Minus forty six degrees at the International Airport near here followed by freezing rain gridlock in Edmonton made this e-mailed travelogue from India quite intriguing. Rhododendron jungles, Kanchenjungha by moonlight ...

The author originally wrote this as a long letter to Satarupa Ghosh who encouraged him to finish it and share it with the rest of the world. Arijit's introduction is here
Roy and Janet Schmaus January 27, 2003

Trekking to Varsey

Getting Started, Part 1 of 3 by Arijit Cakraborty

It's long been a dream to trek in the Rhododendron jungles of "Varsey", called the "Valley of flowers" of West Sikkim. Statistics shows its floral riches can only be matched by that of "Yumthang", a tourist hot spot in North Sikkim. So, I gathered information, downloaded a few pages from the net , read a few articles in "Bhroman"...and found trekking to Varsey,.. well,.. just cakewalk! The route is as simple as: Kolkata----> Siliguri ----> Jorthang (A 3-1/2 hour journey from Siliguri.) ----> Hilley (A 3-hour trip from Jorthang.) and then a simple 4 km trek in a relatively flat terrain to Varsey (10,000 ft.) through dense rhododendron jungle. To me it's a 2 hour maximum...and the 6 day holiday during Durgapuja seemed to be just perfect... (though I always have the feeling that Autumn is one of the more grey seasons in a rainforest..and the fact that not a single rhododendron is to be seen)...

I invited all my friends.. and received positive e-mails from 2 of them.... both were very excited....So I was all set up for the trip..we had less than two weeks to prepare and pack...and decided to go by "Rocket" instead of the usual Darjeeling Mail...we had frequent discussions over phone on what to take and what not to..what type of shoes will be O.K....where to get the downs & the sleeping bags from...all sort of things...I, being the more experienced (!) , took the lead in decision making... I was really bubbling....and everything was final...suddenly on a sunny morning, when I was getting ready for my office, one of my partners rang up and said that he can't go...that very evening, getting back from office, I received a similar phone from my other partner....I was shocked ..everything I planned and nourished for so long was at stake!!....and that very moment I decided I shall go alone...that's it... I've always had full support from my parents on any decision I took.....and this time too it was no exception...

The final scenario was something like this.....at 5:30 p.m. on "Shashti"-evening, I was rushing from my office to Esplanade in my formal office outfit...my bus was at 6:30 ...Ma & Baba were supposed to be in front of the counter with my rucksack & trekking shoes at 5:30....but at 6:00, when I reached there, they weren't there...at 6:20, I was absolutely convinced that they won't make it....but suddenly in the smoggy haze, I spotted a middle aged trekker among the crowd in a brand new white panjabi-kurta & chappal... with my brown sack on....and Ma (one simply cannot miss her !!) beside him in a basanti coloured saree carrying my sleeping bag like a sleeping baby...so within next 300 seconds I changed from my office cocoon to my trekking outfit.. .T-shirt, Bermuda and a high neck trekking boot...using a towel ...in front of the huge crowd that gathered..looking at me in utter amazement...

"Why is the sleeping bag out?" - I asked Ma ......with a very guilty face she confessed : ....The whole day she tried to arrange "the mess" in my sack, but after arranging everything she could not find a place for the sleeping bag. ...(I was later annoyed to find two extra sets of pullovers, an extra pair of jeans trousers and a naga-shawl, that I didn't pack....and....well..more annoyingly.... they all came very handy) I decided not to carry the sleeping bag as my sack itself seemed to exceed my carrying limit...(and that was the stupidest decision I made, as I later found out)....then I had the "Mother-Special" fried rice with chili chicken packed in aluminium foil...I don't know how the taste was because it was terribly hot and I finished it in 90 seconds...

I got the last row in the bus....and before reaching Krishnanagar the only major incident was that it took 2 hours just to cross the "Sribhumi" crossing.. ..50 yards of it...it was "Shashti" you know.

The next morning we took a detour near Islampur as NH-34 was yet to be repaired from the damages of the flood...and on the narrow winding makeshift roads through the populated interior villages, our driver maintained a chilling over 70 kmph speed to beat all the other buses to "claim the championship"...sometimes even I(!) closed my eyes as he took a steep turn.....I really don't know how he missed all those kids playing on the streets....anyway, It was a very clear sky and Kanchenjungha accompanied us all along the way to Siliguri....On a bright "Saptami" morning I reached Siliguri and easily found a seat in a grey-yellow Sikkim Nationalized Transport (S.N.T.) bus to Jorthang.

.Siliguri has changed a lot in a last few years..immense crowds and traffic, mighty departmental stores, micro-mini skirts, and cell phones.

I took my lunch in Bubu's place (he is my buddy since I went to my first school)...and then took off for Jorthang... reached Jorthag in the afternoon ... it's a sleepy little town with a central market ... not too hot - not too cold ....surrounded on all sides by high hills ..... and the only hint of it's being a "Maha-Saptami" was a 20 ft. red-yellow Pandal .... with a sweet tuned Nepali rock music going on in full volume ... I could not resist going in ... It was a 4 ft' "Protima" .... with distinctive Nepali eyes .... I was greeted by a tikka ... a sticky mixture of pink kumkum, raw rice and ghee was pasted all over my forehead carefully avoiding my glasses ....the next moment I couldn't recognize myself in the mirror .... anyway it was already getting dark and I took to a hotel.

There was a huge flat ground by the hotel where preparations for the "Dussera" was going on ....from my room I could see two strange structures at the centre of the ground .... at least 50 ft. high, bamboo made ... it took me some time to conceive that those were actually swings .

"See you tomorrow !", I said, as I went down for my dinner .... the menu was like this ... rice, raw soya-bean curry and a "hotter than the hottest hot" pickle with tomato, red-chilli & "Chhana" (yes, the milk product !!)

Part 2