The Dank Corner

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(source)

He stood looking at the fading green door. He knew his father was somewhere inside. He knew it was about time that he joined him too, but he didn't want to face his father just yet.

Gingerly, he forced himself to enter through the door. His eyes turned to that corner in the living room instinctively. Against his wishes he hoped that he wouldn't have to see his father sitting there. But today was just not the day of liberation. His father was in the dank corner again. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor. His head bowed down in deep meditation. 

Nandan knew better than to observe his father. He went into the attached kitchen to wash his face. It was almost time for dinner in their small faded home. Nandan looked into the kitchen sink. It was full of unclean dishes. With a heavy sigh he turned on the tap and start washing them. It was in times like these that he realized how much he missed his mother.

He missed his mother not because she was good at these things. But because he never paid any attention to what she did when she was around. And now that he has ended up doing her jobs, it occurs to him how patient she was with his father. Just when he was about to light up the stove to start preparing dinner he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye.

His father was standing motionless. His eyes were sunken graves and his face was the graveyard. Nandan took a step back from the stove. His father took his place silently and lit up the stove. The yellow of the fire was reflected in his remorseful eyes. The image of his wife in a bright yellow saree floated in his mind for a moment but he swept it away.

Nandan's father stole a look and searched for signs of distress in Nandan's face. Finding none, he refocused on making dinner. He'd already shared enough piece of his private hell with Nandan. The poor chap needed a break. After all, today was the fifth death-anniversary of the lady of the house. And the number signified something more than the sorrow it evoked.

Maybe today was the day of liberation, Nandan thought as he watched his father's expert fingers chop up the onions. He left the small area to gather his thoughts on this transformation. It was only by pure chance that he wasn't in the kitchen when his father properly smiled for the first time in five years. The smile was what made the dinner delicious. Just like how Nandan's mother used to make it.

The next day the sun shone a little brighter. The home seemed cleaner and smelled of nothing. The whistle of the pressure cooker actually made Nandan happy. And when he rushed to the bathroom to get ready, he saw his freshly clean-shaven, impeccably dressed father combing his hair. His father gave him an all-knowing nod.

On the dusty street leading from their home's gate one could see both of them walking silently. Nandan was on his way to the college. His father was on his way to finally get a job again.

Transparent

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It's been tough taking time out to write. There are enough writing assignments to keep my head busy. Plus, I haven't gotten a chance to explore. This phase has been more of an introspection. The things that have come out, I swear they have scared me enough.

The timing of everything is impeccable. A post-graduation that I was really hoping would help me explore a new world is helping me do it. And obviously it's giving me some things on the side. Like, the ability to juggle a lot of tasks on the table, to start from the bottom. But while I'm on the way to being made more able, I'm realizing that I'm also narrowing down my focus area.

Previously I could have fried a pancake while looking into the phone for a YouTube video showing the trick to me. Now I need to pay attention to both of the tasks one at a time. And even then, my attention span has reduced to such a drastic number that I have started to pity myself.

One of the posters of Amazon's original series, Transparent.
(source)
Why is this post titled Transparent? Mainly because a show by this name has moved me to get down and start doing what I like. There's no direct nudge by the plot that's made me do this. It's just the overall sense of satisfaction that it gave me that made me realize that effort equals something valuable only if you take action.

I've made many promises to myself, the most devoted reader of this blog, during the five years of time that it has been online. I'm not going to shame it by making another. This is a reminder enough to myself. I should pursue my interests no matter what. Excuses don't work when we explain things to ourselves. 

Oh, and bravery is sometimes rewarded pretty well. That's one thing that I've definitely learned from being in an IIM.

Somewhere I Belong

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No, that's not me in the picture.
Salman Khan isn’t even close to being the actors I’m interested in currently. I belong to those category of people who like his 90s version more. Among the things that don’t amuse me as much are long train journeys. I absolutely detest the idea of being restrained to a berth for more than twelve hours. It stresses me out. Sometimes even more than a Salman Khan Eid flick.
 
