Friday, November 7, 2008

Trek to Taksang Monastery (Bhutan)

One place really worth visiting in the Paro valley is the Taktsang Monastery. Reaching the monastery involves a three hours trek from the roadside. One has to travel by car or bus from Paro town on the road to Drugyel Dzong and 8 kilometres away drop down to begin the trek to the Monastery. From here far away and high up on the cliff top, the Taktsang Monastery can be seen. For a moment you think that you cannot make it to the top but something draws you and you start walking. A few minutes walk from the roadside and you cross the pedestrian bridge across the Paro Chu. A walk of half an hour on a well defined foot-path takes you to a village with a monastery within which a huge prayer wheel rotates by the water gushing down a stream below it. The rotating wheel rythmically clangs a bell the sound of which echoes in the dense forests around. After a refreshing drink from the stream, you brace yourself for the steep climb. As you gradually climb up, the view of the Paro valley below starts getting more and more panoramic. The paddy fields start looking like the squares on the chessboard and the houses like chess pieces. Here and there on the track, you catch glimpses of the Taktsang Monastery. You keep wondering when you will reach it. Finally the cafeteria below the monastery is reached from where the view of the monastery is aweinspiring. The monastery is a gravity defying structure built on a ledge on a cliff that plummets down almost 1000 metres into the valley. After a refreshing drink of coke that costs three times of the normal price you are ready to go. After a climb of about twenty minutes, you are slightly above the level of the monastery on a outcrop. A steep downhill walk of about 5 minutes takes you to the bridge over a stream and below a waterfall that cascades down showering you with sprinkles of water. The monastery is just an arm’s length away but still seems to be unapproachable. A final burst of energy and within a few minutes you are at the staircase of the monastery.
It is said that Guru Padmasambha who propagated Buddhism in this area came here flying on a tigress and that is how the monastery derives its name Taktsang which means "Tiger’s Nest". Appropriately there is a huge statue
of Guru Padmasambha on a tiger back in one of the three temples in the monastery. Perched highup on a hill top opposite the Taktsang Monastery can be seen the Sangtogperi Monastery which is used by monks in meditation. You may visit it if you like but it involves another steep climb of about 15 minutes on a footpath that bifurcates before reaching the Taktsang Monastery.
On the way back at the cafeteria, I wonder aloud as to how man could have ever made this impossible structure. The canteen boy who overhears me, mysteriously comments,"It is God who himself built this monastery; human beings could have never possibly made it".
In 1998 a major fire broke out in the monastery and most of it was destroyed; it has now been rebuilt.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Right from my childhood I used to stare at the huge hill opposite Gangtok spanning from Rumtek Monastery to Pangthang. It seemed to rise in front like an impregnable green wall. A lot of questions used to run in my mind.How do you get there? Did it have a forest with wild animals. What was there on the other side - another mountain?
It was only when I was forty years old that I ventured there and got an answer to my questions.
This relatively easy trek can comfortably be covered within a period of one day. Tinjure lies on the highest point on the Rumtek hill opposite Gangtok. One has to reach Golitar four kilometers ahead of Tashi-View Point first by vehicle and then walk a few kilometres that takes less than an hour on the road to Pangthang and Dikchu till the Log-hut of the Forest Department. From here the bridle path begins skirting the Experimental farm of G.B. Pant Institute at a moderate gradient and takes one through the dense Fambonglho Forest Sanctuary to the top in about two hours. The last stretch of half an hour is rather steep and one has to dodge under trees that have fallen across the path. A profusion of cane plants appear and these form a leafy tunnel over the track letting in hardly any sunlight. At places where the bridle path breaks the ground is soft and bouncy because of decaying vegetation that has accumulated and compacted for ages.
During my trek , a heavy shower of rain the previous night had left the forest sparkling and a brilliant shade of green. The spring was trying to coax the buds on the trees to bloom. Every bird in the forest seemed to fill its lungs with the sweet, fresh air and sing its heart out. The insects were equally vociferous. Now and then you startle a deer, which scampers off with graceful, flying leaps over the long tufted grass. Scores of jubilant bullfrogs serenade you from every pool and pond. You smell the sweet scented fragrance a forest gives off after a storm, the perfume of flowering shrubs and the smell of damp moss on the tree trunks.
