Trek to Sandakpu, Darjeeling – Final Part

Next morning when I got up by 5 am it was still raining and the place was misty. However, by 7 am it started clearing. One of the guides went to the view point to see if the of the majestic mountains had cleared. No luck. The rain stopped and by 8 am, after breakfast of half cooked chapattis and same potato vegetable that I had to forcibly push down my throat, I decided to commence marching towards Gorkhey, a downhill distance of 15 kms.

To Gorkhey-Down Hill-26 May 2913
We started at 8.30 am in a bright and sunny morning. The Bengal Group of 5 not so young men in their 40s had already started half an hour back and the Western group were just getting ready. As we took off I found that the track was wide with gradual decent, and as we moved along the early morning sunshine added beauty to the rain fresh forest all around us. Partial view of Kanchenjunga, half hidden by the clouds was magnificent. I reminded myself that it is always the half hidden views that are exciting.

Half Hidden from the Eyes

Half Hidden from the Eyes



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More rhododendrons in full bloom, pink, cherry, white, lavender, spreading riot of colors across the jungle, “a thing of beauty is joy forever”, so said John Keats. The blooming trees were smaller, almost like bushes. One needs to study the rhododendrons in depth so as to be able to enjoy the beauty of this flower in its entirety. I passed through dense forest of chestnuts, oaks, magnolias, rhododendrons, silver fir and hemlock. It was a feast to the eyes of a nature lover.

Nature’s Tunnel

Nature’s Tunnel

The path was a combination of mule track and foot path and it was passing through varieties of jungle landscape and fauna. We passed through pine forest, then came the small structured bamboo jungle locally called “Mallebu”, then came giant sized ferns heralding the path on both sides like a natural decoration to welcome the weary traveler. As we consumed the distance and moved closer towards Gorkhey the path became steeper descent that was not very kind to my old creaking knees. The umbrella stick was a great help and support. We indulged ourselves with quick halts sipping ORS water and passing body water. We trudged along slowly and surely.

Blooming Rhododendrons & Creaking Knees

Blooming Rhododendrons & Creaking Knees

The last lap to Gorkhey was punishing steep decent over a narrow path that almost sent us in all our fours. Suddenly my heart swelled as I saw the glimpse of Gorkhey. A small village of few scattered tin roof huts interspersed by cultivated fields and cow sheds. I heard loud sound of water rushing downhill. Bijay told me it was Gorkhey Khola (stream), after the name of the village.

First View of Gorkhey from Top

First View of Gorkhey from Top

As we descended downhill and the view of the village became clearer, I could see the beautiful Gorkhey Khola meandering down the hill side, dancing along the huge rocks while turning the fresh water into milky frothy broth as it cascaded down hill dividing the village into two halves. The village with a dozen hutments mingled with cowsheds and cultivated fields, was surrounded on all sides by green forest of pine trees. The forest extended up to and beyond horizon on all sides. It was heavenly beautiful. I could live here forever or till the end of my natural term of life on this planet. Amen.

Gorkhey Khola

Gorkhey Khola

Finally we were at Gorkhey. At this stage of trek, my one and only need was a clean western type commode. I could not imagine punishing my aching knees by bending beyond the limits of its elasticity in an Indian style toilet. Lo and behold, seek and you will find, ask and you shall be given, so said Jesus Christ. Bijay took me to Eden Lodge and much to my pleasant surprise the land lady showed me a small, clean and wall to wall carpeted room with attached toilet. The site of clean western style commode was a dream come true. I took it without second thought. Unlike the Government Lodges in Sandakpu and Phalut, the linen, blanket and quilt were fresh and clean another blessing in the jungle. Even in such a remote village it was a typical show case of ” private success and public failure”, as explained by Gurcharan Das in his book, “India Grows at Night” . I requested the young land lady for strong (“Kaddak”) milk tea with CTC tea leaves, my usual favorite. Tea was hot and tasty, no wonder, the milk was freshly brought from the cowshed.

