* This is a continuation of the first part of Arnabda's tour diary, ISIMAG, January, 2000.

Oh, what a splendid sight it was ! How can I describe it? White
flowers dotted the lush verdour of the mountain sides. Blood red
rhododendrons (hope the spelling is correct) made the atmosphere so
romantic. The white flowers, some of them were magnolias, were so
immaculately white that it seemed that Nature had washed them with dew.
The narrow path could be seen winding down into the forest. And the
charming sunrays guilded everything with gold.

	We started. The moon shone above us in a blue sky. It is a nice
thing here. The atmosphere is so free of dust that you see the moon all
day long. How we finally arrived at the peak,how I got separated from
the team, and how I got my hands pricked by thorns are things that
merit a full e-mail on their own. And so I shall devote my next e-mail
about the trek to describe them. And there you shall know about the leap
that I had to make to come back to the right path.

  Read on.

	OK, let me continue my trek story. You might recall that we were
just leaving from Gairibas towards Sandakphu, when I discontinued my
narration. We shall start right from Gairibas today.

	It was our second day's trek --- the toughest part of the trek.
The route was uphill with a very steep 3 km at the fag end. I was
carrying one of the heavy sacks. Debroop wanted to take the load off me,
but I refused...gallantry, you may say.

	With a crystal clear sky above us, and the lush verdour of the
hillsides all around, it was a fantastic journey. Our route --- often not
well defined --- lay through three types of places. First, between two
steep upslopes. Here one has the strange feeling of being separated from
the world. Thick rhododendron shrubbery covered both sides of the road.
Second, between two steep downslopes. Such places were simply exquisite in
their beauty. Imagine a path a few metres wide. On your left the
terrain plummets down to a deep valley all covered with greenery
punctuated only by white Magnolias(?) and red rhododendrons. On your right
the ground rolls down at around 60 degree angle to another valley, which
seems to be a mirror image of the first. Far away in near the horizon
white clouds and sunny mountains create a confusion which is which. The
third type of route was through meadows. We often came to such huge
meadows unexpectedly. Just after turning a bend we were often confronted
with vast green meadows rolling down to the horizon. One could hardly see
any mark on the ground that might be called a route. One runs some risk of
getting lost here. The sprawling undulating topography dotted with grazing
yaks and dry tree stumps make one forget any need to find the true route.
`Oh let's get lost !' is what one's heart says here. And I did listen to
my heart's advice...unintentionally,though.

	Before telling you how I got lost let me tell you how Kadu-da had
almost got lost the previous day. It was very foggy then, as I had told
you earlier. When we were just reaching the top of a mountain a cold wind
swept over us driving the fog madly away towards the valley on our right.
For a few moments we were standing in a clear atmosphere when we
discovered to our great dismay that Kadu-da was nowhere to be seen. We
shouted at the top of our voices calling for that unfortunate leader of
ours. But a rumbling reverberation of our own voices was all the reply we
got. Some of us rushed towards the right, some towards the left to find
Kadu-da. Then one of us had the idea of rushing to the mountain top to
have a good view around. It was from there that we saw Kadu-da marching on
quite merrily DOWN THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. The fact was that in
the fog he had moved a bit too fast and had reached the other side before
us. Now, if you shout from one side of a mountain then you will scarcely
be heard from the other side, even if you are near the top. Also fog seems
to have a deccelerating effect on sound. That's precisely why Kadu-da did
not hear our calls. I mentioned this incident only to show you how easy it
is to get lost in the hilly regions.

	Earlier I sent you some jpeg files as attachments with one of my
trek mails. If you have viewed them then you have seen one picture showing
some yaks. It was in such a meadow that our drama now took place. Usually
I was often ahead of the others. It feels very nice to me to find out a
route in a place which seems to offer no definite path. The sole compass
to guide me was my instinct and occasional advices from local porters whom
we met with (very rarely though) on our path. These stardy people moved
from village to village carrying food etc. There was a `lake' called the
crystal lake that lay on our way. It was a VERY SMALL `lake', and was
completely dry. We rested here for some time before proceeding. A few
minutes after, I discerned a group of porters going down the route. I
promptly jumped up, hitched up my sack to my back, bade the others to
follow me after finishing their relaxation, and marched on behind the
porters. Then...after some time... I lost sight of the porters. But I
moved on along what seemed to be the most probable route. Let me not dwell
in details upon the sadventure that resulted. Somehow I had gone much
higher up that necessary. The path soon became too narrow to deserve to be
called even a trekkers' route. The handle of an umbrella that jutted out
of my sack got caught in a shrubbery under which I was trying to creep
through. I fell , and to my utmost horror found the ground covered with
thorny creepers. My palm got pricked in two places. The Deep crimson hue
of the blood that came out reminded me of the story of Snowwhite. I was
afraid that the thorns might be poisonous. I tried to suck out the blood.
Then I tried to rub it off with handkerchief. But the flow did not stop.
May be because of the low temeperature, the clotting system was not
functioning properly. Just then I saw that the porters whom I had lost
sight of were coming along a route some what below the place where I was
standing (or hanging). I understood that my only way of returning to the
proper route was to arrive near the porters. I crept down as cautiosly as
I could towards that route. My hand was still painful. I had a heavy sack
on my back. When I was at a height of about 3 metres above the route, I
found the ground was giving way under my weight. I had only one option
left, and that was to jump, ...and...I...

