Trek

Into a land less travelled…

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…

Just outside Phamtam village

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.

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Deep inside the bamboo thickets

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.

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“Photographer’s Delight”

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.

Doledunga from a distance

Doledunga from a distance

The vast expanse of Doledunga

Still a long way to go… a walk towards Jaley

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.

A flock of the dead in the distance...

A flock of dead in the distance…

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!

morning residues

morning residues

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!

the shelter of our guides

the shelter of our guides

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.

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Distant snow covered peaks… as seen from Bhanjang

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!

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A walk to remember…

Walking beside ‘her’

The roaring blue sea continuously by your side, gently lapping your tired feet inside its foamy womb; the gushing wind trying to lift you off your feet; the occasional patches of coastal green bringing in some variety in the vast expanse of glittery yellow sand… What more can you expect in a weekend escapade?

Gauging the horizons

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The Chandipur-Digha coastal trek couldn’t have been more exciting, if the group was not equally enthusiastic. Starting from the plan to its execution- all were neatly done. And thus, we landed up, one cold January morning, in the ever populated beach of Chandipur, Orissa, to witness the red yolk of a sunrise. The walk started then and there…

 

 

Even boats are not meant to be harboured… Kashafal in the afternoon

There was a sudden, small stretch of river blocking our way soon after our trek had started. But behold! No need to stress! A little, overcrowded boat, with all its passengers, and bicycles, and motorbikes (heaven knows how they’d all fitted), gently ferried us to the other side of Buribalam River. We walked and walked, with the gulls cawing across our heads. The busy fishing boats could be seen dotted along the dazzling expanse of the bay. In the afternoon, we reached a small village, Kashafal. 

Early morning business

 

 

 

Some more business

The peaceful sleep at night in Kashafal’s deserted market yard didn’t last long. Early in the morning, the place became filled with fishermen shouting here and there, making hasty movements, gathering their fishing nets to head for their venture into the seas… 

In the shades of the Casuarinas, far from the beaches, a lonely fisherman was seen, bringing to shore his catch…

Well, not quite lonely… soon after we passed him, we turned back and saw a young woman scuttling down the sand slope towards him. A maiden with dreams in her eyes, I wished to think…

In which you can hear the sound of the seas…

 

 

 

Streaks painted on the glittery sand

Yes… the sound of the seas you can hear in these shells, they say… they come from the land of the mermaids I believe… 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trails that will soon be erased…

 

Along the way, we had tea in one small corner shop. The local people became pretty interested in what we all do. There, we happened to meet an old person, an ojha (a self proclaimed witch-doctor), who claimed to have a cure to almost anything, ranging from snake-bites to not getting  married!

We moved on…. 

 Once out of Kashafal, we started our bouts of walk towards Dogra.

Dogra happens to be a favourite spot among clamorous picnickers. We didn’t at all wish to encounter any, and thankfully we arrived so late in the afternoon, that these crowds had gone already.

 

The afternoon sun had cast a lovely dreamy glow around. The retreating sea made innumerable patterns in the glimmering sand. Fishing boats were coming home after their day-long quest for fish. On the beach we saw a human chain forming around a fishing net; with a rhythmic chant, the men’s bodies drew the net together with a strong pull every now and then.

At night, we went to the beach. It was pitch black around. The sky was studded with stars. The vicinity was absolutely quiet, except for the raging sea, howling into our ears about the day long ruckus created by the so-not-sensible people coming over throughout the weekend! The gleaming phosphorescence atop  the dashing waves made the sea look even more melancholy. Across the distance, near the horizon, we could see dim lights of the fishing boats that were still out there. The fast growing level of water indicated that tide was coming. We gradually retreated back to the comfort our guesthouse.

Next morning, we headed towards Digha- an over populated slice of coast. Crossing the Subarnarekha River, we reached a place to get transportation to Digha. From Digha, it was time to head back to Kolkata…

And the time to bid farewell came pretty soon!