Sandy Beaches to Snowy Sandakphu

Do not follow where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I will email you back once I’ve defrosted” read my personal Out of Office messages. I needed a break, wanted to let loose my sanity and travel to the edge of the world or at least someplace where I don’t use or see my gadgets anymore. After hours of discussion with my travel buddy (Sid), we narrowed it down to a place much less known and heard off. Sandakphu – “the heights of the poisonous plants” or illustriously known as the viewpoint of the Sleeping Buddha.

Precisely six months ago, the preparations to explore the Himalayan range kick-started. It has been three years, yet the enthusiasm to watch the Himalayan trails, the snowy peaks, the lush green blankets, and the anxiety to hover across a hilltop never seems to have diminished in me. Given a chance, I would do it again. “Madness” is what differentiates adventurers from tourists. It’s a mad world either way, so what’s the point of remaining sane?

Frankly, no amount of preparation can prepare you for the Himalayan trails. It's the unexpected that changes our lives.

The checklist remained the same trekking shoes to thermal wear, sweaters to sub-zero gloves. An additional item to be added to the list was a crampon – to provide an extra sense of security while stepping on the snow. There are two ways to approach a trip, either you go prepared to meet all demands and enjoy the trail or take it head-on as it comes. I dare say, don’t go by the second approach as the Himalayas can be treacherous. Sadly, one of my friends precociously ignored the entire list of itineraries and had a life-changing experience, to say the least.

We started from Chennai and halted at a quaint town called Mane Bhanjyang. The economy of this place is dependent on travelers and trekkers. We celebrated with a campfire, music, poison of our choice, and some lovely stories taking us back to adulthood. Pictures galore as time went by.

Friends around a campfire is my idea of a great night out.

– The philosopher in me

Sandakphu is a trekker’s paradise. The trek lasts for six days and has a panoramic view of some of the most beautiful peaks in the world. For others, there is the landrover which requires exceptional driving skills. Take a look for yourself.

It was my first off-road adventure and my first snow experience too. I was thrilled, anxious, and worried about what lay ahead. The roads weren’t visible due to the fresh snowfall, so white was the view ahead that I couldn’t identify where the tracks were. The snow is one of the most fragile things, but look what they can do when they stick together.

There’s something beautiful about walking in snow that nobody else has walked on. It makes you believe you’re special.

-Carol Rifka Brunt (Tell the wolves I am Home)

The people here follow Buddhism. On the way to Sandakphu, we can find beautifully constructed monasteries amidst serene surroundings and majestic views. We made our first pit stop and went on a photoshoot spree.

In the tea shop, there was something unique and exquisite. There was a container with a straw made of the same material as is the container. The jar contained assorted grains. Locals would gather in groups and sip the hot water from the container. We were in two minds about how it would work and get them high. But we had the drive to worry about, let alone a drink.

The road to Sandakphu crisscrosses between India and Nepal. Off-road adventures can be fun, but not this one. There were elements of risk (rainfall) that made things messy. Our driver handled the steering like a captain maneuvering the ship in high tides and unprecedented weather.

The brakes were of little help. The snow on the paths made things rather greasy. There were moments when our hearts were in our mouths. The cliffs, snow, hailstorm, and the constant wind made us shiver even when we had 5-layers of clothes to protect us. Was it the weather or the fear for our lives or both? I am still clueless.

The snowfall meant that we had limited logs to lit a campfire. There was a difference between the one we were about to lit and the one we enjoyed in Mane Bhanjyang. This time the campfire was more of a necessity than a luxury. The hot and steaming pork was a delight nonetheless. The temperature dropped to minus One-degree celsius. The constant wind was making life difficult for everyone. Probably the timing wasn’t right, or the weather betrayed us. The mountain sickness started to kick in as well. The agony just kept piling up.

Not once in my life have I ever looked up at the clock and felt petrified. We just wanted to get through the night.

We tried to find comfort in each other’s company. Five layers of winter wear, two quilts still couldn’t help us from waking up in the middle of the night. Our bodies were shivering left, right and center. Every passing minute I said to myself and others just one more hour to go (without looking at the clock).

The sunshine gave us hope. We weathered the storm and were pretty exhausted. With the sun smiling, we headed to watch the pristine view of the entire Kangchenjunga Range.

Not all who wander are lost. Except for the one with a pink muffler in the picture. His trek, if pictured could have figured in Takeshi’s Castle.

Photographs were taken as a return ticket to the moments otherwise gone. There were countless reasons to be happy that only pictures could convey. The mantra to be happy is to live life, take pictures, relive memories, repeat.

We headed to Darjeeling to finally feel human again. I will be seeing you very soon in Darjeeling dairies and it will be better than anything else.

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