We are now at Jhandi Dhara also somethimes wrongly called Tinjure.It has a three storey wooden Observation Tower festooned with prayer flags on concrete stilts and the view from here is just breathtaking. It overlooks both Gangtok and the Tista valleys and on the northeastern horizon towers the Kanchendzonga range with specially Siniolchu in all its splendid grandeur glittering against the blue sky. Gangtok looks as though someone has strewn the hillside with matchboxes of different colours. In the south the omnipresent volcano shaped Tendong peak looms against the backdrop of the Singelila range. Peeping out from the forests of Tumlong the monastery of Phodong looks like a small ladybird. On a clear day even the plains of West Bengal can be seen.
From Jani dhara we walk on the ridge of the mountain.On the right side is the Tista valley with the river Tista snaking its say through. On the left you catch glimpses of the Gangtok town, the Lingdum Monastery and the Rey Mondu Monastery. The path is without any steep gradients but the foilage is very thick as a result of which walking speed is considerabley slow- two to three kilometers an hour. There are no springs or streams on this route and soon we run out of drinking water. But there are a lot of juicy wild strawberries growing all around and we varaciously eat them to quench our thirst. The forest guard accompanying us points to to the paw marks of bears on the trees. We come across a small lake- Dharey after two hours. After another one hour we cross by the the Tumin Watch tower. A walk of another two hours and we are at Tinjure - the highest point on the hill opposite Gangtok.A downhill trek of an hour and we skirt past the holy Sang pokhari and shortly thereafter we are at Sang Bazar where our vehcile is waiting to pick us up.
The trek covering a distance of about 20 kilometers. has been an exhilirating experience. The mountain was not just a 2 dimensional green wall but a world teeming with trees, birds butterflies and wild life


The Tolung Monastery was first built in the reign of Chogyal Chakdor Namgyal in the early part of the eighteenth century. It contains rare and valuable scriptures and artifacts of other monasteries that were brought here for safety during the invasion of Sikkim by the Nepalis during the late seventeenth century and the early nineteenth century. A brass chorten within the monastery contains the ashes of one of the incarnates of Lama Latsun Chembo, the patron saint of Sikkim. All the relics are kept sealed in thirteen boxes under the supervision of the Government of Sikkim. Once every three years in the month of April the relics are shown to the public in the monastery complex. The last display of the relics was held in May 97. The old monastery has been demolished because its structure had become weak and a new one has been built in its place.
Tolung at an altitude of 2488 m(8160 ft) ft lies in the sparsely Lepcha populated Dzongu area of North Sikkim and a permit is required from the District Collectorate at Mangan to visit it. To reach Tolung monastery, one has to travel by road upto Linzey. There is a daily bus service from Gangtok to a place slightly short of Linzey. From Linzey to Tolung is a 20 kilometres walk and takes approximately five hours along the thundering Tolung river, which is a boiling torrent at many places, through thick forests and cardamom fields. The track itself is easy but is surrounded by precipitous cliffs from which plummet down waterfalls in white plumes hundreds of feet into the narrow gorges to the valley floor. Birds tweet louder to make themselves heard over the sound of the waterfalls and the rivers. Perched precariously on these cliffs here and there are the huts of the hardy Lepchas. As one walks towards Tolung, the surrounding mountains on the top of which ice clings tenaciously even during the summer seem to close in. On reaching Tolung one can understand why the Sikkimese chose this place to keep the relics here out of the reach of the invading Nepalis. It is so secluded and perhaps because of its high altitude was easy to guard.
At Tolung there is a Pilgrims Hut. A further walk of about an hour along the Tolung river takes one to a religious spot called Devta Pani.
During my trek to Tolung Gompa, I found that I had forgotten to wear my watch and so I asked a Lepcha whom I met on the trail what the time was. He told me that he had never learnt to read a watch. I then realised that time was a meaningless concept here - there were no deadlines to be met and no tasks to be done that required hurrying. Time here itself moves at a different pace.