I had reached Kashipur in an evening train almost a month ago. When it pulled into the station I was already worried about the harassing I’d have to face by auto-rickshaws. But imagine the joy of meeting a group of men with a placard saying ‘Welcome to IIM Kashipur’ by the exit gate! I could have pulled them all into a collective group hug if there wasn’t the risk of being labelled mental so soon. Little did I know that at the same time next day I’d be sitting in Suncity Cinemas watching Salman Khan starrer Sultan with three absolute strangers.
 
I spent the night tossing and turning in my bed. I was too buzzed to sleep. On the one hand I wanted to get up and meet everybody there was to meet, on the other hand my introversion put an invisible handcuff tying me to the steel cot. By the time the sun rose I had decided that this was the time that I came out of the shell. By noon I’d met and remembered ten names and background stories. By evening I was on the way to catch the evening show of Sultan with three brand new friends. One of whom had arrived to Kashipur just two hours ago. And none of whom was a fan of Salman Khan.
 
There’s a kind of a mad consistency about crazy plans living the name. They are actually always crazy. We didn’t know that this demigod’s new film spanned three hours and would make us miss our dinner at the hostel. We didn’t know that we wouldn’t get auto to the college at 10 in the night. We also didn’t know that sometimes the mess staff served food till 10:15 as well, our hostel touchdown time. 
 
It took me a day to get used to the idea of living the hostel life having left the previous college a few years ago. It took me the better part of a month to get used to the idea of sweating constantly having never done this before. Though I hail from Gujarat, have studied in Rajasthan, have worked in Odisha, I have never experienced air so humid that it elicits new kinds of scent from my body.
 
Talking about getting used to things, there is the honking of the bus that will haunt me for years to come now. Every morning the shrill sound hits me as I’m falling over things getting ready and trying to make it to breakfast in time. It’s ironic to think that the object of my joyous surprise of the time when I’d arrived in Kashipur has changed my feeling towards itself so quickly.
 
Talking about getting used to things, there is the quality in the food that will haunt me for years to come now. When I bend in my chair to pick up my pen from the floor, I feel new fat wrapped around my waist. There are pants that I can swear fitted me better just fifteen days ago. Every night I sleep with the resolve of eating a little less the next day. Every night I have to face the shame of failing my previous night’s resolve. I’m jogging in circles.
 
Talking about getting used to things, you’d have thought that you’d get used to my loopy writing style. I know every time I start a repeating sentence you want to take that shoe off and throw it on the screen. I also know that you have made a choice to read this curiously written piece yourself, and you can choose to not waste your time reading it. But I’m extremely humbled and grateful that you’re sticking with it so far.
 
My time at Indian Institute of Management Kashipur hasn’t seen a lot of mornings yet. A testament of that is the fact that until yesterday I didn’t know we can call a carpenter to fix a nail for the round wall clock I’d been balancing on my window for the past month. And yet, even after being here for less than a month, I feel like home already. A major factor is the lack of any recurring complaints in my mind about anything. I’ve settled too comfortably already.

Of course that doesn’t count the kind of rough beatings I’ve been getting in the academic arena. Every time I think I’ve got the hang of things now, and every time I think that the rope I’m walking on has become friendlier, I slip off with an unexpected violent jerk. But, no complaints. This is exactly what I’d signed up for. And nothing makes me happier than deliverance by things that I had high expectations from. Except maybe the kind of happiness the Fruit Custard gives me every Thursday. 
 
There are times when I forget that I am finally where I’ve been aiming to be since the past four years. But the boldly painted words on the yellow bus that waits for me by the hostel gate every morning, and the small sheet of paper pasted on the lectern in all the classes that says ‘IIM Kashipur’ pulls me down to earth and reminds me that this is it.
  
I have managed to reach here by a little bit of old magic, but to pull through with such high expectations I’ve set for myself is a task that’s still undone. Nothing makes me happier than deliverance by things that I had high expectations from. And what I expect from my college is exactly what it expects back from me. Deliverance. The exact reason why along with our esteemed professors, a student of the sixth batch of the Post-Graduation Program was also called on the stage to light the lamp in the inauguration ceremony of the course.

