The following morning, we set off for Gorkhey. It was a 15 km decent from Phalut. The beautiful Singhalila range came into view for a while and then it abruptly disappeared when we entered a canopy with thick forest cover of chestnuts and oak. Even sunlight could not penetrate and it sure felt cold. During summer, these forests are a riot of colours with magnolias and rhododendrons in full bloom.
By autumn, however, all the flowers were long gone. In fact, once the monsoon rains set in, there is usually thick undergrowth of shrubs and other foliage and the flowing waters carve out channels along the trail. This makes the already difficult pathway, even more treacherous. We carefully walked along this slippery stretch with our trekking poles helping us to maintain balance. Trekking poles are a vital piece of equipment; they are a must-have on all treks. Some will use a slim tree branch or a bamboo pole as substitute, but I strongly recommend investing in sturdy trekking poles.
These regions are not popular with most trekkers and as such, one only rarely comes upon other trekking groups. Locals too are few and far between. And with the calmness all around, it is a delight to simply revel in the moment.
And perhaps this calmness rubs off on both man and beast. This thought dawned on me as I watched a local come up the hill on his Bhutia horse with a few goods. He seemed not-at-all perturbed by our presence. He simply glided up on his horseback. Come to think of it, these animals are nature’s 4×4 vehicles, taking people to places that are otherwise difficult to access.
Quiet reflections amid serene locales
Between the spectacular views, diverse thoughts, and the occasional waft of chill air, we’d walked for almost 8-9 kms before we took our first break. We refreshed ourselves with fluids and basked in the warm sun. As we descended further, the trees became larger and we knew we were now well below the tree line.
Not too long after, I was jolted out of my reverie by loud blaring music in the distance. It became louder still and we soon came upon a group of teenagers making their way up. One of them had a bluetooth device strapped to him and I couldn’t fault them. At their age, they are probably oblivious to Nature’s gift of quiet and serenity.
Gorkhey soon came into view, at some altitude below us. We’d covered the distance in a little less than 2.5 hours — at par with the time taken by locals. A sense of achievement came upon us and all the efforts at keeping fit, had certainly stood us in good stead.
Yogesh then showed us the way to our lodge. We had tea, took a much-needed shower and indulged in a hearty lunch, mostly comprising local vegetables. We were going to stay in Gorkhey for the night. Interestingly, this village had only received an electricity connection recently. There was still no health centre but generally, everyone seemed very happy and content. Their smiles only added to Gorkhey’s charm. I also spent considerable time chit-chatting with the locals, curious to know about their daily lives.
Later that night, as I retired to bed, I felt I was one of them. Thankfully, the lodge at Gorkhey was decently appointed with amenities that a current generation trekker would desire. We slept comfortably, a stark contrast to the night before in Phalut. This was our final night on this trek. The following morning, we would set out for Srikhola via Rammam. Although a 21 km stretch, Yogesh had shared that it was mostly across flat stretches and so it would be a cakewalk.
Tourism is a good source of income for the residents in these remote hamlets. During trekking season, there was usually a steady inflow of people, and visitors from neighbouring Sikkim too. Basically, if one crossed a bridge, it was Sikkim on the other bank.
The final leg
We had a hearty breakfast and after our goodbyes, we were once again on the trail. On this particular morning, I noticed my trekking companion seemed as though he was a high-octane burning rocket. It was the sound sleep I’m sure that got him charging ahead. In fact, both Yogesh and I found it difficult to keep pace with him. It even led Yogesh to comment that his pace seemed more fitting of a trail run than a trek.
We covered the distance of 9 kms in just about an hour. A brief halt in Rammam later, we continued onward to Srikhola. We were now in more hospitable altitudes and there were several settlements flanking the trail. The Srikhola bridge soon came into view, implying we’d reached our final point well ahead of time. It was good to see a trekkers’ group gearing up to make their way up. We exchanged pleasantries, and information regarding the trail and the weather.
We actually completed an 82 km circuit in four days. This was no mean feat for a trekking duo who were almost touching fifty. Despite the arduous walk, we felt great, our confidence levels soared, and we were on cloud nine. And the conclusion of each trek is marked by a bitter-sweet feeling too. It is possibly a mix of looking forward to the creature comforts we are so accustomed to. But at the same time, there is an unmistakable sense of heartbreak each time the wilderness must be left behind.
As I recount my trek to Phalut, I cannot help but derive deeper meaning from what Albert Einstein once said. He’d stated, “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”
This is the second part in a two-part series. The first part can be read here.