I passed an old cemetery and thought of the deceased who led a life that lacked in opportunities because of the circumstances that prevail in a rural environment. Because of this many were not able to bring out their dormant capabilities. Perhaps if given a different upbringing, many would have become celebrities in some field or the other.
A stanza, from Thomas Gray’s Elegy written in a Country Church­yard, which seemed so apt here, echoed in my ears
Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of the ocean bear,
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.


Yoksum and Zongri are two places in West Sikkim between which there is a proper well beaten trekking track in the form of a bridle path. The best time to venture on a trek on this route is April to June and September to November. Tourism Department organises treks during autumn and spring. Till Yoksum there is a motorable road. To reach Yoksum, one must first come to Gyalshing from Gangtok or Jorethang from where regular bus services are available. From Gyalshing to Yoksum, one can either travel by bus or taxi. If traveling by own vehicle, one may opt to reach Yoksum via Tashiding taking the bifurcation road from Legship. Besides having many trekker’s huts, Yoksum also has a private hotel which provides both boarding and lodging. Guides, porters and pack yaks are readily available at Yoksum. Tents, sleeping bags and other trekking equipment are also available for rent at Yoksum.
Yoksum was the first capital of Sikkim and it was here that the first Chogyal was consecrated by the three holy Lamas. The spot where this ceremony took place in 1642 can still be seen here. Overlooking Yoksum and about half an hours walk uphill is the Dubdi monastery one of the oldest in Sikkim.
The walk to Zongri begins with the track skirting meadows and meandering past huts. After an hour of a flat track which is crossed by small foot or two wide streams whose waters seem to be in a hurry to meet the river below, the climb begins. A walk of another four hours on a path lined with sky embracing trees and carpeted with leaves falling from the surrounding vegetation takes you to Bakim which has a trekker’s hut. A further one hour climb and you are at Bakim. You may opt to halt at Chokha which also has a trekker’s hut. Chokha itself is a small village consisting of about a dozen houses and a monastery. To cater to the tourists, most of these houses offer accommodation and food at a nominal cost.
The walk between Yoksum and Chokha takes about six hours but would vary considerably with the trekker’s stamina. In a distance of about 16 kilometres one has climbed from Yoksum at 1780 m(5840 ft) to Choka at 3006 m (9860 ft)
Another steep climb of 10 kilometres which takes about 4 hours and you are at Zongri at 4030 m (13220 ft). Zongri has two trekker’s huts and hardly any other habitation. From the Zongrila pass about an hour’s walk from the trekker’s huts, the view of the mountain ranges is heavenly. In front of you is the Kabur Dome and piercing the sky is the Mount Pandim. Mount Kanchendzonga with its accompanying peaks towers over you in the North.
At Zongri the bridle path ends and bifurcates into two footpaths: one leading to the Base Camp and the other to the Goechela pass. The base camp at 4573 m (15000 ft) is 9 kilometres away and takes about three hours for the average trekker to reach.The Base camp which consists of a number of trekker’s huts is owned by the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling which conducts a number of mountain climbing courses every year. The Frey Peak, Koktang, Kabru and Rathong look ominously close from here and tower above the HMI camp.
On the other route the Goechela pass at about 4942 m(16210 ft) is about 14 kilometres via Thangsing, Samiti Lake and Zemethang.


Base Camp -Boktak- Laxmipokhari-Garakhet Trek
If your feet are still itching to go ahead after reaching the Base Camp, you can take the route to the South on the Western border of Sikkim to an area that has a profusion of perhaps the most beautiful lakes in Sikkim and therefore it would not be inappropriate to call it "The Lake Trek". It is a domain of sky lacquered lakes, glacial valleys and chiselled peaks. The journey to and fro will take about four to five days. Long stretches of this route are trailess and therefore an expert guide who knows the area well will be required. Our guide who would also double as a porter was a skinny chap hardly weighing 40 kg but was capable of carrying goods weighing one and a half times more. The few shepherd sheds on the way are inhabited only during the grazing season from July to September and if you are trekking some other time make sure that all necessary provi­sions are carried. Although you can stay in the shepherd huts, it is a good idea also to carry tentage to meet any contingencies.