An Accidental Revelation

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Vikas had never seem to notice how rapid the breaths of dogs are. As if for the first time he saw their little bodies shaking in little hiccups. The two dogs were lying on the side of the road trying to beat the heat, their tongue lolling out.

He felt like wanting to do something for them, but time was running out. He pulled another gear and drove forward. Almost immediately a biker cut in front of him and scratched the front of his car in the process. The shock made both of them stop dead. The bike looked undamaged, but there was significant dent in the beauty of his car.

Vikas got out of his car seething with anger. The traffic had paused for a moment and started swerving around them to keep moving on. They were a speck in the universe. But that didn't seem to occur to him when he saw the deep gash on his car. The biker had gotten off and was looking at the scratch from inside the helmet.

Vikas turned towards the biker and started yelling. A lot of anger was glowering inside him, threatening to take over his sanity. He couldn't believe how loud he was. He wouldn't have believed he had the capacity of shouting himself hoarse. But that day, in less than a minute of spewing acid, he could feel his throat choking his words off.

Adding to his astonishment the biker took off his helmet to reveal a small aged man looking extremely morose. The man seemed at a loss of words. He looked at the damage and shrugged dejectedly. He looked at the owner of the car and extended a hand to placate him. The biker seemed so sad that a tear escaped his eyes.

A great sadness filled the Vikas. All his anger was washed down in the sorrow. He had worked hard to buy this car, and that dent would take a lot of time to get fixed. He wanted to break down. But this accident wasn't the reason. He was sorry for yelling at the biker. He knew what mess his own life was in, let alone this biker who must have had his own problems.

The biker stood rooted to the spot. The owner of the car took two steps away, cleared his throat, waved the biker off and got inside his car to leave. The biker was a little astonished. He took a deep breath, got on his own bike and left quickly. The episode was over.

In ten minutes the owner of the car had learned a lot of things. Vikas had gone through an emotional turmoil he couldn't explain. He sighed deeply, and got out of his car. He bought a bottle of water and walked over to the dogs who were still panting in the heat. He could swear after ten minutes of slurping cool water their breathing was calmer.

The Iyers in the Train

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Painting by Bijay Biswaal
(Click image to enlarge)
Every time I board a train a few parallel thoughts race in my head as I scan my fellow passengers. My mind quickly forms opinions about the people inside based on how much they respected the space of others, and how well-arranged their luggage is.

The auntie fanning herself with her soiled legs sprawled on the opposite seat topped my list of people I didn't want to talk to. But as soon as I reached near her she shrank back to let me enter. I automatically smiled at her. My opinion of her had changed instantly.

I stowed my bag away and took a long look at her. She looked well-dressed. A beautiful and crisp saree with a tired face. She was traveling with her husband who sat in a side-lower berth. They looked like they could be Iyers, and I named them so. 

Mr Iyer was busy scanning the man occupying the rest of his berth. He was smiling indecisively. But before he could open a conversation, Mrs Iyer called him to attention. She was ready to serve the dinner. 

Mind you, it wasn't even six in the evening, the train hadn't even moved from the source station, and the Iyers were ready to eat.

The train began moving as Mrs Iyer fished out a box of rice. She divided it into two neat piles, taking her time doing so. On the piles she poured dal. And on each pile she put a pickle. With utmost care she got up and walked over to Mr Iyer to hand over the pyramid of bhaat. Mr Iyer smiled at himself and dug in.

Mrs Iyer returned to her seat and watched him shake side-to-side with the motion of the train. His short white hair were screaming with joy. His shoulder bumped into the man encroaching his berth. But all Mr Iyer saw was his dinner. I could almost feel my stomach grumbling. And that's when it hit me.

Painstakingly I could see my parents in another train eating their dinner together. The Iyers seemed to be of the exact same age. The calm, adjustable Mrs Iyer was actually the opposite of my loud, panicky mother, but somehow I could see them through another perspective. The similarity grew so strong that it started bothering me.

I watched them finish their dinner. Mr Iyer got up, carefully, and went to the trash bin to deposit his paper-plate. Mrs Iyer followed him after he'd returned from this brief excursion. Making use of her absence, Mr Iyer turned to me and asked about my seat in broken Hindi. I understood what he needed. 

