Saturday, June 18, 2011

Eastern Sojourn(Continuing 11-14)

Day 11: Back to the Civilization

I wake up happily notwithstanding the uncomfortable night, the thought of calling my loved ones later once we reach Tsoka being the reason behind it. After breakfast we start for Tsoka. Instead of climbing the steep ascent to Devraali point towards Dzongri, we take the dense forest closer to the riverbank. It leads to Phedang, bypassing Dzongri. The snow is still ruling over the landscape. The path is full of mud, resulting into irritating sound of Pchk Pchk while walking. The sunlight is sparsely piercing thru the dense cover of leaves and does not help much to dry the mud. The trail is constant up or down, never flat, and always demanding. No known mountain is visible now. It’s hard to find the traces of our mission. The only assuring thing is the sound of Prek Chu flowing down on the left. A river can nourish mind also, I realize.

101_6504 Many birds are busy in practicing early morning raagas, calling for our attention. Walking swift on the serpentine trail ahead of others, I try to find these melodious performers. In the process I miss my steps and slip on the muddy trail, not once but thrice. All the times the stick in my hand and the favorable fortune save me from falling flat. Encouraged by my escapes, I keep on going at the same pace, failing to notice that the red soil is even more slippery now. Another bird calls, an entrapment, and I fall for it. I slip full on backwards, but the backpack saves me from hitting the stones. The great lesson of the mountains is that Do only one thing at a time. When you are walking, do not distract yourself from the trail. If you want to observe the surroundings, catch a glimpse of a bird or an animal, do it gently and silently. Stop, See, Savor. Walk. One precipitous fall in these high altitudes can take you to the silent valley of death forever, unless you believe in afterbirths or rebirths.

We humans hardly learn the lessons though, and most of the times we learn them hard way. I am no different. My good luck makes me overconfident and I do not heed to the impending warnings. The forest whacks me more forcefully this time, drawing me backwards and sideward. By Golly Graciousness, I still go unscathed somehow. I decide that I do not want to test my luck anymore and slow down considerably. Jaggi overtakes me and I watch pink bandana leading our little platoon. Over one slippery step, he also falls, rolling over to the next step. Fortunately for him, he stops short of crash-landing his head on a stone. He survives with some bruises on his arms and knees and back. It dawns to me that this is leader’s curse. A leader needs to be ever so watchful.

101_6521 There are small waterfalls on the way. One particular waterfall is completely covered in snow. We can hear water gushing below the thick white layer. We cross the landmass bridge on the waterfall which is not visible due to snow.  After a steep ascent, we finally reach to Phedang. I remember that while going to Goechela, this was the place after which we started encountering snow. Now that we are here, it pleases me to think that the snow will not be our companion anymore. We meet Mr. Sridhar, a gentleman from Mysore, who conducts summer trekking expedition for schoolchildren. Every year he brings groups of children from Mysore and Bangalore to Dzongri thru his firm Snap Adventures. We see his group of 17 children around the Phedang Hut. They offer us homemade coconut barfi. It’s delicious. My love for coconut is slightly less than my love for mountains, which borders on the infinity. To eat something made of coconut after 10 days is heavenly. Thanks to Mr. Sridhar who got it prepared at his home. We spend some time sitting on the benches at Phedang to watch the kids go about their activities.

101_6565 The pink rhododendrons and the red magnolias smile at us in the caressing breeze on the way to Tsoka. The colorful flowers are relief from the snow after four days of relentless whiteness. The trail is still muddy due to the rain overnight –when it snowed in Kakruchong, it was raining here – but the joy of seeing the vibrant colors overshadows that minor discomfort. We let some yaks overtake us on the National Highway in the Mountains. The plant life is in abundance now. Every crevice boasts of handful of small plants. The fresh leaves signals of a new life. The pungent smell fills the air heavy. From a turn at a cliff, we spot Tsoka village. There are hardly 15-20 houses there, most of them converted to lodges, in this small village. The ground next to the Trekkers’ Hut is dotted with tents in all colors. Tsoka seems to be hosting many guests today. The monastery stands alone, on the far side of the small water body, connected by the wooden bridge. The simple building is spectacularly set in the serenity.