From the Base Camp, a steep climb takes one to a pass at about 4878 m (16000 ft) from where a almost vertical, knee wobbling drop reaches one deep down in a flat valley surrounded by huge granite cliffs. You ford across the river Runji chu whose water seems to gurgle and murmur as though annoyed at the feeble attempts by the boulders in it to stop its flow. Another vertical climb up and you are at Khangerden with its lone hut. This murderous trek of just about 6 kilometres takes about three hours. From Khangerden to Boktak through Tiyabla is relatively easy going and takes about six hours. If you start early in the morning from Base Camp, you can comfortably reach Boktak in the late afternoon. A night halt at the yakshed at Boktak and the next day you are ready to see the most beautiful lakes on earth in this untrampled remoteness. A halt in a yakshed can be an out-of-the- world experience. The yakherders seem to be completely oblivious of events taking place in the country or the world. Their life centres around yaks: they talk and think only about them. What matters to them most is yaks and nothing else. The other topic the yak herders discuss with obvious relish is the Yeti or "The Abominable snowman". Many of them swear that they have had encounters with the Yeti. Yetis, I was told, are bigger than the size of a man, with feet pointing backwards, long hair and are very dangerous.
During my visit, the preparation of our dinner at Boktak was presided by a yakherder a withered old man, whose wrinkled face and claw like hands illuminated by the glow of the fire gave him a witch-like appearance. The atmosphere was heavy and close, and a strong reek of smoke from burning rhododendron branches fought a losing battle against stronger reek of unwashed bodies. While having dinner we were regaled with stories concerning nothing else but Yaks and Yetis. I infact started believing that Yetis do exist and later that night, as a call of nature took me out into the freezing darkness, I did feel that a Yeti would come and pounce on me.
The yakshed is a crude structure whose walls are made of stone and the roof of planks that are weighted down by small rocks to prevent them from getting blown away during a storm. It is divided into two sections one for the lactating and gestating yaks and the other for the yakherders. The floor is covered with a thick layer of hay that serves as a mattress. As I lay resting looking at the stars through the chinks in the roof, I went off to sleep, inspite of the ding-dong of the bells from the ruminating yaks. This sound in fact acted as a lullaby. Somewhere in the night, I was rudely wakened by what seemed as a slap on my face. It was in fact a yak which had poked its head over the partition and was liking my face - perhaps the salt of my perspiration was too much for it to resist. I changed my position and lulled back into a restful sleep.
A moderate climb of about two and half hours Boktak through Chirpuk reaches you to the bank of lake Majur Pokhari. This lake at its centre has a green iridescent sheen feature shaped like the wings of a bird (Majur meanings wings of a bird) that glistens bright­ly. No one has been able to explain this illusion, but it is said that it is caused due to the reflection of light. Above the Majur Pokhari are two twin lakes called the Ram-Laxman lakes. It is worth mentioning here that during the trek one will come across a number of such twin lakes all called by the same name of Ram- Laxman. You return back to Boktak and halt at Gomathang one kilometre below on a riverside, which also has a yak shed. At night darkness closes like a lid on the mountains, shutting out the world, and the stars blaze to life in a sky suddenly too small to hold them.
The third day sees you taking the steep climb up from Gomathang to the lake Laxmipokhari. Laxmipokhari is a big lake cupped in a deep crater. The rim of the crater is so high above the lake level that it is easy to photograph the complete lake without using a wide angle lens. A steep switchback trail from the rim takes you to the lake-side where a small wooden temple has been constructed. As you invoke the blessings of the gods on the banks of this pristine lake, you cannot help thinking that it is here that god really resides and not amidst the din of crowded temples in the cities and towns. As though some gigantic chemical reaction was taking place, the lake spews out clouds of moisture in the form of mist and soon blocks out our view. A tint of sunlight suffuse in the mist gives everything an unearthly cast. From Laxmipokhari towards Garakhet is a relatively flat walk except before you cross the Dafley Pass which experiences howling winds almost throughout the year. Your path meanders past another Ram-Laxman lake and Bhut Pokhari before you reach the pass. While resting on this pass, I saw an eagle just above me in the sky which remained suspended in the air without moving or flapping its wings for a full five minutes. While I was wondering what were the laws of physics that enabled the bird to perform this gravity defying feat my porter reminded me that it was getting late and we were set to move on.
