The waving hands of Pushai Daju, Dhanlal and Sandeep gradually faded off as our car took its turn from Pathing, on its way to Singtham. With its every passing turn, my mind was rewinding back to the life that we led for the last few days, far from the madding crowd. This is the epilogue of a fabulous trek that we underwent in April’2015 that took off from Borong, an upcoming tourist spot in South Sikkim. Our destination was Pathing, yet another lesser known spot in Sikkim, via Maenam (Also spelled as Mainam). The conventional route to Maenam trek is from Ravangla, but this time, we took the route hardly treaded…
We were a team of four and our main motive was to explore this uncharted trail. I was particularly excited as it was my trek venture after a long gap of three years. Our journey started from Kolkata and in order to reach Borong, we needed to reach Ravangla. Reaching Ravangla was quite a fun – four wanderlusting souls, leaving away all the tensions and worries of the mundane world, off to the quest for the unknown. A filling breakfast, a cheerful driver, a good weather – enough to rocket our spirit to the sky height. As anticipated in the mountains, the weather changed drastically and it started raining quite fiercely at Ravangla. We had a tough time in arranging for a car that would take us till Borong as the drivers were quite apprehensive to drive till Borong because of the rainfall, which, in turn, might instigate a landslide. After much fuss and ado, and a lot of negotiation on the rate, we finally managed to convince a driver who would take us till Borong. At Borong, our stay was at Mahendra’s house, which was arranged from Kolkata beforehand. At Mahendra’s place, we were greeted with “Khaada,” a traditional Sikkimese neckwear, intended to welcome the guests. Though I’ve been to Sikkim many a times before, this was my first experience of a Khaada. The eventful day came to a full circle when we were treated with one of the most elaborate dinners I ever had, in a regale fashion. Tired we four were, we crashed out, before which, we made sure that our sacks were all packed properly for the trek which was supposed to start from the next morning.
From Borong, three guides joined us – Darga Bahadur (aka Pushai Daju), Dhanlal and Sandeep. They already had arranged for the permit to trek through Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary. A car was ready to take us till Phamtham, from where, our trek actually began. We didn’t take any breakfast from Borong, as we planned to have it from Phamtham. But unfortunately, there wasn’t any option for breakfast at Phamtham. We were a bit disappointed as hiking through an unknown trail without a proper breakfast, to some extent, demotivated us. As we had no other choice, we started walking. It was a steep incline, right from the very beginning. After walking for the first few minutes, we chanced upon a hut and requested one of the family members to prepare some tea. He was kind enough to approve our request. The tea was accompanied by the dry foods actually meant to be had during walking. That meant there was a chance of a shortfall of our resource, in case anything went wrong during the trek. We carried on, after spending a while at that place. Again a grueling incline, which started to get the better of us. Once again, we realized the importance of proper food that one should have before undertaking anything that is physically demanding. With time, our morale also started giving up; slowly but surely. To add to the woes, there was hardly any trace of water along the route. Pushai Daju, the only person amongst us to have visited this trail earlier, broke the news that there wasn’t any water source either till we reach a place called “Nikas,” and it was another four hours arduous uphill walk from there. One common point amongst us was the fact, we could ignore any trouble to our best and could keep our good cheer intact. It’s more said than done, but that’s the magic of our understanding or camaraderie. We moved on, with occasional rest and little dry foods to ensure that we are rationing our water till we are reaching a water point.
A very important detail I missed, I have never seen anything as green, and the vegetation so dense that the trees lost track of whose leaves were whose. It was a painting palette with an infinite number of one color, GREEN, of all possible shades. Everything was either green or in the process of becoming so… I recalled of my previous trek to Neora Valley National Park, which was, perhaps, the only comparison to the trail that we were following. It was more of a kind of exploration, making our way by clearing the jungle as the route was absolutely virgin. We were amazed to see the acumen of Pushai Daju, the lone person in the group who had visited this route earlier, though that was quite sometimes back. His judgment was impeccable and we all were following him – blindly, as he “sniffed” his way through the forest. Thankfully, we were not troubled by the leeches, so pretty relaxed from that perspective. The forest was becoming thicker and thicker and the incline steeper. Finally, we could hear the sound of a gushing stream. Yes, water after four hours of grueling, tiring walk !!! We had to walk down for another five minutes to reach the water point. An open space, which came as a breather after our stint with the claustrophobic jungle. Never did the water taste so sweet !!! That was Nikas, finally. We refilled ourselves with dry food and our bottles with water. Our dear guides busied themselves collecting “Nikro” and “Shimlai” two local edible plants. After spending about half an hour at Nikas we moved on, towards Dolodunga, where we planned to end our first day’s trek. The trail to Dolodunga was pretty much the same, and was for another four hours or so. Nothing interesting about this phase, except that our bottles got finished within a short while and we started getting muscle cramps. It was getting more and more difficult to walk. We were hungry, tired and frustrated. Never in my life did I crave for food like the way I was craving then. After a three-hour hike into the jungle we finally reached an open area to break for the day, the last phase of the trek being purely on our grit and determination as it was next to impossible to move any further because of the surmounting pains of our muscle cramps. Immediately after pitching our tents, we lit our stove and prepared food which brought us back to life. A hot noodles soup came like heaven’s blessings. We were re-energized and after resting for a while, began preparing for our dinner. After dinner, we didn’t have much activity other than to chalk out the plan for the next day and to slip into our sleeping bags. Needless to mention, the sleep that we slept was one of the sweetest of our lives.