The Bridge to Sikkim

The Bridge to Sikkim

I removed my hiking shoes and shocks, wore slippers and moved around the area enjoying the tea and the beauty of the nature all around. A local mastiff came wagging its long furry tail and sat next to me. Great company. I gave him some of my left over biscuits and he wolfed it down happily and looked expectantly at me leaking its mouth signaling for more biscuits. Sunset was another beauty; I sat by the bridge on the stream and drank the raw beauty of nature. We had reached by 2 pm, so lunch was on the cards.

Warm Hearth of Eden Lodge in Gorkhey

Warm Hearth of Eden Lodge in Gorkhey

I saw healthy and fresh Rai leaves in the field as also ripe red tomatoes and requested the Landlady if she could cook those leaves curry and make local Gorkha chatni out of garden fresh tomato and chilly. Lunch ready in a jiffy; served to me in the kitchen table I relished it to the core. “God of Small things” indeed. We look for big deal material happiness but the real happiness can be derived from such joyful moments with nature. After lunch I went for a walk and saw a beautiful bridge that connects Gorkhey village with Sikkim. As the shadows of the pine trees lengthened and the sun went over the Western horizon, few villagers trudged back home after hard days’ work in the fields. Mother hen started collecting its small noisy chicks and got them moving towards their warm shelters for the night. Bleating goats were being driven to their respective cages by the house kids. Smoke started drifting from huts heralding the preparation of supper in the warm mud fire places by the mother of the homes. That was dusk at Gorkhey. After late and sumptuous lunch I did not have much appetite so ate little supper of rice, daal and mixed vegetable and went to sleep early. Although nursing tired limbs and aching knees after trekking 36 kms in 2 days I was happy and thrilled to be where I was by choice. Bijay was so kind as to bring some hot oil and message my aching legs. I looked forward to a good night’s sleep and a hearty crap in the western toilet the next morning. God Bless this cradle of nature, “Gorkhey”.

Gorkhey Early Morning

Gorkhey Early Morning

The Last Lap from Gorkhey to Sri Khola: 27 May 2013.
Sunrise in Gorkhey was another beautiful site that showcased itself by morning’s first sunrays brightening the tips of the jungle of pine trees. With previous night’s rain the village and the jungle around had become rain fresh. Smoke started puffing from the houses, huts and cow sheds and I could see my land lady taking fodder to her cows. Morning was further glorified by the baying of calves asking for mother’s milk, goats bleating and it’s little ones dancing around in their usual pranks while mother hen protectively guided her chicks to early morning worms. A lone eagle circled over the village sky in anticipation of a careless chick straying away. As I walked into the warm kitchen hot mug of tea greeted me, I picked up a chair, sat outside sipping hot tea and admiring the simple beauty of nature. Breakfast was sumptuous bowl of dahlia porridge and 2 boiled eggs washed down with another mug of tea. Needless to say that was blessed with a very hearty and full blast exit policy on the rare “western throne”.

“Parting not so happy”

“Parting not so happy”

We left Eden Lodge and marched across the bridge at 8.30 am. Along the path next to a rock, across the stream, the village mastiff was sitting by, with not so happy look, perhaps waiting to say his goodbye. As we crossed him, he gave a quick look at me and trotted off .Goodbye nice dog, I hope to meet you again sometimes in life. A karmic friend indeed, there is always a meaning and method in their ways. Few hundred meters across the village the path suddenly entered a dense jungle, wet and fresh. The path covered by fallen leaves was wet and almost slushy at places systematically decorated by fresh mule or horse dung. I did not find it dirty. The dung was fodder for worms and insects that automatically materialized around. Well-designed ecological circle of life as some of these insects would, in turn, become food for bigger insects and birds or snakes. It was like passing through God created tunnel of forest with little sun rays being able to filter through the canopy of pine trees. There is method in God’s madness.

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Samanden Village: Another Bounty of Nature:
The path was a spiral climb, steep, narrow and slippery at places. It took only about 30 minutes of laborious climb and suddenly we broke into a flat open plateau. The track continued in a gradual upward gradient. I saw the first house of village Samanden. The village was as beautiful as Gorkhey but fewer houses. I was touched by the site of a mare grazing lazily on the lush green lawn of a small cottage with the new born foal lying contently on the lawn. These are rare sights even in remote areas; one has to be lucky to come across such beauty of nature in a world filled by techno-gizmos.