A moderate drop from the pass takes you to Lampokhari a lake whose length is considerably more than its width. Before you reach Garakhet you pass by a small lake called the Haspokhari which is in the shape of a swan.
You halt at Garakhet and on the fourth day walk up to Timbong pokhari just on the border of Nepal and Sikkim but not before you visit another set of Ram-Laxman and Bhutpokharis on the way. Timbong pokhari is about an hours walk from Garakhet and this lake is considered to be very holy and is oval in shape. Pilgrims from both Nepal and Sikkim visit it regularly. Devotees have strung small bells on the lakeside as it is believed it brings good luck. From Timbong Pokhari you retrace your path backwards till Dafley pass from where a short cut takes you straight down to Gomathang bypassing the Laxmipokhari area.
The distant drone of an aeroplane far away over the rolling hills of Nepal is the only sign that reminds you that you are in the twentieth century. After a night halt at Boktak, you reach Base Camp by late noon on the fifth day. On the way back I came across a herd of yaks that was being moved to the lower altitudes towards Uttrey in Sikkim as it was now autumn and snow had begun falling in the higher reaches. But while moving downhill the yaks have to traverse through a part of Nepal and making a couple of overnight halts in the other country. Although there is a sort of an unwritten agreement between yakherders to use each others grazing fields when the flock are in transit, overstaying sometimes has caused misunderstandings. Salt, which is an important ingredient in the diet of the yaks, seems to be a very scarce commodity on the Nepal side and there is a tendency by the yakherders from the other side of the border to procure it from the bordering towns of Sikkim and this sometimes causes a scarcity. I remember having bartered half a kilogram of salt that I was carrying in my provisions for a kilogram of yak butter: a good bargain indeed!
Instead of returning back from Garakhet to the Base Camp, one can trek further onwards along the Nepal border to Dhond, Labi, Bajredunga and to Chiwabhanjang.
Phalut-Singelila-Chiwabhanjang Trek
For this trek, it is more convenient to enter from Phalut that lies near the trijuction of Nepal, West Bengal and Sikkim. This route lies on the ridge of the razor-edged Singelila range that defines the boundary between Sikkim and Nepal. Phalut is approachable from Darjeeling by road. Just near Phalut is Toriphule which remains covered with beautiful yellow flowers most parts of the year and is in fact the real trijunction. The highest point on this route is a point called Singelila at an altitude of 3686 m (12089 ft) and after which the whole western range of Sikkim is named. The mighty Khanchendzonga range forms a part of the Singelila range and is named after this barrnen spot. I fail to comprehend how the mighty range has been named after this desolate spot. High intensity winds batter Singelila continously to such an extent that gravel tend to become flying missiles. One notices with surprise how the few flags on this hilltop manage to sur­vive. From Singelila one can see Mt Kanchendzonga towering above and in the distant east the Chola range. On the west are the rolling hills of Nepal and far down below the Nepal village of Cheng Thapu can distinctly be seen. And far far away you can even see Mt Everest. In fact from many points of the Singilela range you are treated to sights of both Kanchendzonga and Everest. A fall on one side may land you a few hundred metres into Sikkim and a fall on the other side deep into Nepal. On the Singelila range the air is in a continu­ous state of turmoil. The clouds sometimes get shepherded from the Nepal side to Sikkim and sometimes it is the other way round.
One accosts yaks on almost every turn peeping curiously as you pass by. Yaks form the mainstay of the livelihood of the few people who stay here. In fact the people are here because the yaks are here. Yaks are used for their milk, meat, skin and hair. These are mostly sold at Darjeeling and its surrounding areas. Yak milk is very thick and the yield is barely a litre an animal per day.