The trekking Hut in Tsoka is the best we have seen in the whole trek. The toilets are comparatively clean. The rooms are spacious and have wooden beds. We do not get space to setup our kitchen in the hut so Birjubhaiya finds an abandoned house and starts preparing the lunch. We do not catch any signal on our phones. The locals say that there are only a few spots in the village where mobile signals are received. We go to the ground next to the hut and after continuously laboring to find a right spot, we manage to step on a land on the slope not wider than four feet where signals are sporadically received. I do not get any signal in my phone though, but luckily Jaggi’s phone grabs the signals quite well. I call home and talk to my father and my sister. It’s great feeling to hear their voice. I cannot talk much in the fading signals. The friends have to wait for the next day as the connectivity is no longer available now.

After lunch, Jaggi decides to take rest while Suman and I go to the yak grazing ground, next to the two chortens. Facing the valley, we sit and enjoy the silence. The sunlight is glistening in the blades of the grass. A few birds are playing on the trees on the precipitous slope. The brown mountains on the other side look like ruins of past. I listen to some music on my Kindle. I read my favorite poem The Rhyme of an Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge.

The clouds gather in no time and encase the sun in their volume. We return back to the hut. A few locals are playing a game of Changu. We watch them jumping and passing. Once the rain starts, it’s back to the inside of the hut. We sip tea and eat jaalmuri sitting on the dining table. A foreigner couple joins us. The man is from Britain while the lady is German. He is back from the Mt Everest Base Camp trekking from Nepal and now they are going to Goechela. We talk about our trek. The talk invariably leads to general discussion about India, Indian politics, religions and then US and its policies. I know we are back to civilization now. From the caring lap of nature, we are returning to the harsh world out there. The couple sadly gives us the news that Sri Satya Sai Baba has left this world. They talk about Baba’s huge following in England and Nepal.

Our dinner is a sober affair. We finish the food under the low flames of candles. There is a party going on in the dining hall. A huge group of foreigners is celebrating their successful trek. They dance, sing songs and rejoice in the glory of their expedition. The revelry goes on for late in the night. Off to sleep, I am content and glad about the lovely encounter with the mother Nature. 

Day 12: Retracing the Steps

The final day of the trek finds me properly rested in the night. The bright sun is illuminating Pandim and Narsing from the east. In the west the overstretching mountains shake hands with each other to convey morning greetings.  Pandim looks beautiful –I have lost count of how many times I tell that to myself- and we want to store that image in our eyes forever. Behind the Tsoka Hut, we watch the Pandim with adulation and an eye of a lover while sipping the black tea.

We pack everything –there is not much to pack anyway besides the memories- and start for Yuksam after taking the last breakfast of meshed potatoes and pancake. Birjubhaiya packs us our lunch for the day. The day will not be different than the day when we started, but in the reverse order. We say goodbye to our foreigner friends. One more turn on the right and Pandim will be out of our sight. We wave goodbye to Pandim. It’s one of the toughest farewells. The majestic mountain solemnly stands, as if the farewells are everyday affairs for it. I understand why it’s clad in the white now. Thanks for the wonderful time.

If white was the color of the mountains, the plants also have found it worthy to don it. The chap flowers have competition of the white rhododendrons now. The tall chap trees rule over the sky while the trail and the sides of it are full of rhododendrons.We descend to Bakhim in no time, hardly half an hour. We meet Mr. Sridhar’s group again. They stayed in Bakhim overnight and will start for Yuksam in some time. We continue towards Sachen.

