Are we going to die today?
“Dad, is the plane going to crash, and are we going to die?” – asked my son. The moment he returned from the washroom in the plane, and I got a hold of him, the plane shook violently, and I saw the lady waiting in front of the washroom, for her turn, crashing onto the cockpit door! I grabbed Yuvaan, made him sit in his
seat, and put on his seat-belt. From the corner of my eye – I could see the airhostess assisting the lady in getting back on her feet, while balancing
herself. The plane shook almost for half a minute before stabilizing!
Walking through the cobbled path in Yuksom village
The pilot made an announcement – “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, please be seated with your seat belts fastened. We are experiencing turbulence now. Due to bad weather, we are unable to land in Kolkata, but have enough fuel for an hour, so we are going to be circling over the city. We surely are not going to be in the air
for an hour, just to let you know.” I saw the time – it was 5:15 pm. We had boarded the flight from Bagdogra at 4:45 pm, instead of 4:35 pm. It was supposed to be a hour long flight, and half an hour into the flight – and we are told of bad weather. We were supposed land in Kolkata at 5:35 pm, and board the next flight to Pune at 6:35 pm.
“What happens if we run out of petrol, after an hour’s time?” was the second question which my son shoots at me, looking all scared. I could actually see fear in his innocent eyes, and I couldn’t do anything about it! I cringed at the helplessness of the situation; had I been in a bus with failed brakes – we could’ve jumped and
survived (probably with a few fractures); had we been on a boat, we could’ve jumped, swam and survived; had we been on a train, we could’ve jumped and survived (again, with many fractures). Jumping off of trains, buses and boats are not easy feats, but I couldn’t help but think of these stupid comparisons, sitting in this huge plane, cruising at about 800 km / hr., at an altitude of about 30,000 ft.!
Views of the streams gushing down
This feeling was further intensified with the irritating jokes and actions of a bunch of college students from Chennai sitting in front of us – talking loudly in Tamil, laughing as loud as they could, and discussing how to jump off the aircraft while using their shirts as parachutes. These actions confused my son – why are they so happy, he asked.
Almost running ahead of us
I assured my son that the pilots had said that we would be landing soon, and nobody on this plane is going to die. As I was saying this, came another announcement, “we are extremely sorry for the delay, but conditions are still not favourable for landing, and we will be in the air till the weather clears. We are 8th in the queue, due for landing. We will begin our approach, when we hear from our ground control team.”
in the air! – that means there were 7 planes circling below or above us, waiting for a green signal from the ground control to land. Great! This also meant, that in
case we reach Kolkata safely – and are alive, then we surely will miss our next flight. The window shades were open, and all we could see outside were dark clouds and lightning. Heavy rain lashed out its fury on our the plane windows, almost wickedly reminding us that it is mother nature that is in control, not us human beings.
At the entrance
It was 5:45 pm, and I thought – only half an hour’s worth of fuel left. What is they don’t land? The speaker spat out another announcement – “we are going to try to land, but we will be experiencing turbulence. Please be seated, with your seatbelts fastened.” And, as the announcement ended, there was an audible “collective-sigh” from everybody in the plane. This was merely due to the fact that instead of black clouds, we could see the lights of the city of Kolkata, down below. I felt the absurdness and immaturity of such a sigh, as we were still about 10 – 15,000 ft. above the city. But it’s funny how the human mind is programmed – the mere visual of city lights made everybody “feel” safe!
Just before the National Park Entrance
The pilots tried a daring feat – they descended upto an elevation (from my judgements in the mountains) to about 3 – 4,000 feet. Everybody in the plane sat tight, waiting for the bump which you experience, when the plane “touched down”. But, instead, there was a different kind of bump – scarier too. The plane almost dropped 50 (or more) feet, in a fraction of a second, and being at that speed, I felt the some “serious weightlessness”, as if I was in space! At the end of that drop, we all heard a thundering sound from the engines (probably the pilots switched on the chargers / boosters or whatever – I didn’t really care), and what we saw frightened us – the city lights were getting dimmer, and we were climbing up again! I looked at my watch, and it read – 6:15 pm. 1 hour is gone, and the fuel is also probably going to finish!
Entrance and the bridge
Shit! I don’t know what to tell my son, if he asks me again if an hour has finished or not. I held on to the front seat as tightly as possible, and my wife was holding one hand of Yuvaan’s – my son, as the plane wobbled and shook for another half-an-hour. The ordeal ended with us “touching down” at 6:45 pm (I wonder how they managed the fuel – were they running on fumes?), and the entire group of passengers clapping for the pilot and the co-pilot, which lasted for about 10 – 15
This was not the first time on this trek that I faced a situation of somebody close to me saying – I am going to die today.
Leeches, Spiders and Cockroaches
After a great trip in East and South Sikkim, here we were – me, my wife – Manasi, my son – Yuvaan, and my in-laws, staying at our guide’s place in Yuksom, Sikkim.
Yuvaan on back
Yuksom is known to be a base camp for the famous Goecha-La trek, where a lot of outdoor outfits manage this on a commercial level. The trek is a remote one, with hardly any villages on the trail, but the campsites are very well established.
