When ‘Siddhartha’ set off on his journey to the awakening it was not because he would return to establish his worth. What is worth to a man who leaves behind a kingdom, a beautiful wife and a newborn, which hasn’t been inflicted with the filth of society? What is worthy is knowledge, because knowledge is the only path to self-realization and thus liberation.
Well that was ‘Siddhartha’. For a wannabe Christopher McCandless, who inherits not an empire but a plethora of obligations, a wish-list of half-realized dreams, and identified by meager pieces of paper that define knowledge and legitimize relationships, it is immaterial to set on a journey to find ‘Nirvana’. And therefore, every action that he performs becomes demonized by material motives. Uncontrollable outbursts of rage, jealousy, greed and even happiness trigger the urge to break free from the contracts.
And thus after an episode of immature indignation, I escape. Not, not to return anymore, but to momentarily free myself from the womb of pseudo society that has a life-long incubation period but never actually gives birth.
A ruck-sack more filled with emotions than necessities, a small diary that remains to this day empty, and a heart full of grudges were my possessions. And of-course, I could not leave behind my eyes.
Having no tickets to heaven I had to bribe the mortal gods on the way. Half my family was in ‘Kapilavastu’ and was unaware of my escapade. The other half was torn to pieces that very evening and therefore no bad good-byes.
The night swept away recollecting the acts of disgust and retrospection. The upper berth kept me above the ‘lesser mortals’ and the banal conversation of family affairs. Once in a while the voice of a little girl aggravated the agony as it sounded like castigation.
The next day was spent traveling in shared jeeps. The familiar roads and alleys of Kurseong and Ghoom re-enforcing the reminiscences of the former getaway which were still fresh to the extent of words exchanged. Call it co-incidence or the irony of life; it was the same driver in whose jeep we had traveled on the previous trip. So far with the past life, the roads and people became unfamiliar after Ghoom. The chill in the wind forced me to put on another layer of rag. Whatever I was wearing when I left home had lost its warmth by then.
By late afternoon I was in Sukhia, a small town en route to Manebhanjan, and was late for the regular shuttles. An hour of waiting at Sukhia, standing in the chill for the van to fill up was depleting, leave alone the praying eyes of the cab drivers. Manebhanjan seemed a distant reality.
A small village secluded and quiet, Manebhanjan serves as the base camp for Sandakphu trekkers. The tranquility and silence of the place was healing the hunger and exhaustion already. The serene village has few shops owned by Sherpa families that sell food and other essentials. A minute walk down hill on the desolate streets to the Sherpa office just to find it unattended wasn’t much rewarding though.
Twilight descends early in these valleys as the perennial blanket of fog accelerates nightfall. An attempt to trek in the dark would be stupid and perhaps futile. Taking a Land Rover to Tonglu seemed a logical decision, not an adventurous one though. Meghma, on the way lived up to her reputation.
The only Trekkers Hut in Tonglu is quite a luxury when compared to camping in open grounds in a tent. A bowl of hot ‘wai-wai’ and steamed-rice and ‘dal’ for dinner seemed no less than delicacies. The dormitory style rooms with large glass windows gave an unobstructed view of the far away hills and valleys. It was freezing outside, but that didn’t keep me from taking a stroll into the nearby meadow.
The First Night ~
In my previous attempts to find tranquility, the farthest I have been from civilization was not far enough to hear the beating heart. For half a decade I’ve wanted to be out of reach of the cancerous radio signals and the cacophony of modern civilization. And this place was straight out of a dream. The starry sky merging down into the horizon and the sparkling lights from the distant villages down below formed an infinite canvas of constellations. The full moon illuminated the mountains against the night sky creating silhouettes of silver and grey revealing a mystical figure spanning across the horizon. The virgin night so intriguing, she made me resist the biting cold and embrace the aura. And of course thanks to the generous owner who gave me a pair of gloves when my Sherpa Nima, informed her that I was not having one. With the light of dawn the mountains gradually revealed their prominence. Never before have I witnessed beauty and grandeur of such magnitude.
