“You should make sure that place is open before you go” and “that place is always on strike” or “nothing but trouble” is what we heard when we told people we are heading up north to the capital of tea and the former British hill station, Darjeeling. The plan was to enjoy the views of the Himalayas and to make it our base-camp to trek in the northern Buddhist state of Sikkim, which sits just north of Darjeeling and was annexed by India in 1973 to create a buffer zone between itself and China and is now a happy and peaceful Indian state that appears to have given China the middle finger.
To get to
Our plan was to trek a nearby circuit called the Singalila trek that passes through inaccessible villages and high pasturelands on the ridgeline which separates
We hired a guide through a somewhat high-strung, fast talking outfitter (as always, one must take a guide for these treks…despite the path being a wide road) and set off for the trailhead from which we climbed steeply in a dense fog to Tumling on the Nepalese side of the ridge. We brought camping gear, despite being able to stay at lodges along the way, but we ate dinner at the lodge, a warm meal of what was to become the staple food of the trek, veg-dal-rice, a dish consisting of exactly what it sounds like: fairly bland vegetables, dal, and of course, rice.
The next morning we awoke at dawn to clouds and no views of the mountains, and continued onwards to Sandakhpu, the highest point of the trek at 3636 meters. We met some other trekkers in Tumling whose company we enjoyed along the way including a pair of French grad students from Chennai and other European travelers whose conversation helped pass the time on the foggy hike through rural outposts and military checkpoints, past green meadows grazed by yak and clearcut for firewood used long ago for country stoves.
We camped again on the Nepali side of the trail, waking the next morning to hazy, moderately satisfying views of
Phalut was a mediocre hut, run down and under construction, and next to it a small caretaking family cooked the usual veg-dal-rice in a smoky kitchen. We shared the hut with 4 Czechs who also risked getting stuck by the strike for the hope of views. Fortunately, we were rewarded. We woke the next morning at to mostly clear blue skies. We scrambled a kilometer up the nearby hill and stood before 2 of the world’s highest mountain ranges: Everest, Lohtse and Makala to the northwest and
We arrived in back in
We walked by the place where the politician was murdered, now a makeshift memorial, past military checkpoints and soldiers in riot gear making their presence known. The next day the city did open, but only for the morning as new rumors of a march and the possibility of further violence forced the city to shut down and there was a mad scramble to the market to get whatever supplies we could find for our next planned trek in Sikkim. The day passed without much ado, at least, and the military presence and cool heads were able to maintain control and peace in the town. We spent some time in a beautiful hilltop monastery, watching monkeys and gods, and took in the
For more pictures, click here for the picasa web album.