Thursday, March 18, 2010

Singalila Ridge Trek

Day 11-15
It was about time I hit the hills and so an early start and a couple of jeep rides later, I found myself in Maneybajang, where local guide Binod would guide myslef and Kerry through the Songilila NP. The highlight of the trek was of course the Himalayas and the various viewpoints along the way. The route taken weaves its way in and out of India and Nepal and infact our first nights stay was in the Nepalese village of Tumling. The guesthouse in Tumling was a real gem and for just under 500Rs ($10) Kerry and I had a nice double bed and a 3 course meal infront of a roaring fire. Next day, I found out that an eldery villager had passed away the previous day, and that meant the people of nearby villages would come to pay their respect. All that day, people passed by on foot, making their way to Tumling. It was incredible to see and when I arrived in Sandakphu, some 7hours walk from Tumling, our host informed Binod that her husband and son had infact made the journey and would not return until the following day. Life is hard in the mountains but simple, I look at our own society and sadly reflect how little time we have for each other. In New York, when a troubled soul had to pay to go and see a 'shrink', I remember Crocodile Dundee's response, "Hasn't he got any mates?" How true Mick was, so listen, if you need to talk, skype me!

In Sandakphu, the accomodation was very basic, the tight budget meant a dorm bed in a government run trekking hut, but good food and plenty of blankets made for a good stay. The third day of the trek was the most scenic. The route stayed high and followed a ridge leading to the mighty Khangchendzonga, the forests disappeared below and there was a real feel of iscolation that one finds in the mountains. The tea houses that dotted the route the previous days were gone, it was just us, the mountains, the yaks and the wind. The destination was Phalut, the name of a mountain not a village at 3600m. An unwelcoming trekkers hut would be home for the night, it was cold, dirty and there was a dog turd under my bed, reminding me I was still in India. Despite this, the young caretaker managed to knock up a real feast for tea on the open fire and clay oven so typical in these parts. During the night the wind blew and howled, whistling through cracks and seaped into my bed. It banged doors and rattled the rafters but come 5.30am I realised it had also blown the clouds away. Binod and I made the short 15min walk to the summit, marked by Tibetan prayer flags, which contrasting against a pure blue sky are a sight to behold. From here Khangchendzonga was the closest it had been and the horizon was a continuous stretch of white jagged peaks leading to, in the haze of the west, Mount Everest. I wish I could write that I saw Everest, but the truth is, I could only see the base of the mountain, her summit was lost in the haze, another day perhaps. I was standing at a junction of borders, to the east India, west Nepal, and north Sikkim. More importantly I was in the Himalayas, where the people are all the same and have lived the same for centuries, only having borders imposed on them by the likes of us, the imperial British. From Phalut, it was mostly down to the beautiful village in a valley, Ghorkey. Where flowers bloomed and the only sound was the river. I'd have liked to have spent more time here but my final night would be in Ramman, a small village clinging to the mountainside with stunning views of the valley and Sikkim. The Sherpas Lodge was a step up from the two trekkers huts and a nice way finish. Kerry and I even sampled some original Chang or Tsongba, a warm alcoholic beverage made from millet, it was quite unlike anything I've had but is well liked here in the mountains. The final day was a short 3 hours to Rimbick, where our jeep awaited. The 80km five hour journey backto Darjeeling was an experience in itself. At one point, we had 16 in the jeep and 3 on the roof. When the hail came and carpeted the road, we had 2 near collisions and once nearly took a short cut down the mountain.In Darjeeling, it was straight to Hasty Tasty where I ate a south Indian Thali, a kind of tapas of curries. The only thing missing was a cold beer, replaced by a pot of tea, what else.

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