Little further away my eyes feasted on another little cottage with magenta pink primrose tree in full bloom. Further along the way there was a beautiful log cabin, a Trekker’s Lodge by Forest Department. Looked promising, hope they have decent bathroom with Western type toilet. Blissfully there were few houses and fewer people, a contrast from the overcrowded hill towns that boast of abundance of carbon di-oxide as a result of cars and cars everywhere. The price we pay for development and consumer power. After this village the path passed through pure and fresh jungle of pine trees, shrubs, creepers, streams and more streams.

Samanden Village

Samanden Village

We kept marching slow and steady as the path gradually descended downhill till we came across the same Gorkhey Khola that had meandered around the hill to find us back on the trail. After crossing the stream the path went up hill to a steep gradient that was quite back breaking indeed. The last bottle of ORS water kept us going. We climbed on huffing and puffing, taking sip of ORS mixture to energize ourselves. As all good things and bad things come to an end, the arduous climb came to an end and we found ourselves walking on a plain path that entered village Ramom, the last village before our final destination, Srikhola. It was again a small village with a school and a newly inaugurated Gompa. The prominent house was Namo Buddha Lodge. It was double storey wooden cottage with balcony and courtyard full of pots filled with colorful geranium & roses.

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Tired and thirsty after the arduous climb I was ready for a hot cup of tea and snacks. Bijay took me to the lodge and before anything happened I walked in to the kitchen that had warmth of wood fire burning hearth. It seems the man and lady of the house were sitting by the fire and they were jolted by my sudden appearance. Perhaps so because it was quite a well to do place by the local standard and the owners seem to be well off hence the civilized way of surprise at an alien intrusion in to the privacy of their kitchen. I announced that I was an old and weary traveler and was looking for a hot cup of tea. The man guided me to the drawing room through the connecting door and offered me seat. We got to talking and I was made to understand that the family had similar lodges in Sandakpu and Rimbik. Tea was tolerable but hot and on my asking for snack I was offered “Champa” or “Satto”. I was surprised to find that the house hold did not know how to serve a simple thing like Champa. It is normally mixed with black tea or milk or hot water and a spoon of pure ghee with sugar or salt to taste. I was offered just the powder in a bowl and expected to make my own cauldron paste. Hungry that I was I helped myself. Perhaps because of my frank and sweet talk payment was politely refused. Instead they took my contact details for future reference. Thank you good hosts, God Bless your home.

A human faced stone along the path to Srikhola

A human faced stone along the path to Srikhola

Rest of the trek was downhill along freshly dug up road alignment that took a steep descent. Landslides had started showing up as nature’s response to digging mother earth. At places there were small landslides in progress and we had to run down to avoid being crushed by falling boulders. More houses appeared on the way. Upon looking up towards the hill side I wondered how I had walked all the way crossing it.
After painful and almost unending descent, finally reached Srikhola at 2.30 pm, 6 hours trek, not bad I guess. The place was so deeply tugged into the fold of Srikhola stream that it was almost invisible till we actually came face to face with the first house that was again a well-designed French Villa type of Government Trekker’s hut. I did not wish to go inside. We trudged along to our destination, Goparma Hotel. As I crossed the threshold of this humble Hotel I finally finished my ambitious trekking and had done 52 kms. In 3 days. Satisfied and tired I threw myself on the first available cot in a small room that was shown to me. As always happened during the trek, heavy downpour started and I could hear the Srikhola rumbling past. Slept the rest of the afternoon till awakened by the sound of Kolkata trekkers fetching up and getting into their rooms.

