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.

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