He must be looking to swap his upper berths to lower ones. Fortunately I had one lower berth on my name. I happily agreed to swap. 'Happily' is too small a word, actually. In that moment I wanted to believe other young men like me swap their seats for my parents too. Does Karma work that way?

Wanting to do more, I helped set up the bed for both of them. Mr Iyer eagerly helped Mrs Iyer into the lower berth I'd cleared and with a very satisfied smile climbed into his middle berth without further ado. He thanked me in a raspy voice masking a cough. 

I climbed up into the top-most berth and wondered how much similar the life of my parents is exactly. If there is no differentiating line, I wanted them to be as comfortable as the Iyers. It's then when I picked up my phone and called my mother. After three rings I was connected.

Sandakphu - Phalut Trek | Day 4 | Gorkhey

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THURSDAY | 31th DECEMBER, 2015
Phalut -> Gorkhey

Between the mountains, in a valley, I'm writing this from right now. The hamlet is called Gorkhey and is neatly divided by a stream running across it. After reaching the mountain that shelters Gorkhey, I had to get down to this little place.

Sunrise at Gorkhey
Today I witnessed the sun rise from beneath me, again, before lighting up a huge arc of yellow across the horizon. I had to climb a hill to watch the sunlight illuminate Kanchenjunga at 6 in the morning. Of course, ice didn't help the climb. And how can I forget the yaks!
 
That is Mount Kanchenjunga.
At six in the morning, there is not the slightest of light and the yaks are standing there grazing. Their eyes on me as I try to see where I step. Not one yak disturbs the ambiance. They don't like to be noticed.

While getting up there I was wondering why are there not many humans here. There's one answer. The blanket of cold.

The Nepal - India border mark up at Phalut.
First of all there's no electricity. There are two huts on Phalut that make do with solar energy. Then there's the issue of supplies being expensive and late. And then at the end is the paralyzing cold.

Every morning there's a cute little sheet of ice covering everything that you can walk on. In a few weeks, it'll be a few feet of snow instead.
 
The view from the hut at Phalut where I stayed.
Leaving Phalut early at 8 after sunrise, I found myself in Gorkhey, 14 km away in four hours. The walk was through the woods, and scary. The guide kept scaring me with stories about bears and wild boars and I swear there was a moment a hustle in the woods scared the be-Jesus out of me!

I bathed for the first time in days in the cold water after reaching Gorkhey. The desperation had driven sanity away. Then I took a walk across the village, hopped on the stones in the stream and came back to my room to read.

The path to Gorkhey is completely covered with trees
with sunlight managing to barely penetrate.
The sound of the water gushing makes for a perfect background score. Wherever you go in this small valley, the water is always gushing.

Incidentally, it is the new year's eve today. Today could be my last day of the trek but I wanted it to last, and hence the stay here when we could have walked on after a brief lunch here to someplace where I'd get a taxi to Darjeeling tomorrow.

The hut where I stayed at in Gorkey.
I counted down to the new year here.
In fact, I'm so attached to the idea of making this experience last longer that I'll make the night stay at another unnecessary village tomorrow. After all, my return train is on Sunday. I have loads of time!

Oh, by the way, it has just started raining here. That means it will snow in Sandakphu and Phalut. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the news, for I've never seen snow fall, but my guide says it's good that I've not encountered it on my trek.

Please use the links below to start from the beginning if you've landed on this post directly, or to go to the next day of my trek if you're interested in reading more.

Day 0 | Darjeeling
Day 1 | Tumling
Day 2 | Sandakphu
Day 3 | Phalut
Day 4 | Gorkhey
Day 5 | Rimbick

Sandakphu - Phalut Trek | Day 3 | Phalut

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WEDNESDAY | 30th DECEMBER, 2015
Sandakphu -> Phalut

Today was the most challenging and riskiest day of the trek. I had to reach Phalut from Sandakphu, 21 km away, without any prior booking for a room to stay. Apparently, Phalut has only two huts with a very few number of rooms.