101_6607 The descent to Sachen also does not take much time. How easy it is to go down! Birjubhaiya is walking with me along with Suman. The time and distance passes in flash while talking to him. We plan our next trek, carefully detailing all the places. He asks for my mobile phone. He wants to talk to someone special as we stop to relax at bridge 4. Unfortunately there is no connectivity. We march on, avoiding getting hit by some yaks. At last, when we reach the 3rd bridge, my phone is able to talk, all sense and nonsense. Birjubhaiya calls a number and talks in a low tone, smile always escaping from the corners of his lips. He must be talking to his girlfriend, or fiancĂ©e, or someone like that. He throws the phone at me and requests me to talk to her and ask her to marry him! The voice on the other side has a hint of playfulness. Her Hindi is relatively pure than Birjubhaiya’s. Not mincing words, I tell her that Birjubhaiya loves her much and she should marry him soon. She avoids the matter, at least on the phone, and takes it as a joke. I just wonder what I have done as I give the phone back to Birjubhaiya. Will I dare the same f the girl on the other side happens to be my love-interest or will the courage desert me? I guess I will buckle in the pressure. Daring is easy when one need not pay for the consequences.

101_6615 We finish the packed lunch of Faley, boiled eggs and boiled potatoes near the bridge 2 while Birjubhaiya carries on with the happiness in his heart which only love is capable of providing. The chirping of the birds get louder to match the melody of the emerald green water of Pao Khola hitting the boulders. A big group of trekkers meet us on the way. The 60-odd trekkers find it difficult on the first day. I almost forget to notice that it’s a hot day. From sub-zero degree Celsius temperature, now we are into 20s and 30s. I reach the first, and in a sense last, bridge before Jaggi and Suman and wait for them there. A few young men are knee-dip into the water.  Under a shadow of a tree, I enjoy the cool breeze wafting the song of the river. My comrades, and my only family in the mountains, join me in trying to stop the time running away. But time waits for none. Like the river running in front of us, between the bushes and the boulders, among the ridges and the rifts, the time also marches on eternally.


Reaching to Yuksam is a low key affair. We walk silently, almost meditatively and stop only after crossing the tourism department’s office. I leave my stick there. Somebody else will have good use of it. The strong stick served me quite well. May you serve others happily. It’s hard to believe our trek is over, and indeed it is! Jaggi lifts his arm skywards one last time, in relief and exaltation. Suman has two thumbs-up. I don’t know what to do. I smile at them.

We decide to stay at Hotel Pradhan, run by a certain Mr. Pradhan. More than room, I am interested in the the bathroom. It’s huge, and it has hot shower! A bath has never felt so good than this day! After 9 full days, to stand under a hot shower is heavenly. I feel like it’s not the droplets which touch me, but it’s joy, pure bliss. As if I have discovered the paradise! I am feeling fresh, and light, like I am reborn.

Sitting outside in the sun, we finish lunch of Pizza, sandwich and rice at Gupta’s. It’s hot but I feel the sun penetrating my being positively. There is a long queue of empty gas cylinders in main bazaar. The delivery truck is scheduled to come today. The people have been waiting for more than couple of hours. It’s an utter waste of people’s time. Why can’t be the cylinders delivered door-to-door like in the cities? Why don’t we care for our very own brothers and sisters in the rural and remote areas as much as we do for our urban counterparts?

101_6665 In the evening we go to Dubdi Monastery in Yuksam. The road to Sikkim’s oldest monastery is steep. After every 200m, there is a resting place for the visitors. Somehow I feel the incline is more than what I have encountered till now and I find it hard to climb. May be I was not ready for this climb when I started. Perhaps I need a leap of faith. I see an old couple laboring their way along with a foreigner lady. The gate to the monastery is closed, but not locked. We open it and climb the last few step to the holy place. Some kids are playing in the compound which is wide and decorated with flower plants. Kids are shy and I fail to approach most of them. One particular boy, while maintaining some distance, keeps asking me in broken Hindi, tum kahan jaa rahe ho? Where are you heading? I don’t quite understand what he means. The question may be physical, metaphysical or philosophical. I don’t know how to answer that. I am limited by my own shortcomings.