		            ...J U M P E D !!

	A height of three metres is not much. It is the height of an
ordinary single-storeyed building. Jumping from that height is not
supposed to cause much harm. But when you jump with a heavy sack on your
back, it IS a bit risky. Yet it was the sack which saved me from injury in
the jump which I have mentioned above. Unable to keep
balance I had tumbled back, and would have had collided with steep rocky
surface of the mountain had not the sack cushioned me away from it.

	I staggered up to the trek route. The porters had gone away before
me. There was no one around. I trudged on. The scenic beauty was simply
ineffably good. I could not see my fellow trekkers. The path was pretty
wide at some places. The air was keen.

	Then suddenly the road branched out. The narrower route seemed
more inviting. And I followed that. There was a sharp turn at the end of
the extremely narrow path. And just beyond the turn..., no, do not try to
imagine, you won't be able to imagine what lay there, I myself couldn't.
It was the gorge of a narrow mountain river...a mere brook... completely
dry, and inclined at an angle of about forty degrees. the gorge meandered
in a most complex way up the mountainside. There was no other path to go
up by.

	It was in this part of the trek that I had to use both hands and
feet. At places the gorge was too narrow for both me and the sack to go
together. I cannot describe the scenic beauty around. I was too busy
making my way through the tortuous (yet on the whole straight) gorge.
When I finally arrived at the top, I was panting... yes gasping for
breath. I had to lean against a boulder for some time to recover breath.

	My undergarments were soaked with sweat. The air was biting
shrewdly. From the low temperature I could feel my proximity to the
highest peak in West Bengal. Yet I was totally in the dark as to how much
more distance I had to cover. The trekking map lying limply in my
perspiration-soaked T-shirt pocket mentioned no landmark that I could
recognise. And there was no landmark at all. Folds after folds of
mountain, the red rhododendrons and the white magnoliahs, the yaks
grazing with a philosophical posture, and the wide blue sky above
were the only `landmark's.

	At one place I looked back. I could clearly see the path by
which I had come. And far down below I could see my fellow trekkers
trudging up.

	I was told that today's trek was the toughest. I fully agree with
the statement. Utter exhaustion almost numbed my muscles. I had arrived at
the final
upslope. It was a VERY steep stony road. It was so very steep that at
every few metres there were humps made into the road. One could anchor
one's feet at the humps and take some rest before heading for the next
hump. The stones were very big and smooth. The temperature was really low.
Some porters were also moving up. I learned a new way of walking along
such a steep road. They did not move parallel to the road sides. Rather,
they moved in a zigzag way. I did the same too. Obviously it required less
labour. The Sandakphu trekkers' hut was in sight, yet as we turned the
endless number of bends, it often got hid behind cliffs. I thought that I
should sit down. Yet I dared not. I did not have enough energy to get up
again, if I once sit down. My experience was obviosly not a unique one.
This became clear as I turned the last significant bend of the day. On the
stony surface of the mountain was written


The inscription gave me a new impetus. I summed up all my energy and moved
up...up...until I was there right on the highest summit of West Bengal---

	Where are you now ? In the computer lab? Or at some computer
cluster? Or before a pc in your room ? No ! You are now at
Sandakphu, the highest peak in West Bengal. The cold wind is now beating
at a terrific speed against your face. Your lungs are thumping inside the
rib-cage like anything. You need water, to drink. But you hardly have
enough energy left in your hands to unload the heavy sack that
relentlessly hangs from your back, and drink the last dreg of water from
the bottle.

	Hah, you cannot imagine yourself to be in this situation ? Yes, it
is tough to imagine. But I did not have to imagine all these things,
because I FELT all these as I stood on Sandakphu on that memorable day.
But above all the exhaustion reigned one thought --- "The destination is
reached" !!

