It was -8 degrees Celsius night before and the proof of it was staring at me from the window, where I saw water frozen through disconnected pipelines. I wanted to play spoilsport and somehow make up for the sleepless night, just when I heard Amar call out, ‘Ready?’ We headed out to the viewpoint at Sandakphu and in the next few minutes I was going to lose sense of time and space.
Groggily, I climbed a small hill to get to the highest place in Sandakphu which assured an unobstruced view of the mountains at sunrise. As I tried to hold my ground against the very strong winds, in front of me I saw the Kangchenjunga range with Everest family on one side and Mount Pandim on the other side. The range of the mountains are often called the Sleeping Buddha because of the shape they form collectively. They looked too white for me to admire at the wee hours of the cold morning.
In seconds, I saw the sun rising on my right. The ocean of clouds that calmly settled above the valley we had trekked across the day before, now acted as a bed for the sun. The sun seemed to be contouring from semi-circular to teardrop and finally the complete circle. Frantically, I switched my visuals between the sun and the Sleeping Buddha. The magnificent peak was changing its colour every second as sun arose towards the sky. Somewhere within those moments, I had lost myself and yet, found my sense of belonging.
This year I have travelled far and wide and yet I cannot grasp what it is about the mountains that captivate me completely. The sunrise at Sandakphu was one of the many precious moments I had in my recent adventure. Ironically, I deferred my travel dates thrice until I realised that it would be excruciatingly cold to climb the terrain. Do we resist experiences closest to our hearts?
While I had hoped to trek all by myself, on my way to Maneybhanjang, I met a fellow traveller and since our timeline corresponded, we decided to do the trek together. Amar was our guide and through the days ahead, the three of us created some fantastic memories together.
As the hike proceeded to Phalut from Sandakphu, the winds had become lighter and the clime was somewhat tolerable. Later that evening, we were joined by another group of trekkers and the only government shed in Phalut was getting busy. Since the kitchen was the warmest, seven of us gathered around the fire to keep warm and conversations began. In a while, my fellow trekker started playing a popular hit song from his phone. The song was from the movie Rock Dancer with voices of Bappi Lahiri and Shweta Shetty and after initial amusement, we started singing to it! It was a moment like no other. In that kitchen, we all came from at least five different parts of the world and yet Hindi cinema music had surpassed all boundaries and played aloud from a German’s phone!
It is for moments like these I travel. Even though the central idea of my recent trip to Darjeeling was the Sandakphu trek, I cannot dismiss the hours I have spent basking under the mountain sun and reading tirelessly. Or cherishing conversations and stealing smiles with complete strangers. These ten days in North Bengal made me nostalgic of the mirror experiences I’ve had from my hometown, Shillong. Sometimes, we travel far to come back home as a hoarder of memories.
All images © Amrita Das.