The monastery is closed so we cannot go to the sanctum sanctorum to prostrate ourselves in front of the deity or light the butter lamps. We spend sometime in and around the compound. While returning back, we are joined by the old couple and the lady we saw while climbing up. I assumed then that the couple is Indian, but as it turns out, they are French. The genial husband reminds me of Ruskin Bond. The haughty wife is clearly struggling with her steps because of arthritis. At times I want to give her hand to help her negotiate the slope, but I stop short as I know the man is quite capable of doing it and it gives him pleasure to do so. It is quite comforting to see two old people, deep in love, holding their hands to walk side by side in the twilight of their lives. Their only companion is an Alaskan lady whom they met during this trip. They want to know many things about India and also reconfirm what they have read and heard about the country. We talk about Hindu funerals, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, Buddhism and also about the kingdom of Sikkim. The Alaskan lady is especially well initiated into these topics. She talks about Satyajit Ray’s movie Sikkim which she happened to watch in Gangtok. I am astonished by how much interest these people take in the places they visit. They try to know everything about the people and the culture. They adopt the costumes and the accessories also while they are travelling. It’s truly remarkable how much they want to get mixed with people. That shows their openness and respect for other people.

Then the lady stumps me with a question. She asks me why Rama and Sita did not have a child even though they were married for 11 years before they went for vanvaas! It seems logical that they should have had a child if they were married that long. Frankly, I did not know they were married for  that many years before starting their 14 years arduous journey. Completely baffled, I search for words, reasons and responses. None comes. Finally, a little embarrassed, I reply that we do not ask questions of our Gods. Such a lame reasoning! Why? Why don’t we ask questions of our Gods when we put everyday man under so much scrutiny? Don’t we need to scrutinize them more since they show us way to live?

We spend good time with them sharing what little we know about this vast land of wisdom. After bidding them goodbye, we sit in a restaurant in Yuksam bazaar to drink tea. Slowly the darkness takes over the mountains in front of us. The crowd is gathering inside the restaurant which is run by a lady. Many young people are drinking thumba, the locally made millet beer. They are singing and dancing. The cheerful mood permeates the air. One intoxicated person pleads us to join them in drinking the liquor. We refuse respectfully. He thanks us for coming to Sikkim, especially to Yuksam, his own village. I wonder who should thank whom.

Mrs. Pradhan serves us the same food she prepared for her family. The home-cooked food is delicious. We finish it while Mr. Pradhan entertains us with his stories in high-pitched tone. His words echo in the ears even when he is not speaking anything. But, indeed, he plays a good host. The walk under the dark sky after the dinner is a relaxed affair. We stop at a shop to eat chikki, our dessert for the day. The whole bed is available to sleep in in the room. After 10 days, I will sleep outside a sleeping bag. From the prison that was the sleeping bag, I can almost sense the whole sky open above me. I reflect on my time in the mountains – I did not think about stock markets, Indian cricket teams, the work pressure or the world affairs during any of those wonderful days. How simple, ecstatic and surreal the life was! I am slipped into delirium.

Day 13 : From the Old Capital to the New Capital

101_6703 The early morning finds us at Gupta’s for a steaming cup of tea. We load our luggage on the taxi which is to take us to Gangtok, Sikkim’s current capital. Biren and Birjubhaiya also join us in our journey as we need to pay them once we withdraw money from an ATM there. Besides 5 of us, there is no other passenger in the taxi. Everyone is silent on the way. The solemn look is constant on each face. What’s going in the minds? About the trek? About the days to come? About the imminent separation? Or is it tiredness which I equate with gloom?

One by one every town pass by us – Pelling, Geyzing, Legship etc. Just before Ravangla, we stop for a break on a winding road. The Kangchenjunga mountain range which we saw so closely is visible in distance. The snow-capped mountains watch over the green and brown lower mountains. There are hardly any clouds on those white pillars of the snow. Why the sky was not so clear when we were there? Is this a cruel game the nature plays? Or is it effect of distance? I will not know the answer of that, but the view Kagnchenjunga provided from the Goechela View Point 2 will remain fixed in my eyes forever, however brief period that was. What we see now is vastness of the emperor, what we saw then was the greatness.

