The Walkers

“What’s wrong with you?” Asked my friend.

Now this is a question I have heard from a variety of people. The list includes my teachers, most of my friends, my colleagues, my guides, the psychologist I went to see, and my wife.

Jaya looking

However, in this case the question included her as well.

To be completely fair, if you put it in context, the question doesn’t seem that irrational. Let me explain its genesis. We had just returned from a trip in which we had flown to Delhi, taken a train to Haridwar, rented a car to Ukhimath, travelled on a public bus to Ranshi – and all this just to hike a few kilometres. On the way back we repeated the pattern, adding a mule-ride and a boat-ride.

 

Mule

The last one was completely unnecessary. The ferry ride next to Ram Jhoola in Rishikesh was just for the sake of it – so that we could boast that we had taken all forms of transport available!

Boat Rishikesh

The friend in question couldn’t understand why we invested so much money only to end up walking! And the walking is never a quiet gentle stroll in the park. It involves long, risky, harrowing terrain and is better than any weight-loss programme you see advertised.

I couldn’t explain why. I couldn’t explain how the lonely, dark and deep woods and mountain paths allow you to be you, and how it becomes a passion. But it isn’t for everyone. We all have our own ways of finding fulfilment.

However, this post is about another one of our trips. It was Christmas 2012 and we had had a very hectic year travel-wise and it was a tough year for me professionally. So I told Jaya that we should have a relaxing tour for a change. This one would have point to point cars, comfortable rooms and nothing much to do. She agreed. The plan was Uttarey (revisit after the Versey adventure), Kaluk and Borong – all in Sikkim. Bhowmik-da of Endeavour Tours and Travels did the necessary arrangements. Hotel Nagbeli in Uttarey, Kanchan Valley Tourist Lodge in Kaluk and Wild Flower Retreat in Borong – all of them nice and cozy places. Stories of Uttarey will come later. Let me limit this one to Kaluk and Borong.

Kaluk was the happy bit. We had a gentle 3 km stroll to Rinchengpong with the magnificent Kanchenjungha accompanying us throughout the way.

Rinchenpong Road1

Then there was another half k to the monastery.

Rinchenpong Road

This one (approximately 7 km in total) was tranquil, soothing and refreshing.

Rinchengpong Monastery is situated in a charming small building, unlike Ralong or Rumtek, and it allows you to relax. On that particular day there were no tourists and we had the place entirely to ourselves.

Rinchenpong Mona

When the cloud gods are on holiday, the monastery complex offers unhampered view of the Kanchenjungha, augmented by the presence of magnificent multicoloured prayer flags.

Rinchenpong

We had a very curious experience here. We had heard that there are a number of old buildings about one km away and had a notional idea regarding the direction. We started and were immediately joined by a handsome furry member of the canine species. And every time we felt unsure, this four-legged friend showed us the way. It would go towards the right path, stop at the starting point; and then it would keep looking at us waiting patiently until we followed it. The first time we did not trust this guide, we waited and asked a couple of people who happened to be there, but after that we followed the noble creature without hesitation. When our excursion was over it directed us towards a dense bit of woods through which a narrow track was visible. We did not want to take it. The primary reason was there was a group of about 20 monkeys who looked as mischievous as humans. Our guide understood the dilemma. It ran ahead and after an episode full of sound and fury cleared the path!

Rinchenpong Path

This path brought us back to the monastery in ten minutes. We parted ways happily. Our furry friend was ecstatic to get a packet of biscuits. It expressed itself by joyfully rolling on the grass and then recollecting its dignity bid us farewell with a brief bark.

Dog

Our final point in that particular trip was Borong. Borong is a lovely place, the Retreat even lovelier. It has beautiful cottages located on the side of a hill. We got the last one and we were surrounded by dense foliage and a view of great mountains. It couldn’t be more peaceful than that.

Borong Wildflower

It was in Borong that we witnessed the opening of a brand new monastery. It was about a kilometre from the Retreat – a smooth lovely walk through a rarely travelled path. They were drawing the murals and a number of holy rituals were taking place. It was New Year as per the local calendar.

Borong Monastery

We stood at a distance unsure; we did not want to intrude. Then a middle-aged man came and with great warmth we were invited to lunch and to join the celebrations. We had already eaten and it was quite later in the afternoon, so we just accepted some tea. But the way these people welcomed a couple of total strangers on a day of such significance taught us what hospitality truly is.

While returning we were rewarded with a magnificent sunset.

Borong Sunset

The next day the boys at the Retreat asked us if we wanted to do some sightseeing. The thing was 4/5 hours and we would have an exclusive vehicle. We agreed happily. The ride went well until the final point which was Ralong hot springs. The driver parked the car at the edge of a path going downhill and told us it was a few minutes away.

Borong Map

It took us more than an hour! It was a tremendously steep downhill path, often without any defined trail. There was a village and the villagers thoroughly enjoyed our distressed descent.

Ralong Spring Path

The last portion was the toughest. The incline was near about 45 degrees! It was no more than 100 feet, but when we were climbing back we were on all fours and wishing we had 100 feet.

The hot spring was curious. Before we reached the springs, we crossed some weird cane structures. The walls were loosely tied together and we could see the insides clearly, there was nothing inside. Apparently they were changing rooms for those who like to frolic in such hot water! I think they should consider changing those rooms! A part of the river bed was sprouting hot water.

Ralong Hot Spring

It should have been fascinating but some shady locals and a large foreign body spoilt the whole thing. The large foreign body belonged to this extra large American gentle(?)man in a cowboy hat (hence the completely arbitrary American tag) who was lying in the waters semi-submerged wearing the above-mentioned hat and an extra-small underthing. His posture was not unlike a dissected frog. He was drinking some colourful stuff from a colourless bottle. This vision made us retreat in due haste. The climbing up was, as you can imagine, a cardiac nightmare. This was a six kilo (in terms of distance and total probable weight lost) trek in total.

This post has already become far too taxing. Before you tell me to take a hike (which, by the way, will only make me happy) let me just say that in the Uttarey part we had already walked around 10 k. So after our relaxing and restful Sikkim trip we discovered that we had walked around 25 kilometres. And this was not a hiking tour!

Let me go back to the question that I had started with. What is wrong with us?

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