BPD: Re-tracing the ancient Silk Route

(BPD: Re-tracing the ancient Silk Route, 24 Apr ‘15)

Rising at 3.30 AM, I got ready to start our ride up the mountain from Zuluk. As we crossed the first army camp, there were watchful eyes monitoring movement at the early hour. A 45 minute drive up took us to the Thambi view point that offers a great view of the Zuluk village. The highlight of this point is the full view of zig-zag road that one can see leading up from the village. Its an engineering marvel to have constructed around 32 zig-zag roads around the mountain, which is also called the ‘bhool bhulaiya’ road since one can’t figure out at any point whether the roads are leading up or down, since its a maze of criss-cross.

These were the very roads that were part of the ancient silk route, that connected the ancient civilizations of the world from the West to East — across the continents of Asia, Europe and Africa over 2000 years back. Apart from helping transport Chinese Silk to the west, this route helped exchange a variety of goods, apart from delivering an exchange of cultures and religions across the continents!

Zig-zag roads on Old Silk Route..with the Kanchenjunga range as backdrop

Looking across from the Thambi view point, we got a clear view of the Kanchenjunga and this time I was ever grateful for the view and promptly took a number of snaps, to make up for the foolishness, during my first sighting at Darjeeling! Just as we were about to start from the place, we sighted the famed Himalayan Monal. The Monal belongs to the pheasant family and has a body that is a riot of bright metallic colours — numerous shades of blue, red, orange & green. It is as colourful as the peacock, but slightly smaller in size and has a nice, graceful flight. Before I could pull out the camera, it vanished from sight.

Roads sloping upward..and some with a downward spiral

We then moved further ahead from the Thambi point towards the sunrise point to get a better view of the mountains, when we crossed an outpost of the 2 Madras regiment that is currently stationed in this mountain. Just then the name ‘thambi’ of the point seemed to make sense, since this is so non-Sikkimes of all the names I had come across. I later found out that there was a jawan of the 2 Madras regiment who lost his life here and hence the point has been named as ‘thambi’ or ‘brother’ point. The regiment might move elsewhere, but the name has stuck.

Half-frozen water pot-holes..and a ‘glass’ sheet pulled from the water

A puzzled YakFresh-snow covered mountains

Reaching the sunrise point which was about 10 km further away, we encountered traces of the fresh snowfall of the previous day, and interestingly came across holes in the road that were water-filled and half-frozen. The area was half-covered in snow and the mountains looked majestic as ever, covered in white. We walked around to crunchy sounds from the snow and finally decided to turn back since the permit provided was only upto this point. On the way down, back to the village, we were lucky to get 2 more instances of Monal sighting, once with its pair. Just as in the peacock family, the male is brightly colored and attractive, while the female is of the same size but of a more moderate brownish shade. Both the instances, the Monal obliged for a photograph from up close and I snapped it right next to a rhododendron tree.

The Himalayan monal, taking a walk..another shot next to the rhododendrons

On the way back, we crossed several batches of Army jawans jogging up until various altitude points, as part of their acclimatisation schedule over 10 days, before they move to be stationed at higher altitudes in this area. This was a systematic program devised to avoid issues like High Altitude Sickness in the mountains.

Getting back to the home stay, I was about to leave when I was forced to have a bowl of thukpa, prepared from wai-wai noodles, the Nepal based company that holds the monopoly in this part of the country. With a heavy heart, I bid goodbye to the family, based on the ties forged over the previous day and moved ahead on my journey towards Bhutan.