After Singtam, we join NH31A. While we were going to Yuksam from Siliguri, I was perplexed by the absence of Border Roads Organization(BRO). My favorite BRO builds durable roads and bridges in these difficult terrains. What did not strike me than was that the BRO is a military arm first, and they work in the areas which are strategically located near the borders. As such, Yuksam and the West Sikkim do no pose any threat to Indian national security as it borders with almost friendly and very small Nepal and well-protected by the natural vertical walls of Singalila range. The north and the east Sikkim are different. Their proximity with Chinese border render them strategic in the security map and the roads are the veins which carry the vital supply of military needs. That explains the BRO landmarks I see on the road now. No doubt it helps common people also as the roads are the only way one can travel in this part of the country. I miss the witty BRO road safety messages on this stretch though.

101_6718 The flower plants in the side of the mountain wall greet us outside Gangtok. If the outrageously colorful flowers are any signs, Gangtok will be beautiful beyond my imagination. We reach there at 11 AM. After climbing up a narrow file of steps, we step on the Mahatma Gandhi Marg, or the MG Marg, of the city. Looking at the street, my first thought is – where am I? An inexplicable chord touches the heart in an instant. The litter-free and spit-free area is clean beyond comparison. The column of different varieties of the flowers divide the road. On both the sides of it, the benches are laid for the people to sit back and enjoy the good weather. Multi-storied buildings of various colors, mainly the shades of green, rise over both the sides. A solitary tree stands in the middle of the road, as if speaking about the love of the people for the environment. Each Indian town boasts of one MG Road and I have not been to many towns of the country, but to my mind, I have no doubt that this the cleanliest and the most beautiful MG Road of the country. Bapu would be proud of it! Bapu might have not travelled to this remote place which does not have any rail network in the state, but the MG Road speaks off the virtues of cleanliness Bapu preached and followed so vigorously. Ironical it is that India’s best MG Road is in a state which was not part of the country till as late as 1975. And to say that Porbandar, the non-violent messiah’s birthplace, was the crime capital of the state of Gujarat till very recently!

Once on the MG Marg, we do not want to stay anywhere else. We pay to Biren and Birjubhaiya and they depart as they need to catch the taxi back to Yuksam. May we meet them soon again, on another fine trek. We find a room in a hotel on the MG Marg itself. The room overlooks the sprawling Gangtok city and the valley beyond that. The serpentine roads are crisscrossing the green landscape. On the horizon, among the clouds the massifs of Kangchenjunga range are visible among the army of the clouds. No wonder the Sikkimese people venerate Kangchenjunga. Like God, it’s omnipresent here. Perhaps it is the God.

In the afternoon We again set out to explore the MG Marg. The road is L-shaped. One side of the longer stretch is open for vehicular traffic. The side for the pedestrians is well-paved with tiles so that it can remain clean in the rain also. The wooden benches are polished and almost all of them are occupied even in the afternoon. Opposite to our hotel, there is a small statue of Bapu, in the middle of the road, surrounded by red, purple, pink and white flowers and the poles with hanging goblets of light.  There are sprinklers set between the plants at regular distance. I examine the plants. Every plant seems to be different than the other, except one particular plant which barely grows more than half a foot. Over the long line of these plants, the difference is the color of the flowers – of blue, yellow, white and pink.

101_6734 At the end of the MG Marg, there is Star Theater. The posters of many movies stuck on its walls give it a colorful look. There is an exhibition going on there – projecting gangtok. Suman and I get inside to take a look. On the ground floor there is a photography exhibition. One particular picture which catches my attention is that of a long queue of people and empty cylinders, just like the one I saw yesterday in Yuksam. The problem is common across the whole state. The caption below the picture says it all – LPG:Line Patience Gas.

The exhibition on the first floor of the theater is about the future of the city. Various architectural projects planned for the city are depicted there.They are about flyovers, sewage systems, traffic management, malls etc. My favorite ones are the Butterfly Bridge, a bridge the top-view of which looks like a butterfly, and Gangtok Tower, a giant structure destined to be built in the middle of the city. Good thing about these projects are they are planned with keeping environment in the sight. I hope to see them as major landmarks during my future visits.