	It was almost half an hour later that Manas-da arrived at the
peak. The rest came much later. Right on the peak was the trekkers' hut,
and we (Manas-da and I) entered that.

	Now, before proceeding, I must acquaint you with the scenario on
the peak. You should not think that the peak is just like the apex of a
cone , tapering to a single point. No, it is somewhat flat at the top,
providing sufficient space for the hut to be built on. Over this flat
region two cliffs rose towards the sky. These indeed tapered of to very
pointed peaks. So you may call these the TRUELY highest points in West
Bengal. Later in that evening I clambered up one of the cliffs alone.
But that is a later story. There was a small tea-shop near the hut. All
the prices were exorbitantly high. More than one group of foreigners
were present at Sandakphu then. One group was equipped with a movie

	I do not know whether it was for the altitude, or low temperature,
or the exhaustion, but many of us were having terrible headaches. Of
course, for my case there was a valid reason. For, once we had changed
dresses I though that I will climb up one of the cliffs. My teammates were
all over-tired. So I did not think it meet to request them to accompany
me. When I made for the cliff, my legs were still sore, yet my spirit was
so high that I thought it unnecessary to take enough protection against
the cold. I climbed up, using both my hands and feet, to the top in
no time. And I looked down ...


Half-veiled in the mist that was slowly gathering below , the Himalayas
peeped at me with a beauty that was so charming, so divine, so full of
grave dignity, that I stood there bewitched. There was hardly enough space
for me to squat down. Bending my legs carefully I sat down on a
boulder...closed my eyes...tried to think...nothing to think...the world
seemed to be non-existent...only the exquisite, tranquil beauty was
there...and I was the only observer. There was nothing near me, the peak
was very pointed, only a long piece of cloth tied there for some religious
purpose flutterred madly in the torrential wind. Everything, yes
EVERYTHING --- even the great Himalayas --- seemed to be under me. I felt
a mad yet strangely soothing joy coming over me. The wind was moving so
fast by my ears that it produced a very loud whistling sound. It had a
very strange effect on my ears, half-numbed due to the high altitude.  It
seemed to urge me to join in the great eloquoently silent revelry of
nature. I began to recite ShahJahan. No one to hear even if shouted at the
top of my voice, only the Himalayas listened to me.

	You think me mad ? Yes, I want you to think so ! Because only then
you can realise how maddeningly beautiful was my situation then.

	But every rose has its thorn. The gusty wind beating against my
ears gave me a severe headache. But I promptly took some medicine at
night, and... after all who cared about headaches when there were so many
nice things to care about ?

	I shall not describe in details what we did before we went to
sleep that day. The tension about how to clear our bowels when there was
so little water supply may seem too antiromantic to fit in with the place.
But it was true. Aching heads, hungry stomachs, oozing noses and mounting
spirit were all co-existing in the trekkers. We had a good 'adda' late in
the evening. Even I joined in it ! ;-) The night was more or less
sleepless for all of us. Possibly the altitude was causing some problem.

	Then morning came. It was bitterly cold. My teeth were literally
chattering. I put on all that I could and came out. There was a small
watch-tower. One could see the Kanchanjangha (or the Kangdchenzonga, as
it was commonly spelt here) from this place--- at least that was what I
was told. The foreigners  with movie camera were already there. One
gentleman who had climbed the Everest twice (Chandan Mukuti) was there
as the guide of one group was also present. The members of our own group
except Kadu-da soon assembled there too. ( I later learned why Kadu-da was
absent, he had a valid reason which he, like a true team-leader, did not
Adisclose to us at that time.) We looked eagerly towards the horizon.

	But the mist was still hanging there.

The wind was bitterly, bitterly cold. I could hear my teeth clashing
against one another. Only Chandan Mukuti seemed to bear it quite easily.
He was telling us about the various peaks that lay hidden in the mist.
"The Kanchanjangha is at just around 30 km crow-flight distance from
here", he told us. Oh, imagine , how close we were to that peak. Yet
we could not see it because of the mist. The eastern horizon gleamed
red...sun rise was imminent. If the mist lingers on for some more time,
then we shall miss a very beautiful scene, according to Mr Mukuti.

	We looked anxiously at the white mist which veiled the great
mystery of Kanchanjangha. The east turned crimson. The chariot of the Sun
was approaching fast...the mist was still there...and lo...