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I had been carrying my military hip thermos filled with Napoleon Brandy but had not taken a swig yet. Now was the chance. So when I got up by 7 pm I found nice company as 5 young trekkers from Kolkata had fetched up. I asked them if anybody was in a mood for a drink. They said they were also planning to invite me over to join them for a drink. They had their quota of Antiquity Blue. We trooped into the dining room that was connected with the kitchen by a half wall. Snacks had already been arranged by the young enterprising trekkers. We sat around the table and clinked our yera glasses and drank to celebrate the successful completion of long trek. Cheers.
Next day, 28th May, I got up early, went to the kitchen and asked for a hot, strong sweet cup of tea to the sleepy, groggy eyed maid. She obliged and surprisingly it was as good as I wanted. I drank it with a half a packet of biscuits so as to have a hearty exit policy. I did it, painfully though on a “western not so clean toilet”. By 6.30 am Bijay and I started towards the bridge as that was the rendezvous with the only passenger service sumo. No vehicle was in sight. It was drizzling but I decided to walk and reach a nearby village 2/3 kms away to catch the transport. On the way I found several lodges and a youth hostel. Finally after about 3 kms we reached a small wayside hotel, “Hotel Lippahochha”. Waited there for half an hour and finally got into the sumo that came along. Although I had booked a front seat the young boisterous driver told me to take the second seat. I said nothing doing and got into the first seat. A middle aged man got in at another small village stop and asked me as to my caste, I told him my caste is human being and did he have a problem with that or did he find a suitable groom in me for his daughter.. He shut up for the rest of the journey till he got down meekly at Sukheypokhari. These people from Nepal have an engrained cultural habit to ask a stranger his caste. The driver was a cellphone freak. He would not stop talking on the phone even in sharpest of bends, one slip and we would be hurtling down on a free fall to end up as splattered eggs on some nice rock face. He would look ahead, steer the vehicle at the same, punch number for another call. It was endless. I decided to keep quiet and kept on with my prayer bead. Another stop, a man was getting in and he shouted at the driver as to why he had not kept the front seat for him. Looked like this guy was a local boss kind of a man as the driver told him meekly that the front seat was his only but this passenger has occupied it. That guy said, “Who” most menacingly. As the driver pointed towards me I gave a cool unconcerned look to the void and kept on with my prayer beads. Nothing happened and we drove on at the deadly hands of this cellphone freak cum driver. At Sukheypokhari I drew cash from the one and only ATM of SBI and gave Bijay a well-deserved hefty tip and in turn he bid me bye with “Khada” and hug. In spite of the dangerous driver cum cell phone freak I reached Darjeeling safely at 11 am. Now that there was no Bijay I carried my rucksack and walked towards Siliguri motor stand. Lo and behold, I was home in Siliguri at 2.30 pm sharp to the delicious chicken curry lunch laid out by my wife, Rina. I showered, changed into clean clothes and ate a hearty lunch downing it with a bottle of beer. Rina asked me if I was going to shave my 5 days stubble. I told her I would do so only after completing my travelogue on the lap top. Now that I have done so, I shall shave tomorrow morning before heading for early morning golf at Sukna Army Golf Course.
End

Post Script: For benefit of those readers who wish to understand the meaning of Guru Rinpoche Prayer:

“Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Padme Siddhi Hum”

OM: Stands for the Body and also the essence of form and at the deepest level OM purifies the way to a limitless compassion

AH: Stands for Speech and the essence of sound,

HUM: Stands for Spirit and the essence of spirituality and realises the kemel of heavenly reality.

VAJRA: Stands for unlimited power for great wisdom that cannot be destroyed by ignorance.

GURU: Stands for someone who possess a beautiful quality of wisdom & compassion and further signifies the outer and the inner master.

PADME: Means Lotus and in this text stands for enlightened speech.

SIDDHI: Means the real attainment, fulfillment and realisation.

HUM: Represents the spirit of wisdom of all Buddha’s and brings the mantra into its consecration

17 Comments

  • Amitava Chatterjee says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed the post, Col., as well as the entire series.
    Thank you for introducing such dream places of our country e.g. Gorkey Khola & Samanden villages. There are so many hidden gems in our country.
    The post and pictures are inviting…wish to be in such places for few days in every year.
    Wishing you to take many more such trips and hope to hear more from you.

    • Col Mani K Gahatraj says:

      Thank you, Amitava, glad you liked the post.

      Wish you too many treks in the nature. God Bless,

      Mani

  • ashok sharma says:

    Very good post with lots of information about the untouched,unsung marvels of our country,some of the photographs are really nice, especially the pink rose with tiny water droplets on its petals.The exit policy is really a serious issue to be considered.That Sumo drive with a mobile freak was a serious risk and one must not travel with such drivers because such journeys have every chance to end in some serious accident.life is the most precious thing man has been blessed with and it should never be risked by travelling with such careless drivers.