If I hadn't found a room here, I'd have to walk down to Gorkha, 12 km away, for a room. Thankfully, that didn't happen. I found a room because some group pulled out at the last minute.

The majority of the route is traceable here if you look closely.
The day opened with the trekkers fumbling in the dark to reach the best spot possible on Sandakphu to watch the sun rise and light up Kanchenjunga and the Everest. I was among them and managed to capture both of the sentiments using my amateur skills.
  
Mount Kanchenjunga, the second highest peak in the world,
as visible from Sandakhphu.
The sun always rises from above the most of the land when you're up in the mountains. As you can see, the gleaming line of yellow announces the coming of the star and right in the middle you will find the orb that has instant warming effect on the body.
  
The sun rising from Sandakphu.
Today was also the most beautiful day of the trek. The sight was a constant coaxing from Mt Everest and Kanchenjunga to go on as I covered more than twenty hills during the trek. Falling along the way were beautiful meadows with no trace of trees. My guide informed me that most of them were burnt in a huge forest fire decades ago.
 
The visible effect of the decade-old forest fire that burned everything to the ground.
I also came across some gentle yaks in these meadows. I couldn't help but laugh as they played around on the slopes. The leader kept eyeing me suspiciously as I clicked some photos. It had distinctive red decoration hanging from its ears to mark it apart from the others.
  
The yaks grazing on the meadows.
Kanchenjunga visible in the background.
The climb was, as usual, tough. It took a lot of energy to make that steep climb of the last two kilometres. Of course, clouds came in the way. I would love cursing them, but how can I! My heart was elated all the time!

It was such an emotional journey, being so far away from the din of the city, and everything that it brings along, walking through iced paths and beholding the Everest at every rest stop, that I had tears of joy when I finally reached the hut.

The view from my room is spectacular. The clouds are still in place so I can't click pictures of the view yet, but let's hope they clear by tomorrow morning. I do not want to miss the sight of Kanchenjunga. 
  
The lower hut, only the roof of which is visible, was where I stayed in Phalut.
Did I mention, Kanchenjunga, the second-highest peak in the world, is exactly 48 km away from Phalut peak! So large and so close that wherever you look, you'll find them. Of course, the goddamned clouds haven't let me take my share of looking yet. 

Please use the links below to start from the beginning if you've landed on this post directly, or to go to the next day of my trek if you're interested in reading more.

Day 0 | Darjeeling
Day 1 | Tumling
Day 2 | Sandakphu
Day 3 | Phalut
Day 4 | Gorkhey
Day 5 | Rimbick

Sandakphu - Phalut Trek | Day 2 | Sandakphu

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TUESDAY | 29th DECEMBER, 2015
Tumling -> Kalapokhri -> Sandakphu

I'm at some 3.6 km height from the sea level. To put this into perspective, the highest peak in the world, visible to me from where I am, Mt Everest, is some 8 km high. Which means that I'm almost halfway between ground and the Everest peak.

I'm at Sandakphu covered with two blankets and one comforter yet shivering violently. When I peed after my dinner, I swear, I could see little bit of steam come out as well. And, while this should be covered in the next post, when I tried to use water to wipe myself after emptying my stomach in a long session, the water in the bucket was actually frozen.

I used the tumbler as a hammer and broke some ice-water out from the bucket and washed my behind. People, readers, this isn't a joke, it really happened. If you want to use the toilets up on the top, please make sure you have usable, warm water before starting to do anything in a hurry.

Way ahead from Tumling.

Let's begin the narration for today from Tumling, where I stayed last night. Today I started at 8. The two major stops were Kayapatta and Kalapokhri. Usually trekkers stop at Kalapokhri for the night, and I was about to do the same too, remember? Sandakphu is only 6 km away from Kalapokhri, but the climb is incredibly steep at some 45° incline. It's discouraging and recommended to be climbed on a fresh morning.

But I climbed at such speed today that we were in Kalapokhri by lunch time, which is 14 km from Tumling. It took me 5 hours to cover that 14 km, and, hold your breath, 4 hours to cover the steep incline of 6 km to Sandakphu!

