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Posts Tagged ‘Kangchendzonga’

 

‘Permit Blues’ is what I was suffering from after three wasteful days in Gantok. Getting my KNP permit from the Forest Department was proving to be more frustrating that I had anticipated , aggravated further by a bandh and the half yearly bank closing. Like a pawn on the chess board I was shuffled from DFO office to Chief Wildlife Warden, to the Conservation officer who again pushed me back to the DFO. The last move to the Wildlife Officer saw me in the right hands, but not before shoving me to the bank for making a payment for the permit. Actually I was enjoying this bureaucratic game of chess, getting a first hand experience as though I was the poor common man in the popular TV serial of yesteryears, ‘Wakgle ki Duniya’. As the bureaucracy to protect our forests was thickening, our forests were thinning away into oblivion. On the third day, by when I was completely frustrated in the grip of ‘Permit Blues’ a miracle happened. At around eleven in the morning I was awaiting for the Wildlife Officer, who should have been in office half hour ago but did not arrive till half hour past. Recognizing my face he proclaimed in a matter of fact way that my permit was ready, I banged my head against the wall just to make sure I had heard correctly.   For the first time since the last two days there was a smile on my face as I walked out with the yellow sheaf of paper stating Khangchendzonga National Park Permission. Within an hours time all my stuff was loaded atop the jeep, ready for the long drive to Darap.

 

The Yambong Singalila trek spans a duration of twelve days but my plan was only to walk upto Daphey Bheer, the view point from where one could see the two highest ranges in the world. This trek spans across the Sikkim side of the Singalila range offering stupendous views of not only the  Kangchendzonga range but also of the Everest range. The idea was to get a first hand feel of the trek while bolstering my relations with the locals, before I started taking people to this area. The jeep was literally dragging along at a snails pace making me more impatient than ever. At eight in the evening the jeep finally deposited me to Darap, where Lakhu was waiting for me with the jeep to Nambu. Both of us exchanged polite greetings, transferred my bags, to be on our way to Nambu. The growling stomach needed to be attended before we could discuss anything, but the sumptuous dinner put the issue to rest very soon. We spoke for quite a while also discussing the plan for tomorrow, which was to walk till Chongri where I would stay over at Nima’ place.

 

Trek map

Trek map

I awoke to a bright sunny day with clear blue skies, promising excellent weather ahead. Both of us sorted and packed the rations for the trek before we could have our breakfast. The sun seemed pretty strong for eight in the morning, but the speckles sky lent an exquisite beauty to our walk. Could very distinctly see Daphey Bheer, my final destination, from Nambu.  This time around the descent towards the river seemed less steep or maybe I was just more engrossed listening to the call of the warblers and bulbuls. Once we started walking along the bank of the Rimbi, the broad leaf trees provided us with the much needed shade. The woods were teaming with bird calls but it was very difficult to spot them without binoculars. To compliment the feathered orchestra, the fluttering butterflies were providing me with a visual treat. The bright stained glass pattern of the Hill Jizabel seemed really mesmerizing.    

Hill Jezebel

Hill Jezebel

   All my senses were overwhelmed, me lost in a world of my own. Within two and a half hours we reached Sangkhola where we took a really long lunch break. In no time I was off to the river bed to rest within its cool shady boughs, enjoying the occasional bird which came for a quick sip. After lunch Lakhu bid me farewell as he had some plantation related work with the forest officials. He made arrangements for the porter to take me to Chongri, though I remembered the route from my walk two months back. With a heavy stomach and sleepy eyes I commenced the walk to Chongri but the steep climb soon got me back to my senses.  For an hour and a half we continuously marched up to be rewarded by stupendous views of the valley below. Towards the end of our climb bumped into Pemba who was going to be my guide for the next few days. He was on his way to Sangkhola but promised to be with me in Chongri by dinner time. On reaching Nima’ place had a hot cup of tea, changed to a dry set of clothes and set out to explore the village making best use of the remaining day light.

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Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.