	The drama began, the cameraman operating the movie camera lunged
forward. An enormous commotion was there in the massive veil of mist.
Within a remarkably short time the mist vanished , and the Himalaya
presented Himself with His full panoramic splendour. We could see the
outline of sleeping Buddha (also called Kumbhakarna) in his recumbent
posture. Yes, the Kanchanzanga does look like a sleeping man. The bulging
stomach is the Kanchanjanga proper. The nose is a steep peak called
Janu. The knee and the feet were other peaks whose names I cannot recall
 now. Buddha lying there like a great white mass, with a crystaline
structure whose details were indescribably intricate.

	The sun shot his first rays through the sky. The beam of light
first impinged on Janu turning it all red. Its crystalline facets shone
like fire in that first morning light. Slowly, as the sun rose,
Kanchanzanga was all aglow with red sunlight. It was beautiful...very very
beautiful.  But we hardly had time to get accustomed to it. For, just then
someone cried, "Oh look over there!" We turned out eyes towards the
north-west quarter of horizon. So far the mist was still there. Compared
to the Kanchanjanga it had looked rather drab upto that time. But now the
mist had vanished, and three peaks clearly shone in the dazzling morning
light. Three peaks...with a long flat (yet very high) ridge like terrain
to their south. What were these ? Mr Mukuti explained..

	The flanking two peaks were Makalu and Noth-se. The ridge-like
structure was the famous Annapurna basin, that had claimed the lives of so
many explorers. And the one peak which loomed between Makalu and Noth-se
was none other than the great

			E V E R E S T   !!!!

	With the tapestry of mist drawn away, under a crystal-clear
	sky, the royal court of the Himalayas was in full session.

Read on.

	The library building at ISI (Calcutta) has 10 storeys. Each is
around 3 mts in height. So, that makes the total height roughly 40 mts.
If you think it an over-estimate, then let us agree upon 36 mts. Thus
every time one comes down from the terrace to the ground floor, one
descends through a height of 36 mts. A pretty easy task. Well, descending
36 mts may not always be that easy. We understood that very well as we
trekked from Sandakphu (3636 mts) to Phalut (3600 mts).

	It took one full trek-day. When we started from Sandakphu in the
morning (the same morning that we beheld the Kanchanjangha), it was biting
cold. I muffled up my face with a crepe bandage that I had. Yet I was
shivering pitifully as the wind gusts  lashed against my face. But a
mile or so of brisk walk warmed us up. The crepe bandage was stowed away
in one corner of the sack. Beads of perspiration were accumulating on our

	Now, one problem with written language is that it always runs the
risk of being boring through repetition. If I say that our route lay along
a high ridge joining the two peaks, and on one side we could see the
Everest-Makalu-Nothse trio, and on the other was the magnificient
Kanchanjangha --- then I have completely described the scenary. But how
can I explain the hide and seek that the hills were playing with us?
As the trek meandered along the ridge, at one time Everest was out of
site,while at the very next turn it reappeared again. The vast expanse of
the blue sky above us , the undulating ground rolling down to the horizon
are all experiences to be seen, not to be just read.

	Today's trek was through totally unpopulated area. As a result
there were not even one ramshackle cottage from which to procure a bowl
to prepare our lunch. We had to pass that lunch only on dry foods.

	Phalut is a totally desolate place. It is extremely windy. So much
so that the trekkers' hut had to be built at a distance from the peak.
Otherwise, the wooden structure would have been blown away by the terrific
draughts. We were all exhausted. Kadu-da's feet were covered with
blisters. He could hardly walk. All of us wanted to lie down and rest.
Only Debroop somehow managed to pick up some enthusiasm to go to the true
peak. I accompanied him. Oh, what a terrible wind was blowing. It could
easily blow a man off the edge of the hill. After arriving at the top we
managed to stand behind the shelter of a big rock. The Kanchanjangha was
there, ... so near ... it looked much nearer now than at Sandakphu.

	But ... let me admit it frankly ... I was too exhausted to
completely appreciate the scenic beauty.

	We all slept soundly that night, at least I did. The next day was
the last day of our trek. And we had to climb down a 29 km in a single
trek day !

	But we managed to do that. With knee-caps on, I sort of tumbled
down, rather than trekked down that day. Though the knee-caps
relentlessly bit into my skin, yet I enjoyed that coming down. So did
others I think, except possibly Kadu-da, who had to support himself
heavily on a stick that partly took the load off his blister-stricken
feet. That long downward march brought us to Sirikhola where we stayed at a
trekkers' hut situated at a romantic spot beside the river Rammam. There
was a nice hanging bridge close by the place. After a night's stay at the
hut we walked a few miles to Rimbik to catch a jeep to Darjeeling, and ...

	... and then it was a story of the plain lands. The trek was over.
And so is this long narration. Hope you enjoyed it.