Our sleep broke with the call of one of the guides, “Barking dear, Sir… come fast” We rushed out of our tent to trace it but were not lucky enough to get a glimpse of that elusive animal. It evaded us though we could still hear its bark. We contemplated the vast landscape, miles and miles of green forest, untouched pure jungles and feared that the day, perhaps, is not far, when vehicles should be plying through this jungle – we considered ourselves lucky. It was a time to move on. We had our breakfast, dismantled the tent and cleaned the campsite, leaving no trace of settlement. We came to know from our guides that our next destination is Maine, a couple of hours walk from Bhaledunga, through the valley. It was an enjoyable walk, not much of jungle and weather very much in our favor. We had an ample of time in our hand, so were pretty reluctant in walking and in a short while, reached Maine.
The so called “campsite” surprised us. It was a small patch of flat land amidst a dense and almost impenetrable forest and we came to know from our guides that it was the only feasible place where the tents could be pitched. The water source was a stream, just a minute’s walk from the campsite. We were immensely happy to pitch our tent at such a location, after negotiating enough of thorns and pricks and no doubt, that was the best I ever had experienced. The density of the forest and the water source were a combination enough for any wild animal reside at Maine. So, without taking any further risk, our guide lit up a big fire, which served the dual purpose for cooking as well as to keep wild animals at bay. The day came to an end with some idle chats and a sumptuous dinner.
Our next destination was Maenam, which, we were told, was a distance of around of 4 hours, if we walk at an easy pace. But considering the density of the jungle, we made a brisk move. Mistakenly, one of our guides took a slightly different path and somewhat got lost in the jungle. We could hear, but couldn’t see each other hence, beginning to worry. However, he was smart enough to make his way back and join us. We breathed a sigh of relief… Within half an hour, we came to an amazing landscape called Bhalutar. It was a vast, flat land, with green, velvety grass. We didn’t want to let the opportunity of taking rest at that place go by. We were happy… happy like anything. It had all the prospect of becoming a beautiful campsite, except for the fact, there wasn’t any water available during the time we went there. However, our guides assured us that water becomes available post monsoon. From Bhalutar, we could see a riot of colors when we looked towards the distant hills – It was the time of rhododendrons; they were in their full bloom and the hills seemed to be color palettes themselves. We spent almost an hour relaxing there and making phone calls to our friends and families as we were pleasantly surprised to find the availability of mobile network at that place. Although we were not at all in a mood to leave that place, we had to, for the sake of completing the trek.
The vast flat land at Bhalutar gave its way to the dense forest once again. It was evident that footfalls in that trail was rare. Once again, our porter friends engaged themselves in clearing the jungle so as to make our way. The texture of the path changed drastically when the dense forest all on a sudden gave its way to a stone laid path – we were informed that we have almost reached “Bhaley Dunga.”
Bhaley Dunga is a suspended spur resembling a rooster’s head overlooking the Yangyang village. It has a small shrine where our friends offered their Puja. We spent some time sitting on the edge and enjoying the thrill. Yangyang village was prominently visible from there, though we could make out that the path is quite steep. From Bhaley Dunga, Maenam is another 30 minutes or so. We strolled along the stone paved path, often laden with red rhododendrons – it seemed that Maenam set up a red carpet to welcome us. There is always a question about the availability of water at Maenam during pre-monsoon. We saw several incomplete reservoirs and dug outs for storing water, but either they were empty or the water too dirty to be used. Also, few other constructions giving a feel that the days are no longer when hotels should be set up at Maenam top. But, the question remained – should we be able to find a water source? It was seemingly difficult to find the water source. Our porter friends suggested us to move towards a place called “Kachpatti,” on the Maenam Valley itself where there is a feeble chance of getting water. So, we went ahead for another five minutes or so.