   John Muir

 

Most of us trekkers don’t bother too much about the negative impacts we have on the environment and local economy while trekking in a particular area. Do we care much if our support staff is from outside rather than employing locals, or if porters chop down wood for fuel, or if we defecate anywhere we please. In most cases trekking agencies are the worst culprits hiring their entire support of non locals who don’t care much about the environment. If we wish to save the fragile mountain environment for others to enjoy we will need to change our approach to reduce the negative impacts of trekking.

 

One way to reduce this negative trend is to empower and educate local communities, making them the key stake holders.  TMI, the NGO I have been volunteering for has been doing a very good job in this area. IFS officer Dr Sandeep Tambe who was deputed to TMI as a project manager had been instrumental in eliminating grazing from most places in the Kangchendzonga National Park. Unsustainable grazing practices were having a very adverse effect on the fragile ecology of the park, destroying much of the habitat. To compensate the local communities for the loss of income TMI initiated community based treks/tourism in few of the remote villages, by forming local eco-tourism committees. After a few years of relationship building coupled with oodles of patience and tons of hard work, this initiative by TMI has seen the light of success.

 

In this I found an ideal opportunity to contribute to the people of the mountains, assisting them in their efforts to conserve their vanishing customs and environment. Thus I planned my trip to few of the villages in West Sikkim to interact firsthand with the locals. My failure to take the only taxi leaving for Geyzing in the early hours of morning, proved to be a very expensive affair. Changing three jeeps, waiting endlessly in Ravangla market for a connecting jeep, crossing over a landslide at Legship, missing the final jeep from Darap, walking the final four kilometers to Nambu, was the price I had to pay. At long last reached my destination, Nambu, in the fading light of day. I was greeted very warmly by G.D Subba, my host with whom I had a very long conversation about the local community. Soon we were joined by Bimal, the treasurer of the Yambong ecotourism society who gave me a background of the committee. TMI had worked together with the villagers to make a trekking route, establish camps and build capacity of locals as cooks and guides. To support the marginally poor they made it mandatory for all trekking parties to hire porters and mules from these three villages only. A small percentage of porter, mule, cook, guide charges are retained by the committee as a plough back to maintain the trail, do clean up drives and upgrade infrastructure at the camps. The model seems to be very effective producing good results, which was visible from the statistics that Bimal had. Tired and famished from my adventures, requested for an early dinner, which consisted of a lavish spread on which I feasted.

 

Early next morning I had visit from Lakhu, the president of the society who was to accompany me to Sanghkhola. Contrary to my expectations it was a sunny morning with clear skies, making our walk a pleasant one. The first thirty minutes of our trek were knee wobbling steep as the route descended to the banks of the Rimbik River. From there it skirted the banks of the river, across some fields. Within an hours time we reached the Rimbik village, where under the shade of a mighty oak we took a short break. Lakhu was a great companion, modest, cheerful, soft spoken, holding on to interesting conversation. From Rimbik we traversed a bit further into the valley before hitting the main climb which really wasn’t all that steep.  

Bamboo bridge

Bamboo bridge

  Negotiating the final and trickiest bamboo bridge got us to Sanghkhola in the midday sun. Lakhu took me to Nima’ sister’ house, where I was going to stay for the night. It was a very pretty place overlooking the river, with views of the verdant valley on both sides. It felt amazingly relaxing to be sipping on a hot cup of tea listening to the gently roar of the river. By late afternoon the weather had turned upside down as rain clouds engulfed the valley accompanied by light showers. Despite a turn in the weather we decided to go to Chongri village, the remote last village in West Sikkim. But within five minutes of our walk the rains lashed down with full fury forcing us to take shelter in a house. Thirty minutes of waiting brought us no luck of any kind so we called off our trip, deciding to try our luck the next morning instead. Once the rain showed some signs of abating we left our shelter to walk around the village. Lakhu showed me the local primary school. The rest of the evening was spent reading and chatting away with Lakhu and my hosts’ family.