Yak milk is converted to cheese and butter.
During the winters when this area becomes snowbound and bereft of any vegetation, the yaks are moved to lower altitudes. During late spring, when the heat and the flies become intolerable the yaks begin their journey back to the upper heights.
During my visit, at the yakshed near Singelila a wizen faced old man wearing high Tibetan boots and a dirty black robe girdled at the waist came forth to greet us. Yaks were obviously his great enthusiasm in life. He smelt of them too. In one corner sat his wife vigorously shaking a goatskin bag. Milk is filled first in the goatskin bags and after it has curdled after a few days, the concoction is shaken to get the butter. From a transistor radio - which seemed so out of place here and almost an anachronism - the disembodied Hindi number "Choli ke pechey kya hai ......." was being played: our Bombay film industry was even trying to break the stillness of this wilderness.
Chiwabhanjang which forms a pass to Nepal is about a three hours walk from Phalut. At Chiwabhanjang are two small lakes known as Bhut-Pokaris. An inspection bunglow stands in ruins at Chiwabhanjang as a mute testimony of the British presence here in the old days to keep off the Nepalis from attacking Sikkim. It is also possible to reach Chiwabhanjang from Uttrey in Sikkim in about three hours but the trek from Uttrey to Chiwabhanjang is very steep.
Hilley-Varsey- Chiwabhanjang Trek
This route lies in the south-western corner of Sikkim. One has to first reach Hilley by road via Sombaria. From Hilley, one has to trek for four kilometres that takes approximately one hour to reach Varsey which is at an altitude of 3049 m (10000 ft). At Hilley, which is at an altitude of 2744 m(9000 ft), silver firs, hemlocks, magnolia and rhododendrons are found in equal abundance but as one approaches Varsey, the rhododendrons reign supreme and during the month of March they are a riot of red colour. The branches of trees all along the route entwine with each other to form a leafy canopy. Bright sunlight filters through a fretwork of rich green foliage lighting up flowers in splashes of colours. Butterflies of many hues flash like living jewels dancing from flower to flower. Above in the azure sky, big winds send clouds scampering here and there. A group of birds fly in jagged formation trumpeting. Nature itself seems to exult.
At Varsey there is Shambhala Rhododendron Resort with comfortable rooms and attached bathrooms for the tourists. One has to walk a few hundred yards ahead to catch a view of Chiwabhanjang on the Singelila range. Far below the village of Burikhop can distinctly be seen.
From Varsey, Chiwabhanjang can be reached in a trek of about three to four hours.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Treks to Tendong and Maenam

Damthang-Tendong Trek
Damthang is 14 kilometres from Namchi on the Gangtok-Namchi (via Temi) road. A number of buses ply on this route from Gangtok. To reach Tendong from Damthang one has to walk for about one and a half hour on a footpath through thick forest of the Tendong Forest Sanctuary. Different species of vegetation struggle with each other to obtain a foothold in this thick forest. The trunks and branches of trees are heavily festooned with clinging, beard like moss. Yearning for sunlight, vines clamber up the tree trunks. Gigantic ferns take the form of giant garden umbrellas. In the near darkness of the forest, shards of sunlight filter through the thick canopy of trees. Insects trill and rasp, leaves whisper, little creatures walk through the underbrush leaving ripple of rustlings and birds whistle their territorial claims.
Tendong at an altitude of 2640 m(8660 ft) is situated on a small plateau on top of the mountain. From here the view is just spectacular. Perhaps no other place in Sikkim offers a better panoramic view of the mountain ranges in the state than Tendong - it is like sitting in the centre of a huge amphitheatre. On the east one can see the full Chola Range, on the west the Singelila range and the towering Kanchendzonga. In the North East can be seen the Paunhri peak with the surrounding mountains. Darjeeling, Gyalshing, Nathula, a part of Gangtok and the rolling plains of Siliguri can all be discerned from here. Both the sunrise and sunset are breathtaking from Tendong. As one watches, rain slashes through the brilliant sunlight and a rainbow leaps across the landscape below. From other parts of Sikkim Tendong looks like a volcano - and legend has it that it was in fact once an active volcano which is now dormant.