Our porter friends went out to scan for the probable water source and I joined them too. And their assumption was right. After minutes of search, they finally could locate it. There was indeed a trickling stream that came out of nowhere. As it was pre monsoon, the stream thinned out, but still, good enough for our next two days stay at Maenam. We finally pitched our tents and prepared our lunch. Though it was mid April, temperature was dripping fast and it was getting quite cold. So, instead of lazing inside the tent, we thought it best to walk around that would serve the dual purpose of exploring the place and keeping ourselves warm. There were many huge trees, don’t know how old they were, absolutely barren. A thick layer of fog draped those trees creating apparitions and evoking a sense of uncanny eeriness. The only sound we could hear was that of a strong wind that was only enhancing the thrill and chill, as if, all those ghostly trees were laughing at us, no less than a perfect Sir Alfred Hitchcock movie plot !!! There were a couple of resting places which bore the evidence of trekkers visiting that place. But during that time, probably we were the only human beings on Maenam top. Evening was descending, so we returned to our camp. We engaged in preparing our dinner. After dinner we had some idle chitchats before we surrendered ourselves to sleep.
We woke up quite early in the morning with an expectation of witnessing Kanchenzungha range. The weather was good and they showed off – A streak of white in the distance emanating from the pitch darkness and how the color transformed ! It was ethereal a feeling. Soon, the darkness was over and it was a bright, blue, sunny morning. There were crusts of verglas here and there. It was so hard to imagine the contrast in temperature in Kolkata then and Maenam. We had yet another day to stay at Maenam, so, an ample of time to explore the place all the more.
We were wrong in assuming that we were the only human beings up there on Maenam top. A few minutes walk from Kach Patti (The place on Maenam where we pitched our tents) leads to a monastery. There is a monk who stays there for meditation. We caught a glimpse of him and exchanged smiles but it was evident that he was somewhat apprehensive of our presence. Later we came to know that he was observing “Mouna Brata,” that is, the vow of silence. He was a solitary monk and our presence did have reasons enough to astray him. We realized that and soon left that place. The remaining part of the day was rather uneventful except the delicious food we had and that, we were enjoying the place perfectly. At the same time, we realized that the time to leave the place was nearing by.
The next day after breakfast, we dismantled our tents. Though we planned initially to make it to our dear old Ravangla, our porter friends suggested a new place named Pathing. We have been to Ravangla many a times before, so, the prospect of visiting a new place was quite enticing for us. We took the stone trail through the jungle. There were resting places almost at every corner of the trail and we didn’t miss any chance to relax, even though, we were not tired at all. We were, actually, not at all in a mood to leave that place so wanted to spend as much time as we could. But, there were still a lot of surprises awaiting for us. While we were coming from Maine to Maenam, the thick forest all on a sudden gave way to a stone paved path, this time, it was just the other way round. The occasional resting places, the stone laid path vaporized all on a sudden leaving us in the middle of a thick jungle. We came to know from our porter friends that there are three trails one of which leads to Pathing and the others, to different destinations. There was a small confusion amongst them as to which one to follow. We took one of the trails. It was evident that footfalls in that trail was rare. It was bushy with a jungle of ferns those were creating a stinging sensation if touched. And there was no chance we could avoid that. We negotiated the thick foliages, proceeded for about forty five minutes, only to be informed that we have taken the wrong direction and that, we have to walk back. That wasted some time. So, we returned and took the second track. That trail, too, was equally bushy and once again, after sometime, were informed, was wrong. The only option left was to follow the final trail. The trail wasn’t difficult, except at places, and the annoying ferns which were pricking us every now and then. There was still a long way to go and those lost tracks affair had already wasted some time. There was no sign of water in that route, which were somewhat worrying us as our ration already was on the verge of being finished. We ignored our thirst and kept walking and after a couple of hours came across a small temple. We were amazed to see the spirit and faith of the people to have set up a temple at such a remote dense forest. But we were happy that a temple is a prospective place for water availability. And yes, we could see a tap there ! But all our hopes fizzled out to discover the tap has dried out. It was nothing more than a mirage for us. So, without wasting further time we made our move. We walked for another few hours and began to witness prominent but discrete signs of human settlement. We came across a small monastery but water was still unavailable there which came as a shock to us…. and there was another hour or so to reach Pathing, so, we gathered all our grit to face our final battle of endurance. Finally, we reached Pathing when it was almost evening. Our grueling test of almost seven hours finally ended. There was only one homestay in Pathing (and probably still the only one till now) where we received a warm welcome and yes, lots of water. The place was quiet and serene, much to our likings. The food was great and so was the “Thumba.” All of us joined in the good cheer at the end of a thrilling trek.
Our night at Pathing ended. We left the place the next morning as the service jeeps were about to start soon. We bade farewell to our lovely porter friends who guided and guarded us all through the wild jungle. Deep down, we formed a deep bonding with them and it was extremely emotional a moment to bid good bye…
… Their waving hands started to fade off, but it was just the beginning of a long term relationship with them. And it still continues.