A post by a friend rekindled my memories.
Memories of those 70 days in 2007, when I had quit my job, packed my bag and left. Left for the Himalayas. 70 days of walking and hitchhiking. Mostly in Sikkim and North Bengal and somewhat lesser in the Himachal. My original plans involved the Arunachal and Meghalaya, but bomb blasts in Guwahati had forced me to turn back to Calcutta and then proceed to Himachal.
The memories of those 70 days, though logged dutifully on a diary with hand drawn maps, will probably not make it to this blog because of my laziness to type it out. This is but a brief glimpse of this very day two years ago, an excerpt from my hand written journal.
1st, May - Gangtok
Early in the morning, on our way to Sonam's office, we faced a taxi problem on account of Labour Day. Little did I know, this problem would come back to haunt me later.
After reaching Sonam's office, Sonam, Sanjog and me mapped out the routes I would be travelling into the North and West. Each of the routes would take me at least 2 days even if I availed a jeep. Plus for the North I required permits. So I spoke to a friend of Sonam's , who runs a travel agency, to arrange for my permits. This meant that I had another two days to spend in Gangtok before I leave for Yumthang. I decided that today's destination had to be Rumtek - one of the richest monasteries in the world, both in terms of heritage and artifacts.
Since I had much time on my hands, I decided that I won't take a pizo, but instead walk to Rumtek. Sanjog, suggested that I take a pizo to Martam, a small village beyond Rumtek and walk back to Rumtek.
"It's a nice walk" , he assured.
Martam was 8 km from Rumtek and Gangtok was another 24 km.So I parted company with Sonam and Sanjog and boarded a pizo for Martam. I reached there around noon.
The walk from Martam to Rumtek was indeed beautiful. Martam was a quiet village. Some houses scattered here and there, groups of school children thronged the road, while old men peered at me curiously from their porches. After I got down from the pizo, I had bought a couple of cigarettes - a local brand , to last me for the walk ahead. Cigarettes wrapped in a makeshift newspaper packet, camera hanging, I started out on my walk to Rumtek and then beyond to Gangtok.
On the road, I came across beautiful rock formations and reluctant brooks trickling down the mountains, appearing and then hiding away under the bushes. My path curved around the hills, it would be sunny and warm along some stretches and then take a turn into a cool shaded nook. But this constant change in temperature and the terrain took its toll and soon I felt dehydrated. I had made the cardinal mistake of not carrying any water and this long uninhabited road meant it would be quite a while before I would find any drinking water, maybe even not before Rumtek. There were hardly any settlements as far as I could see and turning 3 km back to Martam was not an option. When I had almost abandoned the plan to walk anymore due to increasing dehydration and was thinking of waiting around for a passing pizo, about 1 km ahead, I found a small shop near the 4 km milestone. I guzzled down two litchi drinks and rejuvenated, continued my walk to Rumtek. This part of the road was comparitively inhabited and the silhouttes of houses on distant hilltops were reassuring.
After 3 km, I saw a building that I thought was Rumtek. I happily entered only to find it was not, and that Rumtek was still 1 km ahead. ( I later learnt that this was the original monastery which has now been converted to a residency for the monks).
Finally when I reached Rumtek, all my tiredness was gone. There is a special kind of joy when you reach a place after almost 2 hours of trekking. The trek prepares you to view the place in a special light. This feeling can never be achieved by hiring a cab and just reaching the destination. I feel any destination has more to offer to a traveller if you can grasp the "story". To reiterate a cliche, it is about the journey, rather than the destination.
I spent quite a lot of time at Rumtek. At the inner courtyard, where the pigeons surround you, I saw the sun preparing to sink into the mighty backdrop of the Himalayas. This place had a serenity and mystic aura to it in which you could drown yourself for an entire lifetime. I sat there, oblivious to the usual noisy group of tourists, listening to the flutter of pigeon wings and the chantings of the lamas. I saw the various halls and heard the lamas debating outside with their quaint style of slapping one hand on the other. Finally I forced myself to get out, it was 17.30 and Gangtok was 24 km away. I was not in a mood to walk back, it would be dark soon and there was no way I could make it to Gangtok before dark. I should have started earlier.
Outside Rumtek, there were no pizos. Labour day ! All pizos had stopped operating for the evening. There were a few cabs outside, all reserved by tourist groups. I waited around half an hour for any pizos to pass by, but had no such luck. So I called up Sonam from a shop and told him about my predicament and started walking back. After about 10 minutes of walking, I got lucky. One of the cab drivers had come to know that I was looking for some transport back to Gangtok. He agreed to talk it out with the tourist group who had hired him and take me back for 100 Rs. This was double the pizo fare I had paid for Martam, but I agreed, given the situation.
I reached Gangtok at 19.15. The journey was full of interrogations by the family that had hired the cab. Where do you come from? Why are you alone? When is your birthday ? ( I have no clue how the last question was even relevant). I met Sonam and was told that his mom had made dinner for us. Dinner was amazing - pork curry and rice. Now I am at Sonam's house, the guest room on the top floor that overlooks a smallish forest of bamboo. Beyond the forest, the river flows down in the valley. At this time of the night, you can hear the murmurs from the river as they ride the breeze that rustles the bamboo shoots.
Tomorrow I'll be meeting Gary,Ashi and some more friends in the evening for a smallish party before I leave Gangtok. Sonam tells me that a local band will be playing Dylan, Clapton, CCR and the likes at the joint.
Sikkim, timilai maya garchu.
This post triggered off my memories.