On September the 23rd 2017, a friend and I boarded a flight to Kalkotta en route to trek as close as possible to see the magnificent Kanchendzonga, at 8586m, the third highest mountain in the world and the highest mountain in India. Her name means “The Five treasures of Snows,” named after her five peaks and home of the Legendary Giant Mountain Yeti
After two flights, a hair-raising two-day jeep ride of 250km driving along roads experiencing rockfalls, mudslides, run away waterfalls and roads that had totally collapsed due to the heavy Monsoon rains, we arrived at the Hillside village of Pelling, where our adventure began.
Unbeknown to us we arrived during the Durga Festival. Goddess Durga is the Mother of the Hindu Universe. She is also known as Shakti or Devi. She is one of the faith’s most popular deities, a protector of all that is good and harmonious in the world. Sitting astride a lion or tiger, the multi-limbed Durga battles the forces of evil in the world. In retrospect, I wondered it this was indeed serendipitous of our entire travels.
Durga, the Supreme Cosmic Being
108 Prayer flags
Horse -Power and faithful workers
A Jo, a cross between a Cow and a Yak
The contrast of travelling through such a hard terrain, but experiencing the gentle kindness and generosity of its inhabitants made up of Nepalese, Lepchas of Tibetan decent and original peoples of Sikkim and Bhutias, who during our three week walk from village to village, opened up their homes, their hearts and kitchens to us. Nourishing not only our bellies, but our souls.
Pemayangstse Monastery - Pelling
Our first vision of Kanchendzonga from the helicopter pad in Pelling was the first sighting of what was the illusive vision of such an extraordinary journey. Although October is supposed to be the driest month of the year, due to climate change, this was not the case. The monsoon rains continued late into the month and the Magnificent skyline was only to be seen briefly at sunrise and rarely during our month long walk-about.
Sikkim’s terrain is made up of steep mountainous jungles,
Ancient Rhododendrons, the highest forests in the world. Their bark which is almost Human
long winding jeep tracks and steep cobbled walkways. Kilometre long waterfalls, furious glacier rivers, many sprung, cement, wooden and steel bridges. The whole of Sikkim is made up of small subsistence farmers, each with their own cow and endless Cardamom fields growing on steep slopes.
Our days were spent walking from village to village staying with the local people, participating in the Durga celebrations, visiting all the Monasteries and even participating in a festival in Yuksom alongside 400 monks. Our intention was to keep on walking, acclimatizing ourselves for the high altitude climb over Guichala Pass at the the last ten days of our adventure. The lowest village was at 1700m and the highest we would eventually reach would be about 4600m.
Each day was a gift, our encounters with the local community would reaffirm how a community with different belief systems could live in harmony together. Women were empowered and honoured in house-holds and were the owners of most of the land. All the land was farmed organically. People were poor, but their spiritual beliefs alongside healthy food, gave them a healthy outlook. In the heights of the Himalayas, people were authentic and even though dogs roamed the villages wild and their bodies thin, they too were gentle. All dressed up in their finest on the way to the village Celebrations
Each day melted into the next day, honoured by the local people with their ceremonial cups of Chi, open to conversation, never intrusive, always welcome. It thus seemed the perfect flow of our journey to eventually make our way up to the snow line of Kanchendzonga through its national park, one of the bio diverse hotspots, harbouring a significant portion of the world’s biodiversity. With 19 established protected areas, comprising 30% of the landscape, it contains more than 4,500 species of plants including: 500 varieties of orchid, 40 varieties of Rhododendrons, more than 160 mammal species, 580 bird species, 600 butterfly species, home to the snow leopard, tigers and elephants.
The bonds made with the trek guides and cooks, yakmen and horsemen, who supported us along the sometimes demanding days up to Guichala Pass will be imprinted in my heart for years to come.
Our final days ending in Gangtok where we were blessed with a morning skyline imprinting the vision of the great Kanchendzonga, who promises that if your Karma is good, will reveal herself, and reveal herself she did!
Coming of age ceremony with the Gurung family
Sneak preview of the Sexy Goddess
My thanks, love and blessings to Saraswati, Ram and his family in Pelling,
Atakari Homestay; the Gurungs who treated us as part of their family and shared sacred ceremony with us at Gurung Eco Retreat village; the generosity and wonderful food at Lake View Nest, with Deepen and Chuday where Green Tara did indeed leave her footprint at Keichepieri, Seepee who guided and helped us along from village to village through hidden paths in the jungle
and showed us the ancient Monasteries high in the mountains to the chanting of the Monks
echoing from below. Domu and Daiwa in Yuksom, who attended to all our needs in their very glamourous homestay called Ijam; Lata and Premlucky at Pokhri Dara Village who opened their humble home to us and made us feel so welcome; our Tashiding family and of course Tashie, all the staff of Trek the Himalayas, who took care of our every need over the following ten days of the trek up to Guichala. I look forward to walking many mountains with all of you, my Sikkimese family, I love you all, NAMASTE! Dubdi Monastery