The route that finally makes us enter the Singalila National Park.
Lucky trekkers, and it's rare, can spot Red Pandas here.
In total, I've covered 20 km today. Counting yesterday, the total I've walked on the trek is now 34 km.

All through the route today were frozen streams, a little bit of snow and a breathtaking view of the majestic Kanchenjunga once. We walked through jungles, took shortcuts and braved the steep incline after the sun had set at 5.

There's ice behind me!
Nothing makes this painful trip worth more than what I saw while on my way here. There was time when I could look at several mountains, including the one that has Darjeeling, and then watch them get covered by clouds. 

When the sun set, it just hid in the clouds. I could look down at the orange glow from the edge of a hill. It lit up the clouds like bright pink cotton candy. The same happened at the sunrise the next day, but I'll cover that in the next post. This isn't the time yet.

We had khichdi for both lunch and dinner at separate places and I can say which tasted better. Food is great up here. Expensive, but delicious. The khichdi cost me Rs 150 and Rs 180 respectively.

A hut where I could buy Yak cheese from.
And a cup of black tea.

I still am not much fatigued, which my guide can't stop appreciating. Apparently, majority of people who left from Tumling only made it till Kalapokhri. But now the question that faces me is whether or not I want to continue to Phalut. The guide says the weather might get bad and there might not be rooms available there.

Phalut has only two huts on the peak. Both of them rent out rooms to trekkers, but fill up fast. So if you haven't made bookings ahead, you're running the risk of not having a place to stay in at the night. Please, mark my words, plan ahead and make bookings if you trek on this route. Do not miss Phalut. It is the best part of this trek.

It's 8 PM and I want to sleep. Tomorrow, the first ray of the sun will hit Kanchenjunga and I don't want to miss it for the world! Oh, did I mention, four of the top five peaks in the world are visible from Sandakphu! All of them, neatly arranged in a row for us to gaze at.
 
The Kanchenjunga behind me as visible from Tumling.
Please use the links below to start from the beginning if you've landed on this post directly, or to go to the next day of my trek if you're interested in reading more.  

Day 0 | Darjeeling
Day 1 | Tumling
Day 2 | Sandakphu
Day 3 | Phalut
Day 4 | Gorkhey
Day 5 | Rimbick

Sandakphu - Phalut Trek | Day 1 | Tumling

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MONDAY | 28th DECEMBER, 2015
Darjeeling -> Maney Bhanjang -> Tumling 

Today I took a bath in hot water in my hotel room at Darjeeling and set off for the taxi-stand with my wet towel hanging on the arm. Unsurprisingly, there were already two people waiting in the taxi-stand for more people to get into the shared taxi to Maney Bhanjang. I had endeavored to reach the taxi-stand by 8, and I did too. But it wasn't until 9 that the three of us decided to hire the entire taxi and leave for Maney Bhanjang without waiting for more passengers.

The road was bumpy and scary, but we reached Maney Bhanjang with high spirits. To my unfortunate luck they informed that it wasn't snowing on the trek route currently. The temperature was well below freezing point, but no snow yet. The taxi driver charged Rs 170 each to the three of us for the ride, and he also let in another passengers en route.

For a while the couple and I were planning to share one guide for the trek, but I figured they were slow climbers and had a different route than what I had in mind, so we split as per our original plans. I took a guide at Rs 700 per day for five days and by 11:00 my guide and I were ready to start climbing.

Maney Bhanjang to Chetri climb.
Maney Bhanjang to Chetri was the first steep climb. It was walk of 2 km and it actually made me realize how trekking isn't a joke. Trekking must be taken seriously and with utter sincerity. This walk of 2 km took me an hour to complete and by the time it was over, I was hungry and desperate for the breakfast I had skipped in the morning.
 
Trekking is a tiring job. Luckily, all that working out and jogging helps. The bag on your back weighs 10 to 15 kg and you walk behind your guide through a mix of wilderness and paved path. There could be ups and downs, quite literally, and they will knock the breath out of you.

