We were very close to the territory of Mt Kanchenjunga, but we couldn’t see any of the members of its family from Okhrey because they were hidden behind the hills around us. It was as if they were calling us to say “just a bit more and we’re waiting for you round the corner!”. That was how we felt as we moved closer to Hilley. The road to Hilley went through dense forests of Rhododendron trees (known as Guras in local language). How beautiful must be these rides during the months of March and April when flowers are in full bloom. As Hilley came closer, members of the KanchenJunga family started peeping out in the backdrop of the crystal blue sky.
We got down at the gate of Varsey Rhododendron sanctuary. The guard at the gate checked our identities and after paying the nominal fees, we were allowed to enter the sanctuary. The trail was an easy slope that went up gradually from Hilley right up to Varsey through dense forests of bamboo, Rhododendron and other trees. This sanctuary is the home of the rare species of Himalayan Red Panda, but one has to be extremely lucky to get glimpse of these creatures and we were certainly not so. Though one gets to see glimpses of the Kanchenjunga range at Hilley, but they don’t make an appearance during the entire walk of 4.5 kms till one reaches Varsey.
On our way, we met the caretaker of Guras Kunj (our place of stay at Varsey), who was coming down the trail to go to the local markets of Hilley to get some raw materials, spices and other items for cooking. He asked whether we were okay to have egg curry for the lunch and chicken for dinner. A question to which we answered in the affirmative gladly. Then came the disclaimer “It will take about 2-3 hours for me to get back and I hope you won’t mind helping me with the cooking as I’m a loner in the huts of Guras Kunj!”. As he asked the same question repeatedly, a strong odour of alcohol explained the drooling accent and the frequency. We already knew that facilities were merely basic at the tourist hut at Varsey, but actually it would turn out to be much worse. But we didn’t care much at that moment and moved on. Finally, the forests yielded to an open grassland and we saw the tourist hut. It was located beautifully, but wore a deserted look. Once we turned our heads to the left, we were awestruck with a wide panoramic view of the Kanchenjunga range (“The sleeping Buddha” as it is called in its entirety).
Camera shutters went on a spree. The sky was crystal clear with mild traces of cloud floating way above the huge Kanchenjunga massif. Though it was still afternoon and the sun was high up in the sky, the chill around was quite strong, but the warmth was pleasant, which made it comfortable. We realized that this to go soon after the sun goes down. We went inside the tourist hut to have a look at the rooms, but were disappointed. There was no arrangement of hot water, so bathing was out of question. Even the blankets were not enough to keep us warm even if we went to sleep with all our warm clothes on. But that’s something to worry at night when the time comes. The caretaker returned with the raw materials and cooking ensued. We were already starving and finally, some of our family members had to lend their hands to have the food ready. By the time we were at the dining table, we were starving and the warm egg curry & rice vanished in no time! Once the hunger was satiated, the entire evening was at our disposal and we went out to venture the nearby pastures and slopes. Lines of hills covered by dense forests gradually went down the valley till they rose again on the other side of it and ultimately merged into the thick layer of snow and glacier coming down the slopes of majestic Himalayan peaks.
Evening sun started to turn yellow as the sun started its journey to the west. It was the time of the day when colors add to the drama that gets played out on the snow-clad peaks. Every moment appears like a unfolding scene. Successive shots of camera gives a different shade of color.
In front of our eyes, the peaks started to turn gold and then red. Sunlight disappeared from everywhere in the nearby hills and the forests posed nothing more than a dark outline but red sunlight still washed the slopes of the Himalayan peaks. Mt Kanchenjunga truly appeared as the leader of all wearing the crown.
As the sun went down, the wind chill forced us inside the tourist hut. There wasn’t anything to do in the darkness except to wait for dinner and after that, we reclined into our blankets. We all shivered throughout the night and sleep was a distant dream. It was instantly decided that we were to go down to Okhrey, the next morning as opposed to staying at this place for another night, given that Kanchenjunga obliged us with the views on the first day itself.
Stars still studded the sky when we woke up early in the next morning. Our endurance in the biting cold and patience was rewarded when the sun came out of the previous night’s sleep. After the morning sunset, we got ourselves fresh and headed down to Hilley and then a jeep took us to Okhrey where we spent the next night.
The next day we were headed for another picturesque town in West Sikkim, Bermiok. It is another town at the foothills of Kanchenjunga and we enjoyed our stay here at the comfortable hotel.
The next day, a short excursion took us to Singshore bridge, the highest suspension bridge in Asia.
From Bermiok, out next stop was Borong in South Sikkim. One the way, we went through Rabangla, which has a park with a huge ornate statue of Lord Budhha.
Borong was a cosy stay nestled in the hills of South Sikkim. The couple of days we stayed there were highlighted by morning and evening walks down the mountain roads. It was 31st December, 2015 and the year’s last evening ended with a wonderful sunset amidst the Himalayas.
Goodbye Sikkim, but its only a mater of time till we meet again!