101_6752 In appreciating the MG Marg till now, I have not noticed the shops on the road which draw people in hoards to this vibrant street. There are small sweet shops which serve mouth-watering delicacies, the smell of which makes one forget about everything else. The curio shops on both the sides display the local handicrafts, the hand-fans and artifacts of inviting beauty. Inside one such shop, I cannot resist myself from buying a whole lot of little wonders. We buy the colorful Tibetan cups with paintings of animals on it, some real and some mythological, from another shop. While returning, the rain also visits the MG Marg. The pedestrians rush to find a cover. Those who have umbrellas open them and bring their sky closer to them. Watching over the proceedings from a pavement standing under a roof, I watch the umbrellas playing with the rain. They are of all the colors, sizes and designs. Merging them all will make a rainbow. Instantly I fall in love with umbrellas. The words fall from my mouth as effortlessly as the rain in front of me – Ambar ka tukda tauda, lakdi ka hathha jauda, haath me apne aasmaan hai. The desire for one such umbrella takes the form within.

In the evening we decide to stroll away from MG Marg for a change. We cross to the other side by the footbridge adjacent to the Sikkim Tourism Office on MG Marg. There is a small bookshop on the base of the footbridge. Browsing thru the collection, we end up buying some travel books and a Tibetan story of love and magic. Glancing over the other side of the road, both Jaggi and I notice the poster of the movie Sikkim by Satyajit Ray. This documentary feature film was banned for many years and the ban was removed recently. The Vajra theater in the city is showcasing it. We want to watch it. Suman decides to stay back. As the theater is not very far, about couple of kilometers , and we have time on hand, we decide to walk the distance. Various government administrative buildings are along the way. The architecture of these buildings is simple but beautiful, reminiscent of the yore. The footpath is well-paved with cement bricks and a strong railing prevents the pedestrians from falling down on the road by mistake. All the roads in the city have such footpaths. The roads are closed for heavy vehicles. It’s amazing how much care has been put for everyone in the planning.

In our excitement to watch the movie, we forgot to realize that the poster was put as the next-change. It’s Thursday today and the movie will be screened from tomorrow, the Friday, as it happens with the release of all the new movies. Our bad! We enjoyed the walk though, and we don’t mind going back on our feet again. From a small opening on the road, where there is no building standing, we can see the twilight on the Kangchenjunga range.  The orange, red and the pink mix in delightful proportion to present another magnificent view of the mountains. Another day spent in the mountains! I am loving it!

We stop by at the Gram Shree Handicraft Mela on our way back. Craftsmen from all over the state come here to display their art. I buy a couple of things. As it’s time to wind up the day, there is an air of funfair in the mela. Some boys and girls are dancing on the tunes of Sheila Ki Jawani, Kajrare and other popular Bollywood songs. It’s unbelievable how Bollywood spans out to the people of this country who differ so much in their cultures and languages. But then it’s hard to believe so many things about India itself.

We wander around on the MG Marg in the night. We keep eating snacks from small shops. The soft music is played on. Another specialty of the MG Marg is the Bose speakers attached on the light poles. These high-quality speakers air the music the whole day. I did not notice it during the day. The beloved MG Marg keeps springing surprises. I am running out of superlatives for the road now. I will rest at it.  

Day 14: The End is the New Beginning

101_6845 We search for tea early morning while walking towards the point from where we saw Kangchenjunga last evening. The tea shops are not open yet. We find tea only in one place, in a hospital, that too machine-made tea. After paying our morning respects to the emperor, we come back to the MG Marg. Hot kachoris and another round of tea sooth our stomachs. People are flogging the street. On their morning jog, they greet each other with salutary messages. Every bench is occupied. People come and shake hands with those whom they know. They are chatting, unmindful of who sits next to them. Those who are alone are reading newspapers or sucking the surroundings in. We measure the length and the breadth of the road again. While returning back, next to the Bapu’s statue, three kids approach me and request me to click their photo. They pull me to give force to their request. That is not needed, I will do it anyway. They look like destitute children. After every click, they request for one more and I happily oblige. It’s nice to see the innocent smile on their faces. For a moment, I feel Bapu is smiling inside me. For that the briefest of the moment, I am Bapu.