    • Col Mani K Gahatraj says:

      Thank you Ashok for appreciating the post and also for your concern towards safety against reckless drivers. Lessons are learnt in every travel.

  • A very absorbing and detailed articulation of an arduous trek undertaken by a spirited 70 year young vertan of 45 Regular course (IMA). The scripted trek is bound to inspire many to follow suit and enjoy the beautiful Himalayas and the healthy climate. It sure is a pity that as a nation we have not promoted tourism to such scenic spots.

    Mani you have done us proud by not only undertaking this trek but also by sharing your experiences of the trek to give us a realistic feel of this adventure.

    Great job. God bless

    • Col Mani K Gahatraj says:

      Thank you Ramanjit for your kind comments. I am glad you liked the post. Your encouragement inspires me to do more,

      God Bless

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Wow. So after a well-earned chicken-curry (with leg as well as breast pieces, pun intended) and washing it down with the bubbly, you remembered us to write this. I take a bow.

    The log is full of details. Your observation and then articulating it in a fluid way, like that morning scene at Gorkhey. I can almost visualise a puffing kitchen and the hen leading its lets in a single file. What do we say more than a big thanks for sharing this beautiful and inspiring experience with all of us.

    God bless.

  • Shiv Rana says:

    Your travelogue absorbed me and took me down the memory lane. I know that area since my wife is from Darjeeling. But never had chance to trek to Sandokphu, though always wanted to. I have done lots of trek in Uttaralhand and k now how satisfying the feeling is once the trek is over.

    You have fluidity in your narration which makes it reading very interesting.

    God bless and hope to read many more travelogues from you.

    • Col Mani K Gahatraj says:

      Thank you Shiv for your kind words, needless to say its a great inspiration, coming as it is, from old friends like you. Its never too late, you can always come this side do do this trek to Sandakpu. Yes another one is coming sooooon : ))

      God Bless you and family,

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Col Sahib,

    Beautiful end to a great trek. Kind of sad like the mastiff to see the series come to an end.

    Hope to read more in the coming days.

  • Naturebuff says:

    Dear Colonel,

    I am absolutely awe-struck not only by your inspiring travel experiences, but also by the amazing ability you have of taking the reader with you along on your journeys…. Hats Off! I am a total nature freak and would love to do this trek.

    A couple of questions though. Would the chances of rain reduce in the Oct -Nov period? Would it be very harsh(cold) weather then?

    I hope we are just beginning and would get to read many more of your tales and hopefully go to those places also someday!

    Regards

    • Mani says:

      Dear Naturebuff,

      Thank you for your kind words of compliments for the post and my apologies for the delayed response.

      Hardly any rains in Oct-Nov and yes it will be cold but not that harsh, biting, bone chilling cold. Ok you can tolerate it and even enjoy the cold. You will get to see a very clear panoramic view of major Himalayan Ranges most of the time so carry a good camera. All the best ang good luck.

      Regards,

      Mani

  • Amit Hazra says:

    . Your travelogue is just mindblowing…..Can you please help me with the contact details of Goparma hotel, Srikhola?

    • Mani says:

      Thank you Amit for your sweet comments.

      Contact details of Goparma, Srikhola – 9733261799

      River View Lodge, Srikhola – 9733393617/8348286798

      All the best and and have a great trip.

      Regards,

      Mani

  • Suvendu Das says:

    hi ..Your travelogue is just mind-blowing .i love iti just want to go there ..Can you please help me with the contact details of Gorkhey/Ribdi home stay

    • Mani says:

      Dear Suvendu, Thank you and I am glad you liked my post. I do not have contact details of Home stays of Gorkhey/Ribdi but you can contact Singalila National Park Tourism Association and get the contact Nos as also book a home stay when you are at Maneybhayanjang before the trek. You may also contact Bejoy Chhetri, a guide I used, at 8372098309/8116872392. All the best and hope you are taking this trip after the ongoing monsoon. Good Luck.

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