, and yes, the different pitches of sweet snores all around. Everything was audible near and far. It was that quiet. Suddenly I felt a freezing soft wind stroking my forehead which sent a shiver down the spine, and noticed that my head had slipped outside the flaps of the shelter. I quickly curled up back inside the warm womb of the sleeping bag.
Next day, it was Bangaley where we were headed towards. The whole trail was somewhat more densely covered with trees, with frequent patches of bamboo thickets, slippery rocks, creepers getting tangled to our feet, which kept us all quite engaged with the path.
It was in the afternoon when we reached Bangaley. There was a small stream that swept the far end of the yellow patch of Bangaley. The banks of the stream were dotted with sparks of white flowers that grew abundantly hither and thither. We all were busy doing the necessary chores of the camp, and suddenly saw the afternoon waving its magic wand all over the place! The hills in the vicinity started acquiring a bright orange hue, which rapidly spread like a wildfire to the nearby range as well. It lasted a few seconds. It was breathtaking, but soon faded away. Someone murmured from behind – “photographers’ delight”.
Bangaley was soon left behind, as we gradually advanced towards Doledunga the following day. Doledunga was a vast, endless stretch of valley with velvety yellow grass. It was all different shades of yellow and green, stretching over farther than even the eyes could gather. Far, far away from the valley, the distant mountain ranges became more and more blue as they gradually faded with the clear, stunning blue sky.
The strangest feature of Doledunga was the innumerable dead trees, which stood upright, here and there, with their bare, blackened trunks. It was as if they lay awake to keep on going with their endless watch over the valley. The night was cold, but we were warm beside our fire. We cooked, we sang, and we had a nice chat over dinner, which was fast getting cold. I slept peacefully as usual, except from the frequent fits of shiver that crept within me in the dead of the night. I realized that my sleeping bag had enough experience of camping, and needed a fast retirement.
Next morning we descended to Jaley, where we stayed for the night. As evening descended, nature again intoxicated us with her unpredictable beauty. It became foggy around. There were LED lanterns inside each of the plastic shelters. But the fog didn’t let the light travel far. So the light remained concentrated within a small range around the bright blue shelters, illuminating them from within. The white fog outside and the smoky bluish illuminated haze from within, blended in a perfection that only a great painter could have achieved. Thus, stood all the hazy luminous blue shelters in the dark distance, in a harmony, forming a water- colour-washed masterpiece!
A long walk awaited us the next day. After some nine hours of descent, we reached Bhanjang. The night again surprised us! As we were busy cooking our dinner, all of a sudden a shrill note of a flute reached our ears! We wondered whether we heard it right, but the sound mesmerized us again. It came from the shelter of our local guides. Curiosity drove us towards them. We saw that these people had collected a few thin bamboo sticks while coming down the way; and now, sitting beside the cosy fire, they were busy making holes on those sticks to make their own flutes. One of them started playing a funny, shrill tune which might have sounded a bit clumsy because of its lack of craftsmanship; but under that starlit sky, beside the warmth of that crackling fire, among those like-minded people I loved, the whole environment happened to be tinged with such a happy mood which can never be expressed in words!
Bhanjang was the last night of the whole trek, as the next day we were supposed to reach the populated Borong village, where we would organize our campfire. So, according to the plan, we reached Borong the following day. Campfire in the evening was spent in great merriment, trying to hold those precious moments together in an eternity, trying to forget that this was the very last day together.
Thus the end came soon. The next day we happened to dump ourselves in a truck that took us to a monastery, where our bus was waiting. The bus took us to the station and left us there. Unfortunately, the scheduled train also came on time, which led us back to the ever-chaotic, polluted, and yet, colourful city of Kolkata!