But in all fairness, trekking is equally rewarding. Right now, as I'm writing this, my guide is playing a guitar near a fireplace. We're sipping Tumba, a Nepali millet fermented drink. It's almost time for dinner at the guesthouse in Tumling. But the route to Tumling hasn't been easy.

The hut where I breakfasted in Chetri.
From Chetri the climb was a little simpler till Lamidura 4 km away. I was feeling perfectly all right when we reached there. Not much shaken. The sun was out all shining, and mountains basking in the glory.

All around the trek route are breathtaking sight of Sandakphu peak and the green hills. No sound except your breath and your steps against the rocks. Silence so extreme that it weighs you down. You feel it crawling on your skin.

The winding route took us to Meghma next, 3 km away. Chowmein, excellent one at that, having caught me so hungry, was served for the second lunch near another army base. Later, to my realization, I saw that on the entire route of the trek there were army bases positioned called Sashastra Sena Bal (a.k.a. SSB).
  
Meghma with the SSB camp on the right.
The most beautiful sights of the day are witnessed here. There was a horse grazing, standing so tall and proud, on a peak somewhere far away. Darjeeling is barely visible, you can only make out the white of the establishment. And you get to look at your route to Tumling.

The final destination of the day was Tumling, the scene of which I described above, 2 km away, in Nepal. In total, I must have climbed 12 km today. Some people don't go to Tumling, but stay in a place called Tonglu for the first night. Tonglu is higher in altitude than Tumling and has a different route altogether, but the next day, everybody is on the same route to Kalapokhri.

The room I've acquired is beautiful and so cosy! The guesthouse has a fireplace roaring. The rent for the night is a mere Rs 250. There is no mobile network, and again, to another realization, I saw that there was no network for Indian phones throughout the trek route. So beware!

In Tumling's guest house here groups of trekkers are sitting around, sharing experiences. The atmosphere swells the heart, even though the feet are aching. The faces are all excited and wondering what's to come next.

Guitar is changing hands and voices singing in Nepali, English and Hindi are low. Tomorrow everybody is going to attempt to reach Kalapokhri, 14 km away. That is the next destination for all. A night stay at Kalapokhri and then the walk to Sandakphu on the third day.

The night stay at Tumling.
Sandakphu is 6 km of incredible steep walk from Kalapokhri. After that I'll return and not go to Phalut. Time is short, and frankly, the cold is killing. I have a return train to catch and my guide says sticking to the regular plan is good for the trek.

I cannot put into words the things I've seen, the fun I'm having and the excitement of things that are waiting for me. The only problem with this trek, apart from the daunting challenge of climbing itself, is that bathing is out of the question.

The dinner was simple and delicious. Rice, daal, sabji and roti in buffet. Nothing fancy, simple dishes made with elaborate care. Loads of butter on top and warm water on the side.

I have to come right out and say it, all the pains of getting to this place tonight are worth it. Of course, as you can notice on the route visible in the links below, I didn't stay at Kalapokhri the second night. I kept walking up to Sandakphu because I was feeling awesome and wild. My guide was surprised by how quick and sturdy my walk was.

I want to warn anybody planning to trek on this route. You should only make steel-clad plans after you've walked enough to see if you can stick to your plans. Always underestimate yourself when climbing a mountain. It helps.

Please use the links below to start from the beginning if you've landed on this post directly, or to go to the next day of my trek if you're interested in reading more.

Day 0 | Darjeeling
Day 1 | Tumling
Day 2 | Sandakphu
Day 3 | Phalut
Day 4 | Gorkhey
Day 5 | Rimbick

Sandakphu - Phalut Trek | Day 0 | Darjeeling

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SUNDAY | 27th DECEMBER, 2015

If you've been generous enough to let me occupy some space in your Facebook wall feed, you probably have an inkling that I went to some deserted mountains and clicked a few pictures for Instagram.

Here is an account of what else I did there presented informatively so in case you're persuaded of visiting the beautiful place yourself, it's easier to plan. It took me a while to make sure I am making no mistakes, but let my experience be a lesson here.