 

 

 

The clear skies indicated a promise of a fine morning. By nine Lakhu and myself were on our way to Chongri, climbing the steep slopes. The two hour climb passed through perennially forested slopes, enlivened by the chirping of the birds. Was completely captivated by the rich hues of the Fairy Bluebird of which we saw quite a few.  

Views from Chongri

Views from Chongri

 Towards the end of the climb got stupendous views of the valley below, stretching out for many miles.

 

 

 

At Chongri, Lakhu showed me the trekker’ hut, a basic clean one, which had been built from the money they had accumulated. Spent some time meeting the panchayat, went to meet Nima’ parents and  left back for Sangkhola. On Lakhu’ insistence had my lunch before I left for my return to Nambu. The going was quick and easy, but that was only till I reached my final climb from the river bank to Nambu. The climb proved to be quite a killer with its steep continuous gradient. Half way through my thighs were shouting, heart thumping, with runnels of sweat running down my forehead. Every time I looked up I could only see more steps; in what seemed to be a never ending game of snakes and ladders. With wobbling legs I did finally manage to reach G.D. Subba’ house where I stayed the night over.

 

The jeep to Yuksom came to Darap around one in the afternoon so I had plenty of time to while away the next morning. Had a late breakfast or early lunch, whatever you choose to call, for by this time I had got used to the fact that in this land every meal consisted of rice, dal and vegetables which was given a different name depending on the time of the day you ate. At around midday began my march to Nambu which turned pretty entertaining three quarter way through. I was crossed by two guys on a motorbike who halted seeing me walking with a backpack. The two Biharis were pretty amazed to see a crazy guy from Mumbai walking alone in this part of Sikkim.  For twenty minutes they talked non stop about their experience in Sikkim giving me all sorts of tips and advice, while I nodded my head. In all their friendship they offered to give me a lift till Darap, to which I politely refused. That was not acceptable to them, so after five minutes of coaxing me I finally gave into them.  Very anxiously I tried to balance myself as the bike picked up speed, swinging like a balancing scale which had gone haywire. Then came the terrifying movement of crossing a large stream where I was pretty sure we would fall, but by God’ mercy we somehow managed to clear it. With a great sigh of relief I bid my two over friendly companions goodbye as they dropped me to Darap in one piece.

 

The reason for my overnight stay to Yuksom was to meet up with Kinzong. Kinzong is one of those few people from the younger generation in Sikkim, who is taking a leading role in environmental conservation as a long term benefit to the local communities. Being a local from Yuksom he has taken many initiatives to conserve the degrading environment along the Yuksom –Dzongri trail, by educating the local communities as also by getting certain rules enforced for trekkers. He has played an active role in KCC (Kangchendzonga Conservation Committee) which is doing a good job of improving the livelihood of the local communities while protecting the environment. Besides Kinzong is an excellent trekking guide having a good deal of experience organizing and guiding treks in the Dzongri region. I wanted to understand the finer nuances of the business, as also clear the myriad haze of permits involved.  

 

Yuksom looked very different in the light mist and rain, than what I had seen it the previous October. It bore a very desolate look, albeit one which was extremely peaceful and serene. Had the terrific aloo paratha at Gupta’ restaurant for lunch, to my surprise he recognized me even through my thick beard. We spoke for quite some time while  I awaited for Kinzong to pick me up. Spoke to Kinzong the entire evening, our conversation ranging from environmental conservation, community development to the political situation in Sikkim. Got lots of inputs from him regarding organizing treks, about how the Yambong committee could be helped with their endeavor, some of his work in Arunachal with WWF. So absorbed were we that it was nearly midnight before we ended our wonderful conversation. Early next morning left for Gantok, bringing to an end a momentous two and a half month stay in Sikkim.

 

For more information regarding the Yambong trek and the ecotourism committee check their website http://www.yambong.com/

 

You can check the KCC website over here

 

For organizing a trek to Goecha La or in the Yuksom region you can get in touch with Kinzong at kinzong(at)gmail.com

 

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