101_6852 We are doing what the bulk of the tourists do – clicking our pictures in front of the signboard which announces the MG Marg. A foreigner is playing with a ball. He throws the ball in the air, the ball comes down to the earth but his gaze did not follow it. Instead he keeps on looking at the sky. I try to see what he is so keenly looking at in the sky. The heart momentarily stops beating. Wow! a spectacle has taken place in the sky. I have never seen such a cosmic wonder. Centering the sun, a full ring is formed around. The ring looks like a rainbow. The blue outer edge and the red inner edge form the perfect 22 degree halo. It is so wonderful. I call it the Lord of the rings.

We watch the halo till our necks start paining. We get back to our hotel, freshen up, pay the bills and venture out again on the MG Marg! My last meal in Sikkim is Aloo Chop, very spicy and tasty. We take our luggage from the hotel and hire a shared taxi to the bus stand. Outside the bus stand, we get the bus to Siliguri. While we load our luggage on the top of the bus, the traffic is halted and the temper flares. Good thing is that we need not to wait for the bus. We take our seats inside and take one last look over the Gangtok city. My memories of the city will largely consist of the MG Marg and the halo. There are many places to explore for a few more visits, I guess.

The bus journey feels dull after our happening undertakings in last 12 days. The heat is increasing as we approach the plains. The flying dust discloses the nature of where we are heading. We cool ourselves with sweet misti doi. That will be my saving grace for next week. The Teesta’s roar is heard again as we near the border of the state to West Bengal. The sunrays dance in flashy costumes on the water of the river. From the narrow high-altitude path, it’s widening in the plains. The uproar is dying down to slow murmur now, falsely giving the impression as if its might is reduced. If anything, it has acquired the strength of rhythm and continuity.

I have not thought about running much except while I talked to Roshni while taking dinner at Pradhan’s in Yuksam. Her cousin, Samir, has booked my accommodation in Dolly Inn on Bidhan Road in Siliguri. I check in in the hotel. Suman and Jaggi also come with me to freshen up before leaving for the NJP railway station in the evening. They have a train to Kolkata today. We meet Amit Joshi, another runner from Mumbai, who is also part of the gang which is going to run 50K from Lohapool to Pedong, Roshni’s native town.

We walk around on the Bidhan Road and eat samosa with tea. The sweets and snacks shops are plenty. It’s the time when people return home from their work. On their way back, they stop in such a shop, have a piece of jalebi or jamun, and get some packed for their families. We don’t need to get the sweets packed, so we finish more than our fair share at one of the shops.

It’s time for Jaggi and Suman to leave. Farewells are always uncomfortable, more so when you have shared majestic moments like the ones we did. In short span of time, we have been part of memorable moments. These two gentlemen are my family for last few days and I am going to miss them. I wonder if the next 7 days of life will give me as much pleasure, or even half of that. I will meet Jaggi in Bangalore but Suman? Not sure when will I meet him again. Our bonding is founded on and strengthened by the mountains, and in all likelihood we shall see each other again when another mountain calls both of us.  Farewell fellas!

Once my friends leave, I aimlessly walk on the Bidhan Road, not looking for anything but just to kill the time. Kill the time, did I say? How un-thoughtful! In reality the time kills everyone, slowly and surely. There is chaos on the road. Hand-pulled carts, cycle rickshaws, cycles, bikes, cars and buses rush violently to the empty spaces on the road. How on earth these things move in this anarchy? Maybe I am not back to the city mentally though my body is well back to it. I get off from the Bidhan Road to inside the markets. There is a vegetables and fruits market, clothes market, toys market etc. The prominent names for shopping are the Hongkong Market and the Bidhan Market. I will see them with more clarity tomorrow. For now my wandering is just concentrated on getting myself tired to retire early in the bed.

I take dinner at Prabhu Bhoj on Bidhan Market, followed by couple of sweets. Oh, I love them! I stop by at a paanwala’s, before returning to my hotel room. Truly alone, by myself, I recognize that the first phase, the longest one, of my trip is over. From trekking, it will be running which will take precedence now. I am moving to the part two of my journey. The Teesta is done with trekking wild in the high mountains; it’s time to slow, continuous, rhythmical running in the plains. Time to start another story…

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