My journey had begun on 26th December, boarding a train to New Jalpaiguri (a.k.a. NJP) from Bhubaneswar (a.k.a. BBSR). It was difficult sleeping in the train. Some excited souls in the next compartment kept chattering late into the night. Thankfully, the train was late enough to let me make up for the time. The journey was a total of 20 hours.
  
The taxi booth for pre-paid cars outside NJP Railway Station.
Getting off at NJP station and looking for taxi to Darjeeling is fairly easy. Either get in the queue for a reserved pre-paid taxi (some Rs 2000 for a whole car to yourself), or let a driver take you to his sharing taxi (some Rs 200 for a seat). Or if you've been smart enough to go to IRCTC and book seats in the toy train, cheers for you!

Though, I must warn you, trekkers who I met later who took the toy train were left utterly dissatisfied. They hated the journey. Also, the train takes double to triple the time (7 to 8 hours) it takes to get to Darjeeling by taxi (3 hours). 

On the way from NJP/Siliguri to Darjeeling,
the driver takes a tea-break for convenience.
I had no hotel bookings. I got off when the taxi halted and roamed around checking tariffs. After a going through a few hotels, which were literally sitting in one line because the entire place is full of lodges and hotels, I got one to make mine for a day at Rs 800. The business for tourists is so booming there that private properties explicitly write PRIVATE on their doors.

Bathing was a torture in Darjeeling. There was no fan to dry my towel under. In fact, I later realized, there are no fans in Darjeeling anywhere. They don't even have the hooks in the ceilings. There is rare spotting of a thing called the sun which helps if you're a tourist, otherwise the locals are used to the cold.

Walking is also a difficult task because the roads aren't horizontal. They're always either inclined, or declined. Of course a day of walking prepares you mentally that there's no escape from this.

Chowk Bazaar market provides cheap apparels,
in case you've forgotten to bring enough warm clothes.
Another thing worth noticing is how chilled everything they serve is, unless they heat it. For example, water. The goddamned water is always, always super chilled. Not that heating it would make things okay. But, no refrigeration needed.

Oh, and the city closes really early. By 20:00, when you'd have collected enough courage to step out to have some hot soup with a plate of momos, you'd find that all the shops are closed. You'd have to kill your heart and eat something at the local Pizza Hut.

I'm writing this well into the night, covered with three kinds of blankets and still shivering. I am so worried about the trek starting tomorrow because it might be snowing. But I've come all this way to do this, and this is no time to act a pussy.

Let this be a warning to everybody out there. Think twice before you visit a hill station in winter. Tomorrow I'll have begun my trek. For those who have no idea where I'm trekking, following is an idea.

Accessible from Darjeeling is a place called Maney Bhanjang, from where a trekking route begins to a peak called Sandakphu. Sometimes trekkers also move on to a peak called Phalut from Sandakphu. Phalut and Sandakphu are so loved because these two peaks offer you the chance of looking at four of the world's five highest peaks in the world.

Among these four highest peaks in the world are Mt Everest and Kanchenjunga. Also fascinating is the fact that Kanchenjunga is only 48 km away from Phalut as a crow flies. So you can imagine the sight of the mountain is breathtaking.

The city of Darjeeling.
In the backdrop is Kanchenjunga.
Of course, to get to these two peaks, Sandakphu and Phalut, you have to either walk, or hire a four-wheel drive Landrover.  The trek is usually 100-km long if you go to Phalut and return, and this takes a total of six to seven days. It is mandatory to hire a guide from the local Guide Association (some Rs 600 per day) and this really helps.

I finished this trek in five days. My guide says I did so well because I try to keep fit by jogging and working out regularly in my mundane life. If that's the case, I'll never stop trying to keep fit.

Following is the list of my account of each of my trek day. I hope I am able to capture the emotions I experienced efficiently enough to inspire somebody else to go on this trek. If not, thanks for reading anyway. Please click on the link to proceed. (Note: Links might take a few days to get activated.)

Day 0 | Darjeeling
Day 1 | Tumling
Day 2 | Sandakphu
Day 3 | Phalut
Day 4 | Gorkhey
Day 5 | Rimbick