Day 1 ~ The Flirting
The trek started early in the morning. Tumling, a few hundred feet lower in altitude was visible all the way from Tonglu. Two kilometers downhill, and the first pit stop for the day and we set of for Gairibas. The next seven kilometers of gradual descend was relatively easy compared to what was awaiting beyond. The next six kilometer ascend to Kalipokhri was the first trial of endurance. The rewards were gratifying though. A beautiful hamlet at an elevation of ten thousand feet and derives its name form a small perennial pond where the water is apparently black and is therefore considered magical and sacred by the villagers.
The setting Sun filled the valleys in mist of gold, which stretched as far as the eye could see. The play of light on the slithering clouds and fog orchestrated spectacular concerts of color. With twilight setting in, the mountains became more seductive alluring the mind into a trance the high of which rivaled physical pleasures.
Prominent human presence in Sandakphu made it less enchanting than Tonglu, the aura of the place untouched though. The moonlit night giving a clear view of the mountains which were closer than ever before. The gushing wind felt like piercing needles on bare skin. It was too strong for a steady shot and lenses were fogging in seconds. Maybe she didn’t want to give her up so easily.
Day 2 ~ The Infatuation
Phalut was the final destination of this journey. At an altitude of twelve thousand feet, which is almost of the same elevation of Sandakphu, the trail to Phalut follows mountain ridges and traverses expansive meadows. Twenty one kilometers of uninterrupted terrain and a view of the greater Himalayan peaks in Nepal, makes this trail most rewarding.
The vast meadows devoid of vegetation are lined with burned trees struck by lightning. The charred trunks standing erect on the barren land in stark contrast to the surrounding dense forest down in the valleys, gives the place a surrealistic feel. There are two tiny settlements on the way. The first is Sabarkum, which is fourteen kilometers from Sandakphu and barely has any human inhabitants. A few roofless stone houses that seem abandoned, lie in desolation. There is an open pond deep down near the forest that served to replenish water bottles for trekkers. Two kilometers further is Molley and is a diversion to Gorkhey.
The last few kilometers of ascend to Phalut was demanding. With the view of the mountains blocked, the driving force lost its vigor and I faltered at times. Nevertheless the last milestone was conquered. The Trekkers Hut here is at the Southern base of the summit and therefore has no views of the mountains to the North. The night was difficult and felt crippling. Not because of the bone chilling wind or the aching heels, but for the longingness. The moonlit path to the summit was alluring, but fog and poor visibility deterred an attempt to climb in the dark. And I regret to this day for not having done that.
Day 3 ~ The Bonding
At daybreak the fog thinned out alleviating the disappointment. Overly enthusiastic, I rushed half way to the top which was ungentlemanly. Up there in the mountains one needs to be disciplined and patient. A handful of snow from the last fall appeased the thirst, and the soul later. Following the ridge I walked past a stone pillar, marking the confluence of borders of Nepal, Bengal and Sikkim. With a few more steps I had reached the summit, the pinnacle of this journey, and the beginning of more to embark on.
The gushing wind eventually cleared the fog revealing an infinite vastness of deep blue sky and a breathtaking panorama. The majestic ‘Sleeping Buddha’, dominated the horizon. The magical figure that kept me captivated all the way long and in whose search I had undertaken this endeavor. Mt. Kumbhakarna, Kanchenjunga and Mt. Pandim together are called ‘The Sleeping Buddha’. To the far West is Mt. Everest, Lhotse and Makalu, and to the right peaks of Sikkim and Bhutan, forms one of the most fascinating views.
As the old saying goes, “The mountains will either break you or make you.”; The body pushed beyond the comfort of pseudo ecstasies, a mind cleansed of existential crisis, a reinforced character, and heart half –filled, this journey of self-discovery and realization did not end there…