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A part of that trip to Sikkim I did.
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The moon is big and shines through a chink in the curtains. Stray dogs bark every now and again at shadows. I can hear the laughter of people, the tamp of talking drums and the ring of symbols.
The air has a warm earthy smell and faint traces of incense.
Up early again and as usual look out the window to see if there are any views. At the end of the valley is a snow topped mountain. This gets us excited and we quickly pack and go downstairs for breakfast. Even this early Siva has been awake for hours, looking for porters. His good natured smile flashes as he comes and greets us and explains what will happen today. It seems there was a problem getting yaks, as they cant get down here because the track has been avalanched!
After another huge breakfast, we go over and say goodbye to Bhusan and the driver. We wont see Bhusan until we get back to Gangtok in a fortnight. We have our daypacks ready and wait for Siva. The boys are repacking the loads into smaller porter loads. A couple of the boys look at the 15kg gas cylinder, pick it up and grunt , we cant tell if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Siva jogs over to us, his daypack slung over one shoulder and lets us know we can start.
We are used to being self-reliant and find having to wait for porters irksome. It’s one of the little things that you have to get use to when you trek in Sikkim.
Being so far out of town meant we were closer to the start of the track. It’s been clouding up for the last couple of hours and is now starting to drizzle lightly. We walk past a large pond surrounded by trees. In the middle Skyhorses hang limply. Nothing disturbs the water, it is ghostly and suits the mood.
The track gently climbs up towards the last remaining houses. A head pokes out of a window and yells “ You go wrong way!”
My wife and I look at each other, look back at the track and see our mistake. We walk over to the head and start chatting. We find out that everyone does this. He also wants to know how many are behind us. We havent seen any others but figure their wont be many.
The width of the track has narrowed to that of a laden Yak, is quite rocky and covered with moss. This makes walking annoyingly slippery. In no time we are into the jungle, monsteras, strangler vines, bromeliads of different sizes hang out of Oak and Sal trees. Big gorgeous displays of orchids drip from the branches. Thickets of Bamboo stand in clumps beside the track and the under storey is covered in ferns and arum lillies..
It’s warm and humid, the air filled with the intense buzz of cicadas at full volume. Drongos with big floppy tails fly from branch to branch. I search the trees in the faint hope of seeing Red Pandas, but put my pole through the edge of the track and almost slip over the side. My shoulder catching a tree trunk and stopping my fall. Siva’s exclamation and offer of assistance compounding my embarrassment .
We soon reach the first of three suspension bridges that span deep gullies. A waterfall pours water past and under us. We spend several minutes just watching the water, then try to scare each other by rocking the bridge.
The track is on the side of a cliff and we can see where parts have fallen in. At one point the track is completely gone, apart from a couple of dodgey footholds. I look to Sivar “ How will the porters get across?” He just shrugs his shoulders and in two steps bounces across, no big deal.
The clouds have dropped again and we walk through a fine drizzle. Water drips from everything, the humidity is amazing. Just standing still and breathing is enough to make you sweat.
I’m glad of the Polartec Power-dri T and MCS shorts. My wife is struggling in the wrap skirt. It’s a bit too long compared to the one she wore last year in Nepal. Through trial and error manages to get it to a point where she wont keep tripping on it.
Now the fun begins. There are leeches everywhere! To stop and pull off one or two allows four or five to attach. They drop from tree branches from above, blades of grass we brush against, everywhere! All we can do is try to scrape off the most obvious ones and keep moving until we can get to the second bridge.
At the second bridge we stop and spend 20 minutes pulling leeches off. The evil buggers have managed to get up between my gaiter and boot and into my socks. My wife pulled ten out of one boot, six had latched on at the top of her ankle giving her a bracelet of leech bites. I pull my sock down and a big fat one falls off. Blood has soaked through my sock and into the lining of the boot. As we’ve been bitten before we know what fun we will be in for later when they start to itch. My wife has them everywhere, on her wrist , her stomach and within minutes the bites swell up. Siva being a local just flicks them off, but he hasn’t escaped completely and has one on his ankle.
Luckily for us the clouds lift momentarily for us at a clearing, giving great views back to Yuksom.
At the third suspension bridge we stop and clean up the last of the leeches and get ready for a steep climb up to where we will have lunch. We’ve been walking for about 3 hours and I ask Siva how far we are from Lunch. “Oh we have at least two hours to go”. I am crushed. I thought we were moving much better than this. All morning I’ve been stumbling and tripping and generally feeling awkward. I think, maybe it’s because I’m used to being the “whip” and having someone behind me is putting me off my rhythm. I get Siva to walk ahead with my wife and I follow a few minutes later. Call it the power of suggestion or whatever but I feel more comfortable and soon get back into my stride. The bush is still thick and has changed a little. The trees are now mostly gnarly old rhododendrons and oaks which has spanish moss dangling out of branches.
The track is quite cut up and the slippery mud is making it quite difficult to walk. The drizzle has changed into a steady rain. We’re tempted to put on our GoreTex, but the humidity would turn us into mini mobile saunas. So we whip out our umbrellas. The best addition to our trekking kit in years. Small, lightweight, perfect coverage and maximum breathabilty .
Over the next rise we spy a concrete shelter jutting out of the jungle. This is to be our lunch spot, so we run to get there and get out of the rain which splatters big fat drops onto the roof. The remains of several fires litter the floor. Siva immediately sets about cleaning and making the place neater. A dog has followed us up from town and jumps onto a bench and lies down. Siva shoos it
off and it leaves a small pool of blood on the bench. On the ground below the bench is a big fat leech. As long as your index finger and as thick as your thumb. We both screw our noses up, Siva smiles picks it up and puts it to one side. He intends to make fun of Ram who hates leeches with a passion.
