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Monastic/Marathon Trek in Sikkim Province

We departed from Pelling early in the morning, after two days of damp cloudy weather, the skies cleared and the Himalayas made an appearance, just in time for our trek. We had planned a four day trek/walk throuth Western Sikkim, taking in most of the regions monasteries. Our first day was slated as a 19km hike from Pelling to Khecheopalri Lake, a Holy lake to both Buddhists and Hindus. Pelling and Khecheopalri lie directly accross from each other, on either side of a deep valley. According to our guidebook we could follow "an obvious trail" right outside Pelling that would lead us to the lake, or we could follow the road. Not spotting the obvious trail, we chose to follow the road, passing through all the small villages on the way. We had a lovely morning, downhill all the way to the river. According to the trailblazers we had travelled about 15km. We stopped for samosas and cold drinks and headed off to finish the last 4km. We walked about an hour waiting for the "fork in the road leading to the lake", we asked for directions a few times, feeling that the 19km mark was definetely approaching with a seemingly huge distance between us and the top of the valley. When we finally got to the fork, the sign indicated we had another 10km to go. It may not seem like much, but we hadn't done much in the way of long distance walking since I stormed off at the motorcycle drivers back in Vietnam, costing us a 4 hour trek.

By the time we got to Khecheopalri Village, I was cursing myself for not having taken the jeep ride offered to us near the beginning of our climb. We collapsed in the first guest house we found, despite it being damp, dirty and not overly friendly. Under other circumstances we would have explored other options. Yann raced to see the lake and I lay on my dorm bed with my boots still on. I was dragged out of bed to see the lake for sunset (less than an hour from our arrival, our trek took 7 hours), with Yann warning me that the lake wasn't exactly what he had expected. Our image of an emerald green glacier lake was slightly off (I guess we hadn't hiked to such a high altitude after all) but the Tibetan prayer flags and the surrounding forest make the lake/pond a worthwhile visit. The next morning a woke up to the chatter of our Canadian, Krishna worshipping, slightly nutty roommate. My legs were stiff, Yann's stinky foot smell had returned after months of absence and I was still tired. We decided to climb even higher to the village with a view of the lake, we heard there was nice, unadvertised accomodation there. After about an hour of climbing (it probably should have been 30 minutes), we arrived at the small village and were greeted by a group of children who pointed us to one of the village homes. Its owner, showed us a double room, complete with a lightbulb and newspaper wallpaper. For 500 rupees (about 15$) we had the room, hot showers, unlimited tea and three homecooked meals. It was more expensive than the city, but not more than the last night's trekkers' hut where we were charged 14 rupees for a cup of hot water with lemon. The scenery was beautiful, the village peaceful and friendly and we were content to take one more day before heading off. We spent most of the day lying in the sun and playing with the village children (it was Sunday, no school). We ate three gigantic meals and enjoyed the company of a Canadian and two Americans with whom we shared our various travel stories and discussed the Albertan oil industry. The next morning, both Yann and Josh (the other Canadian) woke up not feeling well, possibly from the last night's Yak meat? Yann decided he was good to go, and we only had a 9km trek to Yuksom. It proved to be an extremely difficult 9km (that turned into 15), in the sun the entire way and mostly uphill. We didn't pack enough water and Yann was moving at a snail's pace. We attempted, unsuccessfully to wave down passing jeeps. With only a few kilometers to go, we had nearly given up, deciding to wait for a jeep, when we spotted a small shack selling something. Its main item appeared to be home brew, but it had a few dusty bottles of water on its back shelves and we were saved! We pained through the last hour of climbing and again collapsed in Yuksom, Yann too exhausted to even eat dinner. Again, we took another day in Yuksom, mainly for Yann to sleep off his stomach bug (with no complaints from me). Yuksom is a tiny village, that is the starting point for most high altitude treks. Most tourists there are either returning of heading off on a trek, you can tell by how happy they look. After two days in Yuksom, Yann was still not really eating and we decided that we should catch a jeep to Tashiding. A few weeks earlier a bridge had been knocked down by a landslide, so the ride to Tashiding includes catching one jeep to the bridge then walking across the river and catching a second one to Tashiding. We got to the bridge early in the morning and there were at least five jeeps waiting across the river, not one of them was going to Tashiding. Yann felt healthy enough to finish the trek (we had cut off the 5km of downhill), rather than cough up more money to try to reroute the jeeps. It was an easy walk and we were in Tashiding by 10a.m. due to our early morning jeep ride.

Tashiding is a sleepy little town and is visited for its monastery that sits perched atop the village, a 2km hike completely uphill. We climbed up just in time to catch the wind and rain on the way down. The monastery itself is quite small, but what makes it impressive are its location and its collection of white chortens buried in Tibetan prayer flags and mana stones. We made Tashiding the last stop on our monastic trek, although with more energy we would have completed the last 40km to check out one more monastery in Ravengla. We instead opted for a jeep ride back to Darjeeling, where we planned four days of relaxing. In contrast with Sikkim, Darjeeling felt like a roaringly busy town, we almost forgot how quaint it had felt arriving from Kolkata just a few days earlier.

We enjoyed the cool temperatures, explored the tea plantations and checked out the nearby sites. The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is one of Darjeeling's most famous organizations, run by Tenzing Norgay for most of his life, and still organizing expeditions today. In Darjeeling, Tenzing is God of the Himalayas, who the hell is Sir Edmund Hillary anyways? The HMI museum houses loads of Tenzing's old equipment, including jackets and ice picks, my favourite items were the newspaper articles debating whether Tenzing was in fact the first to reach the summit. We relaxed, ate lots of food and did some carpet shopping. Shopping makes me anxious and moody. You have hundreds of pieces in front of you, and everything is "cheap", but you have to decide what you really like or whether you are being lured in by its good-dealness, you only really know when you get home and wonder what you were thinking. When our carpets were bought and mailed I felt great relief. On the subject of parcel mailing, here goes my Indian Postal Services rant. Did you know that in India, each parcel has to be covered in white fabric and sewed shut? Do you have any idea how long this process takes? In Darjeeling, there is one freelance parcel sewer (I don't know if sewer is a word in that sense, anyways no pun intended), overcharging tourists and taking a damn long time to sew up parcels. I waited for 2 hours and there were three parcels in front of me in line. To say the least, the process is absolutely painful. To help identify tampering, wax seals are stamped all the way along the seams, yes wax, melted on with a candle, unbelievable efficiency.

Darjeeling was a lovely place to take it easy even though the clouds prevented us from getting even a single glimpse of the Himalayas unlike our first day there. No, we didn't have a single cup of tea while we were there, we are loyal to our coffee! Our next destination is the holy city of Varanasi, with a reputation for being anything but easy and relaxing.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bonjour Yann et Émilie,
wow, je suis la première à vous écrire! C'est peut-être parce que je suis en vacances. Un des très beaux blog que vous avez rédigé. J'aime ces enfants tout souriant et excités à la vue des visiteurs. C'est toujours un pincement au coeur de vous savoir malade, faites attention à vous.
Maman Nicole xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Anonymous said...

Bonjour Yann et Émilie,
wow, je suis la première à vous écrire! C'est peut-être parce que je suis en vacances. Un des très beaux blog que vous avez rédigé. J'aime ces enfants tout souriant et excités à la vue des visiteurs. C'est toujours un pincement au coeur de vous savoir malade, faites attention à vous.
Maman Nicole xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jean said...

Hillary is still alive 53 years after his climb.Norgay lived a long time too to 1986.