BPD: Alone, atop a mountain!

(BPD: Alone, atop a mountain!, 23 Apr ‘15)

Starting in a shared taxi from the village homestay in Darap, West Sikkim I was mentally weighing the options before me: the heavy-snowing & pretty landscapes of North Sikkim, -OR- offbeat locales of Zuluk on the Old Silk Route, -OR- an early departure from Sikkim to head towards Bhutan. I had heard a lot about the extremely scenic snow landscapes of North Sikkim around Lachung, Gurudongmar Lake, but they were also on the standard tourist grid and hence were likely to have a lot of tourists in the holiday season of April-May. So, the Silk Route seemed a good option. Further, it didn’t feel like ‘I was done’ with Sikkim yet, so Bhutan had to wait for some more days.

Interestingly, the travel from Pelling in the West to Zuluk in East Sikkim is hardly 180 KM and Google Maps ‘says’ that it can be done in 4 hours. After my travel around this part of the country, I had come to realize that distances are just numbers and aren’t meant to be read beyond that! The highest risk is that of falling rocks on most roads, and landslides come close as a second possibility; this, coupled with the availability of shared-taxis and wait-times involved make this a full-day journey, including a night stay! I planned to halt in the mountains of Reshi, before moving higher-up towards Zuluk by the next morning.

Freshly cleared landslidesA fallen rock, that’s being worked upon

..and this is all one could do in this situation; wait and while away the time!

The multiple legs of the journey were covered across Darap — Pelling(14km) — Jorethang(50km) — Rangpo(45km) — Renok or Rhenack(58km) — Reshi Khola(7km). Starting from Darap at 7AM, I reached Reshi Khola at around 5.30 PM. I got the reference of a mountain homestay in Reshi and as expected, it was so remote that the last motorable road was about 3 km away and one had to hike through a small jungle and then ascend a mountain for about an hour to reach the home! During my travels on road through mountains, I had always looked up in awe at the homes built deep in the mountains with no easy access to roads and safely tucked away amidst the jungles. It was a dream come true to finally stay in such a place, even if it were only for a night.

Delighted kids, just back from schoolA make-shift bamboo bridge

Hike towards the mountainReshi river camp houses, by the way

House visible at the top is the one!The path from the drop-off point in Reshi Khola meanders past the last few houses in road connectivity, and then crosses a logging camp, to go along the clear water streams of the Reshi river for some distance. That location alongside the river seemed to be an emerging tourist spot, with several river-side camps and resorts having recently come up to organize light treks, fishing and picnic. The path from there is a climb up the hill through some dense foliage. Walking alone, following a narrow trail and coming across occasional paint markings on the rock, I was only half-sure that I was on the right track, while it was slowly getting dark. Just as I was about to pull out the head-torch from my backpack to keep it handy, I sighted a home in the distance. Getting closer, I sighted two men seated around a make-shift wooden table that was supported by tree roots. They introduced themselves as the hosts and caretakers for the home stay. The place was a small building with 4 rooms, two each in the ground and first floor, and had basic bedding and toilet facilities. There was a small quarters with a common kitchen stocked with firewood and space for the hosts to stay. With no other guests for the day, all rooms were empty and I had the entire place for myself!

Since there was some light before dusk, I left the backpack and decided to hike down, back to the river and spend some time exploring the place. As a typical mountain under cultivation, there were several layers or levels carved out of the steep mountain to make for some arable area. While, this spot did not have any crops under cultivation, there were small shrubs, some decorative plants and ferns planted at all levels descending down up to the river. On the way, I crossed a very small stream of water amidst lush ground. Walking around the periphery of the water stream, I suddenly noticed an army of big crabs standing in attention ahead of me, with their claws drawn out for the attack! The crabs were black-dark brown and completely camouflaged. It was a reminder that its not only the big animals or snakes that one must watch out for, in such a setting! Retracing my steps back delicately and throwing some stones around in the water to disperse the crabs, I precariously walked on the stones and crossed the stream to safety.

Clear waters of the Reshi river

One of the crabs blocking the way!..and the quirky host, cooking my dinner

The waters of the Reshi ‘Khola’, or ‘river’ in Nepali were clear and the sound of water flowing past the stones and huge rocks was mesmerizing. Had I reached the place in the afternoon, I would have loved to spend the entire afternoon sitting and watching the river flow. With a paucity of time, I hiked back up to the home, again past the crab stream. For dinner, the hosts had cooked dum aloo with dal and roti. While I had the food, one of the hosts played the tabla to the tune of some Nepali songs sung by the other person. This seemed like a daily routine and only source of entertainment for them, for they only had the company of a cat and dog who were lazily lying around them.

After dinner, I retired to the room and spent some time writing. After a couple of hours, hearing some loud barks by the dog, I got out of the room and onto the balcony. The hosts were fast asleep in the adjoining kitchen-quarters some distance away. The dog was nowhere to be seen, as it had run away into the darkness chasing something, and this was a regular feature throughout the night. I was standing there alone, under the 60Watt bulb and staring into the darkness, while there was not a single light or sign of activity to be seen for miles around, even on the other side of the mountain, beyond the river. There was only the calming sound of the river water flowing at some distance down below, mild chirping of some birds and occasional howls and sounds of some small animals in the forest. I sat there for an hour still looking far into the darkness, and it was a different kind of an experience to be felt! In some time, the dog came scurrying back and gently curled and lied down beside me, while I continued to ponder.

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