Monday, May 17, 2010

Singalila Ridge

Alright, so my story this time begins the day before I began my trek. I met an American dude named Dan and we decided to go about exploring Darjeeling for a day. Both of us were in the market for Kuhkuri's (traditional knives of the Gorkha people), so we checked out a few shops and whathaveyou. After lunch we decided to take a hike on a road into the surrounding hills, with the intention of finding a tea plantation to have a fresh cup at. We walked for about half an hour, until we met an elderly Gorkha gentleman on his way to the market (in Ghoom, about 8 km from Darjeeling.) We talked for a bit, and upon mentioning our quest for the knives, our friend told us to come with him- he would take us to a blacksmith where the knives are made. Not only was this really cool, but we ended up saving a few Ruppees on our purchases. While in Ghoom, we checked out the oldest Budhist monastery in these parts- it was actually really peaceful and relaxing. Coupled with the immense, overbearing fog outside, you can really get a sense for where this whole "Nirvana" business came from. After enjoying the monastery for a bit, and satisfied with our blades(there's a contrast for ya) , we headed back into town by flagging down a jeep. The rest of the night consisted of a helluva BS sesh- I only listened rather bemusedly mind you- as it turned out that most of the people in our lodge were expert political analyzers. Especially after a few beers, but that is to be expected I guess. I had trouble falling asleep, which isn't unusual here, as I am always pretty excited for the next day's adventure, but this night was particularily tough. The Singalila Ridge trek awaited me in the morning. I woke up, had a breakfast, and walked on down to my jeep. The jeeps here are unbelievably crowded, and I gotta say I kind of hate them, being 6'2 and all, the cramped jeep experience is not an all around enjoyable one. Anyhow, we set off from Manaymhajang, destination Tumling. It was cloudy all day, so no mountain views, but the immediate scenery and tranquility were very enjoyable, of course. Mountain pastures and prayer flags dominated the landscape. After arriving in Tumling, about 3 oclock, I hiked up to a mountain cemetary- kinda creepy with the clouds and all. Oh, I took lots of pictures too, so no worries. Had a simple dinner, then hit the sack. Tumling is officially in Nepal too, which is kind of cool, all the people in Darjeeling and the surrounding villages identify themselves as Nepali. As a people, I really like the Nepalese. They are friendly- everyone is referred to as Sister or Brother, and hospitality is something they take pride in. Although there were other trekkers on the route and in our lodges, I usually hung out with the guides and porters. Very good company, and I figure that I spend enough time with white people back home. At about 4:30 AM my guide shook me awake. "The view is clear" he said. Watching the sunrise over Kanchanchunga (3rd highest peak in the world) was something. It is quite a formidable piece of rock, so say the least, and the sunrays turned the snow golden. Yes, there are pictures. After a few more hours' sleep we hiked to Kaliphokari- about 14 km's or so I believe. No views there, but I did get a chance to sample the local brew (called Tongba- made with fermented millet seed, amongst other things, and served hot). Really, really delicious- similar to beer but really not comparable to anything. Also, the locals make a wine out of the rhododendron flower- of which I am bringing home a bottle. Good stuff. The next day, from Kaliphokari, we headed to Sandakphu, the high point (3,600 M) of our trek. Bitterly cold, and I was not really prepared for it, but I enjoyed it anyhow. It's really hard not to now that I think about it. In the morning from Sandakphu one can see Kanchanjunga really really clearly- it literally commands the northern horizon. To the West was Everest- far away so not so impressive, but I'm not complanining. In Sandakphu I found out that there was a strike of the jeep drivers in Darjeeling- meaning my trek had to be extended by 2 days. Just my luck. From Sandakphu was a 10 km downhill grind (somewhat tough on the knees), through a mainly jungle trail. Our destination was Gurudum, a tiny mountain forest village; an absolute haven. The people here were so so friendly, and they take a lot of pride in their home. The result? Well kept gardens on a stepped mountainside. Awesome. The tongba was good, and the momos (think of them as Tibetan perogies) were unbelievable. I ate about 30 of them, and along with my tongba I had a good sleep indeed. The next day was easy- 4 km through jungle to Shrikhola. Shrikhola means Mr. River (says Amir, my guide), and it did not dissapoint. There was a swimming hole a litteral stone's throw from my hotel. The water here is glacial fed, and at 2000's cold. Really cold, but also uncomparably refreshing. I spent about on hour hanging out on the rocks with some local dudes about my age, all daring each other to different feats, etc. Spent the evening at the local watering hole with the guides and locals, drinking another brew, called Chaang, and Rhododendron wine. I drank responsibly, but most of the guides left good and drunk. It was rather funny watching these people who have spent their whole lives in the hills tripping about on the path like American sightseers. Our next spot was Rimbek- final stop. Short 6 k hike, rather level, and that was that. Enjoyed the town by day, enjoyed a tongba by night. Also, one of the other groups brought a guitar, and I spent some time trading metal riffs with a couple Gorkha dudes. I thought that was pretty cool. Today was a bumpy four hour jeep ride back to Darjeeling, and so ends my tale. I really can't describe the scenery- I'll let my photos do that. Gotta get a Sikkim permit today, and book my train back to Varanasi. Hard to believe there's only 2 weeks left.


  1. Oh have captured your trek so well, I felt like I was looking through your eyes at the sunrise that turned the mountain golden and could feel that ice cold water that you swam in with the locals. The whole thing, your writing brings a picture in the mind's eye. Amazing. This reminds me of a phrase from an old song from my era.. "I have only come here seeking knowledge, things they could not teach me down in college.." Nice to have you back on the blog again, Love Mom

  2. Wow - what an experience for you. I can only echo your Mom's comments. You are bringing your journey alive for all of us who are reading it. Can't wait to hear more.
    Love, Grama R.

  3. Your adventure sounds amazing, Nick. I hope I'll have a chance to see your photos one day. You know what they say..... a picture's worth a thousand words.... (although your written description continues to be so vividly descriptive). Glad you're back safe and sound.


  4. One gets to know the heart and soul of a Nation through it's people and you seem to appreciate that Nick by spending as much time as you do exploring the back roads and relating to the locals and "everyday Joes." India is a country steeped in ancient wisdom that gave birth to many eternal truths. Your experiences are invaluable Nick--keep searching and Living your Dreams. Uncle jack

  5. Good update son. Was good to talk the other day. Read where you are hoping to bring a bottle of the local wine home. Just so you know, you probably won't be able to carry it on the plane and not a good idea to leave it in checked luggage. Enjoy the rest of your trip and keep on trekking.