We spend the next half hour, chatting, comparing leech bites and getting to know each other.
Soon Ram turns up, he gives us a big toothy grin and starts organising a cooking area for himself. Siva reaches down and puts the leech in front of him, he steps back utters an oath in Nepali . Siva falls about laughing, he picks it up and thrusts it in front of my wife who swears and runs out into the rain. Now all of us a laughing. Ram flicks the leach with a stick out into the jungle and continues to get lunch ready.
We’ve been waiting for about an hour for the porters, usually on the first couple of days they can keep level with us. I’m getting a little nervous, shades of ’96 where we had to wait six hours for them to arrive come to mind.
We hear voices and figure it’s the guys, it turns out to be three Israeli trekkers, their crew is close behind. They say hello, comment about the leeches and move off the track down the hill to a bigger hut.
Eventually Siva goes back down the track to find out what is happening. They all turn up fifteen minutes later with Siva behind.
Ram sets them all to work, washing pots, cutting, peeling and kneading. Ram starts a task and then gets a porter to finish. It’s a delight to watch him, especially when he cuts the cabbage with his Kukhri.
Within 40 minutes we have a 3 course lunch!
I should point out that an organised trek is not exploitation of poor uneducated hill men. The men of these hills have been doing this sort of work for centuries, as most of the trekking routes follow the old trade routes into Tibet and India.
The government by making organised trekking mandatory has in effect guaranteed these men a good way to supplement the family income.
Where this gets twisted is when on High Altitude Expeditions where unskilled porters get put into situations beyond their capability. Dr Jim Duff has organised a fund and awareness program for trekking companies to look after the welfare of porters.
So, the upshot is, if your trekking use porters. It’s good for them and good for you.
The annoying drizzle has turned into solid rain. My wife and I are not exactly jumping to go out, but put our Goretex on and move on up. It’s raining quite solidly and we’re getting quite steamy.
Rivers of water are cutting huge furrows into the track. We keep pushing on up, it’s hot and very beautiful. The colour of the rhododendron bark is a scarlet red , bright orange fungi almost glow on the fallen logs.
It’s still tough walking as the mud sucks at our feet. My wife goes on, head down determined. We get to the top of a rise and start to walk slowly downhill. I don’t mind the change, but realise that for every downhill, means an uphill twice as far. Eventually after a couple of hours with the rain pelting down “again” we reach the small village of Bakim.
At Bakim, a village of two houses , Siva asks if we want to stay here tonight or keep trudging on up into the rain. We have only 5kms to go and it’s tempting to go onwards, and it means we will have to share the lodge with several others. Where as here we can have the Forest Rangers Bungalow for ourselves. We decide to stay here for the night. Siva suggests we move over to another house and have tea. We stoop down low to enter through the door and walk into a dark, smokey room.
An old lady is sitting and cackling in front of the stove. A small child plays with a stone and a piece of string. She looks over and beams a big smile, we nod and say “ Tashi Delek and her smile splits even bigger.
My wife’s wrap is soaked and torn at the ends. The old lady motions her to sit up close to the fire.
A young girl, all smiles, delivers a tray of sweet milky tea, which goes down really nicely.
Ram soon comes in and sits down beside us, we straight away compare our leech bites. We pretend there is one on his neck and he jumps up and squeals slapping his neck. The old lady laughs so hard that tears start to roll down her face. Poor Siva is rolling on the floor holding his stomach. We tell Ram that it is a joke. He laughs and then punches Siva in the arm.
The rain is falling so hard, turning the track into a torrent. We wonder at the amount of water and applaud our decision to stay.
After several cups of tea, we move over to the Rangers Bungalow.
One half is securely padlocked, the other half, although not locked requires a little gentle persuasion. Which Ram duly applies. It’s quite dusty and Siva sets about tidying up a space for us.
The porters who have been squatting under the eaves, waiting for us, groan and stretch, pick up their loads and pile inside. Two of the older guys start making a fire, which fills the room with smoke.
Our dinner is huge. 3 Courses again. We eat only part of it. The porters don’t like this style of food , so the dog has a feast.
After dinner we have a 2 hour card game extravagansa. My wife and Siva ‘v’ Me and Ram. My wife and Siva thrash us. Ram is cheating at every opportunity and they still thrash us.
My wife later admits that they were cheating as well!
We all go to bed pretty exhausted, drift off listening to the rain on the tin roof. My dreams are vivid and crazy. It seems to be a habit at altitude.
“Excellant Bunyip! Thank you.
You and the wife are fortunate to have had such wonderful travels. It's like being along with you reading your accounts.
Did your wife have to wear a wrap skirt out of respect for the local culture?”
Check out Karen Swenson's piece in the arts section of today's Wall str Journal (if you have it available to you). She has a piece on trakking in Dzongria, to see the peak Kanchenjunga, in Sikkim (tiny state in northeast India).
Given the title of your thread I assume that this is the same Sikkim you were in???”
“wow.. bunyip, I feel humbled.. WOW.. nice job!!”
“He makes you feel like you're there, doesn't he?”
“Man what a great trip report.
...and great writing!”
“Was able to get into Sikkim in '90 after the kasmiri incursion from Pakistan, one of the forgotten wonders of the world...
Good trip report, Good on Ya”
“I don't have time right now, going to save this read for lunchtime!”
“Once again great trip report and beautiful writing, everything just jumps out at you when you describe it the way you do. I can`t wait for the next part!
Good on ya!”
Sass, mostly and because they are more practical in the humidity. Higher up she used thermal long johns and shorts.
Lee, Yes this is what we were doing, except we went higher up to Goecha La to see Kanchenjunga.”
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