There is another legend of the Lepcha tribe that saved itself on its summit during the great flood that once inundated the world - the story has a likeness to that of Noah and his Ark and Mount Arrarat which Tendong is said to be. It is said that during the great deluge, the Lepchas first sought refuge at the Maenam peak some kilometres away but when the waters started rising fast, they moved to Tendong. There seems to be an anamoly in this legend given that Tendong is much lower in altitude than Maenam. Tendong however is clear of any high rise features nearby and therefore gives an impression of being much higher than Maenam. Tendong is also worshipped by the Lepchas in a festival called the "Tendong Lho Rum Faat" which literally means Worship of Tendong.
Two small one-room monasteries exist here - one quite old and in the verge of ruins and the other a newly constructed one. An observation tower, three stories high, on a similar pattern of the one at Tiger Hill Darjeeling has been constructed here for the convenience of tourists. As dusk falls, the nocturnal animals come alive. A cricket clicks and is followed by hundreds of others until the whole forest around Tendong reverberates with a deafening din. Sudden silence for a few seconds and then again the cacophony.The lights of Siliguri, Darjeeling, Gangtok and other towns twinkle in the night and it looks as though the galaxies themselves had descended on the earth.
Dawn brings its share of spectacular sights. The eastern sky slowly lights up and the snow-clad peaks become crimson and then glistening white. As the sun rises, the crowns of the smaller mountains are brightened up one by one and then slowly the probing rays enter the deepest of the valleys and the gorges revealing verdant forests soaked in hundreds of shades of green and sparkling white rivers. Suddenly these rivers far below start steaming like a Turkish Bath and soon a white sheet mist blanks out the scenery.
The twin peaks of Tendong and Maenam have been very beautifully personified by Dr. Pawan Chamling in his peoms Perennial Dreams. He has made them as witnesses to the travails of the downtrodden. An excerpt:
This holy ridge and Mount Maenam
Have witnessed boundless woes and pangs
And endless tears and sacrifice
Of toiling people dwelling in Himalayan ridges,
In green upland leas, in hamlets and villages,
Beside the Rongnyit and the Rongnyu rivers
And in the foothills of the Tendong and the Maenam monts
These holy monts have witnessed
Horrendous bloodshed of these working people
Rabongla - Maenam -Bhaledunga Trek
Towering above the town of Rabongla, is the Maenam hilltop. One has to trek three hours uphill from Rabongla through the Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary teeming with Magnolia, Rhododendron and small bamboo to reach the hilltop which is at an altitude of about 3235 m (10612 ft). These trees, like giant sentinels seem to guard the path. Flowers clamber over trees while mosses, ferns and creepers more reckless and more ambitious climb the soaring trunks. A small hermitage - almost in the middle of nowhere- containing the image of Guru Padmasambva nestles here.
The view from the Maenam summit is picturesque and breathtaking. The town of Rabongla lies sleeping far below and through the gaps in the mountains one can see the rolling plains of West Bengal lazily stretching out with the clouds resting on them. As the sun rises, these clouds become buoyant and form a heavenly curtain of mist. In the west an amazing vista of the sparkling peaks of the Kanchendzonga range spreads before you.
A walk of another half an hour on the same ridge takes one to Bhaledunga - a peculiar looking cliff that protrudes out and resembles the head of a cock. This distinctive looking feature can be seen from miles away and during the old days used to serve as a guiding landmark to travellers. From the tip of this cliff, there is a vertical fall of fifteen hundred metres and one does require a strong head to be able to look down from here. Far down the river Tista can be seen snaking its way like a giant python through the valley. During my visit, in the lingering fire of a July sunset, the Tista seemed to possess its own incandence glowing silver, then rose and finally mauve.
From Maenam one can take the steep track to Yangyang then further walk down to Singchuthang (Mangley) on the banks of the river Tista and then reach Sirwani and Singtam on the National Highway. This walk takes about six hours.