Goecha La Trek: Day 1 - To Yuksom

Looks can't kill. I am sure about that now. Else I would have been busy pushing daisies up by now, after being murdered a few times over by the exquisite beauty of Himalayan peaks & the women folk of North-East India. Yes, I came back alive in one piece, after a two weeks 'affair' with the mountains. It all started when one Saturday afternoon, under the influence of alcohol perhaps, I signed up for email updates from Chennai Trekking Club. Among the many mails I got was this one from Tamal, on a trek in Sikkim. Having experienced the beauty of the Himalayas once before, I was always willing to go back. So I responded to the mail, Rob also agreed to join, and in no time the plan was made for the first week of May. Rob and myself had plans to extend the trip by another week making this a 16 days adventure.

Few preparatory treks were organized for the group to gauge and enhance the physical fitness. Daily exercise was also prescribed which I tried to follow religiously.. well almost. As the April 30th date came closer, the excitement was uncontrollable. Rob came a day before and we did all the shopping the evening before.Tamal had sent out a list of 27 items to carry during the trek - from thermal wear to sun screen, and insisted that the backpack shouldn't weigh more than 5 kilos. The idea was that, with the sleeping bag and mat, everyone got no more than 7 kgs to carry. I couldn't figure out how to find 18 pieces of clothing which weigh less than 200 grams a piece on average. So I decided to take everything one less than the prescribed numbers. Though it sounded like a clever idea at first, I realized the stupidity once I had to walk through snow in my shorts. Everyone was supposed to carry one trouser and they did. Me, smart-ass, followed the formula and carried one less than the prescribed number!

The Bangalore gang met outside the airport by 8:30 that Friday morning. We were six of us - Joydeep, Muthu, Kannan, Purna, Rob and myself. After a quick breakfast of Subway rolls and masala dosa we boarded our spicejet flight to Calcutta. I have never heard from anyone of an 'interesting' flight, and this one was no different. The air hostess even asked Kannan to switch off his iPod; too loud for the pilot to hear the communication from the ATC tower it seems.. morons! After a hop over at Hyderabad we reached Calcutta by 2:30 in the afternoon. Probably due to the iPod episode, we were delayed by half an hour [:)] and the Chennai team was waiting for us in the airport. They were 16 strong - Tamal, Marie, Prathaap, Alfonso, Raj, Bindu, Mahendra, Ketan, Prasad, Sowmy, Krishna, Rinkesh, Prem, Pavan, Shiva and Gokul. Any adventure becomes a memorable event or an ordeal depending on the character of the group, and honestly I have never traveled with a better group. We all got introduced to each other quickly, picked up our respective sleeping bags/mats and got into the taxis for our Calcutta city tour.

The drive from the airport to Haldiram's gave us a glimpse of the transforming city. Calcutta always fascinated me with the coexistence of militant communism and fast track development. Its probably just my 'kin preference' kicking in.. after all Mallus and Bongs are estranged sons of the same skewed ideology. The city still holds on to the iconic tram system, cycle rickshaws and Victorian buildings, but the skyline is slowly getting used to the high rises. Haldiram's was an awesome experience.. we filled half our stomach by just ogling at the delicacies on display. It was even suggested that we should plan a 4 days trek to Haldiram's, one day to each corner of the shop! The thought that we might be starving the next few days also helped in pushing an extra Rasagula or Kachori down the throat. With tears in our eyes (not the chillies, mind you) we all said goodbye to Haldirams and reached Babughat by the banks of Hubli, for a ferry ride to Howra. The hanging bridge looked fabulous in the twilight and Marie could not help breaking into a Salsa on board the ferry.

After getting off the ferry, the primary concern was food, especially as we had to get to Sealdah railway station by 10PM to catch our overnight train to New Jalpaiguri (NJP). After hanging around 'Moulin Rouge' and 'Barb-e-Q' with dreamy eyes for a while, we finally moved into 'Bhaduni', a restaurant serving Bengali food at Park Street. We had a few variants of fish fry and curry with rice and it was awesome. We reached the station just in time to catch the Darjeeling mail. Sealdah is one of the major railway stations in Calcutta and is close to Babughat. The huge hoarding of Allahabad bank kept above the station building gave us the impression that this might be the corporate office of Allahabad bank and not a train station. We got into two compartments and soon realized that we had booked only 20 seats for the 22 of us. Tamal had a 'talk' with the ticket examiner and after flashing some money did manage to get permission for the other two to sleep somewhere in the compartment.

The train was on time and we reached NJP station early the next morning. The taxis were waiting and after a short ride we reached Siliguri, which is about 8 kilometers from NJP. We checked into Hotel Manila for breakfast. We had a five hours ride to Yuksom ahead of us, from where the actual trek starts. Prasad and myself managed to get a short tour of the city in a cycle rickshaw, while Tamal was away with Marie & Alfonso to get the necessary permits. Strange as it sounds, foreigners need an Inner Line permit to visit Sikkim. As soon as we landed in NJP, Marie & I met a priest from the temple of God Saturn, who insisted that we should tie a thread on our hands to ensure protection during the journey. Both of us did tie this red thread and according to Marie it worked miracles in getting her the Inner Line permit in a jiffy. Saturn rules!

Click here for more..

Day 1: To Yuksom
Day 2: Yuksom to Tshoka
Day 3: Tshoka to Dzongri
Day 4: Dzongri to Lamuney
Day 5: To Samiti & Kockchurung
Days 6 & 7: Back to Tshoka & Yuksom
Days 8 & 9: To Darjeeling

Pictures from the trek here

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