The path continued to climb, seemingly endlessly, but I had prepared myself mentally for this. The wooden path through the rhododendron forests had given way to a steep rocky climb. This route through the Kanchenjunga National Park seems to be very isolated. There are no villages on the way, only the camp sites.

There was no one within sight to ask, “How much more?”, but it seemed unimportant anyway. As the guides say, distances don’t mean much in the mountains, you always talk in hours. And surely I have to keep walking for a few hours more.

The straps of my rucksack are biting into my shoulder, my legs are tired with hours and hours of walking, my oxygen deprived brain is throbbing with a headache- but strangely it didn’t really seem to matter. I know I can go on walking this way for a few more hours yet.

After the lunch break at Phetang, I seem to have figured out a way to climb without exhausting myself. Without having to constantly ask, “How much more?” when you know you have several hours ahead. Walking with the rest of the group had been very exhausting.

Having to respond to children’s queries of “How much more?” became extremely irritating after a while, partly because you had the same question in mind and didn’t know any better except that asking the question was futile. Also talking, for many, was the way to keep their minds away from the hardship of the walk, but for me it was something that got on my nerves. And lastly, pulling stragglers along, when you yourselves are struggling, is draining.

I decide to be a bit selfish and hang back at the rear. And it has worked wonders. Despite all the physical pain and hardship, I seem to be enjoying the climb. I even feel like I don’t want it to end too soon. I’m going along at a snail’s pace, my each step almost stroking the mountains. But it’s as if every bit of energy I spend is going into getting me to Dzongri. I am fascinated and humbled to think about what my body and mind are capable of.

***

After a few hours, I arrive at the camp in Dzongri. I had seen the group up ahead when the path had come into a valley and they must have reached 15-20 minutes earlier. You can see one of the large huts in Dzongri from far away. With self-restraint I had stopped myself from speculating how much more time it would take, and told myself to just keep walking.

As always, the guides have affectionately kept hot water and tea ready for us. All of us are huddled together inside sipping our cups. Some of the kids are singing. Everyone’s elated to have made it to Dzongri. I’m still enchanted by the magic of the walk and don’t seem to take in anything. I’m lost in solitude amidst all the talking and merrymaking.

***

It’s extremely cold outside. Inside the cabin, completely made of wood there is some respite. It’s small, though, and some of us would have to sleep outside in tents. None of us are particularly looking forward to the night, even though we are all weary and ready to crash into our sleeping bags.

***

At the break of daylight the next morning, I eagerly step out of the tent to look at the sky. Not only is it overcast and misty, but there is some light rain too. The weather gods had been kind to us so far, but we didn’t seem to be fortunate enough to get a glimpse of the great Kanchenjunga.

Disappointed, but also buoyed by the thought of descending to Tshoka, we start off, still with a faint hope that the sky would clear up by the time we reached the view point on the way, the highest point we have crossed, at 4150m above sea level. The sky does clear up a bit, but not enough for us to see Kanchenjunga. We do get a glimpse of Mt.Kabru though.

***

Later in the day, just past noon, we are all safe and sound in the wooden lodge in Tshoka, the same place where we stayed on the way up. A beautiful triple rainbow had adorned the mountains to welcome us. For the first time in three days, we have the whole afternoon to ourselves to rest.

It suddenly struck me that the trek was almost over. It’s been too short, really, but no complaints. The range of experiences it’s taken us through had been really worth it. And for me, visiting the Himalayas for the first time, it’s beyond words.

Laziness is the mood in general, as we just relax and recover from three days of punishing hard toil, but not amongst our guides. They are running about as usual, getting food and drink ready for us. They entertain us inside the dark wooden cabin, with a Nepali song full of the warmth, life and joy of the mountain folk (play the video at the end).

I’m again lost in solitude amidst all that is happening around me. It seems unbelievable- only a few days ago we had boarded the train from Pune to Howrah and then Sealdah to New Jalpaiguri and then travelled by jeeps to Yuksom. And here I am, in the Himalayas, in an eerie, yet cosy wooden lodge dimly lit by candles, listening to a song of the mountain folk, allowing myself to be carried away by it.

Tomorrow we descend to Yuksom and the trek will be over. It’s been an unbelievable first experience of the Himalayas. I’d like to come back here sometime. Also visit the other regions too. But for now, I’m left with a resonating memory of the second day’s walk from Phetang to Dzongri. That has been the defining experience of the trek for me.