We arrived in Yuksom the previous day. The first incident that took us by surprise was a leech getting fat by sucking blood out of Yuvaan’s toe! He was playing in the garden outside Chungda’s home, and we all were as unaware of the danger of leeches as he was. While playing, he complained of some burning sensation, and as we tried to look for what had happened – we saw that a leech had clung onto his toe, and had fattened by sucking blood.
We all got scared, but Chungda’s wife
immediately came and applied salt on the leech.
Us, having lunch
The leech died, but the oozing out of blood from his foot didn’t stop. We learnt that when the leech sucks blood, she also spits out an anti-coagulant, which thins the blood, and that’s the reason that it doesn’t stop.
Sachen Hut from the trail
The only way to stop it is to apply pressure, which we did, and eventually – it stopped. Yuvaan had gotten quite scared already, and after a power failure, we were unsure of what all might have entered the rooms we all were staying in, as the doors remained open. Once the lights came back on, we frantically searched everywhere. To our horror, when we moved the bed to join them (so that Yuvaan can sleep in the middle), we found a palm-sized spider slung onto the wall! Back in colour, with its tentacles spread – it was even scarier.
Baichung and gang inside Sachen hut
Manasi almost screamed at the top of her voice, and laughing at her – Yuvaan jumped over the bed. Chungda killed it, and we thought everything was fine. This was until we all, tired of the journey from Darap to Yuksom, went to bed. As soon as Manasi pulled the sheets of the comforter, again – a loud scream! I switched on the lights – and there was this huge flying cockroach. I killed it with my boots, and that was the end of the stay at Yuksom.
The insanely long trek with Joe Simpson (of Touching the Void fame)
Once you leave Yuksom, there are two campsites that one can camp at, instead of going all the way to Tshoka, Sachen and Bakhim. When we, the three of us left Yuksom from Chunda’s home, we had planned on reaching Tshoka that day. Tshoka is about 16 km away, with a constant moderate – to – steep gradient climb after the 9-km stretch.
Sachen Hut from the trail
After a hearty breakfast of Millet pancakes and omelette, we started on our trek. Chungda was going to join us later, along with the mules, so he gave us a porter by the name of Baichung. The trail pretty much starts from outside Chungda’s home. You walk for about 5 minutes, and you are at the trailhead.
Bridge before the climb to Bakhim
There is a big plaque
requesting all trekkers on the route to refrain from using any kind of satellite phones, as there is a high chance of some interception with the Chinese across the border.
The trail initially starts on somewhat of a cobbled path, which finishes soon, and the regular trail starts. On the way, there is a hut / rest area built in memory of somebody from the village who expired on this trail.
Yuvaan at Bakhim
The trail winds around mountains, with intermittent views of the bigger stream gushing through the valley. The entire area is so green, that you sometimes feel that you are hiking in the Sahyadris, which are the mountains in the state of Maharashtra.
Yuksom is set at an altitude of 1780m, and we were targeting to an altitude of 3040, at which Tshoka is situated. When we started, there was light rain, so we all put on our ponchos, which prevented the rain from wetting us completely.
Bakhim - 13 km...
While walking on the trail, we could seekids in the nearby houses getting ready to go to school,
all decked up in their neatly ironed school uniforms. But, after about an hour of walking on the trail, when the body heated up, we all started sweating profusely, and had to remove our ponchos. As usual, Yuvaan set off with Baichung, at a fast pace. This time, I knew – unlike last year – that Yuvaan has not practiced enough, and neither has Manasi. So, I was a little careful about their ability to walk the distance of 16 km.
Me, with the Bakhim Hut
I had instructed Baichung to be with Yuvaan all the time, and to never leave him, as there were sections on the trail, where there was a steep drop on the valley side. I also told him, that I don’t intend to have Yuvaan walk all the 16 km, and he would have to take him on his shoulders, even is Yuvaan refuses (which he did later on).
Mansi and Sakshi
The trail meandered through thick forests, with multiple streams running down from the mountain side to the valley side. None of the streams were tricky to cross, but we had to be careful at a few crossings, to avoid slipping on the wet rocks.
Bakhim in clouds
At places, I had to call out Yuvaan’s name, and tell him to stop, for letting his
parents catch up with him. He used to get irritated, and I understand – his pace must be getting slowed down, but we both wanted him to be visible all the time, which is kind of impossible in the mountains. I clicked a couple of pics of Yuvaan and Baichung on the trail.
At places, it felt like the trail is going straight into the clouds. Occasionally, the clouds would open up, and we got a chance to witness the high mountains and the deep valleys we were trekking in. At one point, there was a good amount of descent, which led the trail towards Sachen, the first campsite at a distance of 7 km. After the descent, the trails winds in the forest before reaching a bridge. The waterfall cascading below the bridge was magnificent, and the other end of the bridge lies the entrance to the “Kanchendzonga National Park”.
We took a small break there, and clicked photos at the entrance. The trail climbs up steadily after the entrance, and with the streams gushing down the mountainside on your right.
How much more to go?
At the end of the climb, we all sit down for a break. And within 10 minutes, 2 girls pop up from the valley below, with a guide slowly walking behind them. They take a break as well, and tell us that they are from Delhi, and are going all the way to Tshoka, like us. One of them was a terrific trekker, and her pace was quite
difficult for the second one to match. We break ways, only to meet for our lunch at Sachen.
After about an hour’s of climb, the trail flattens out, and a little over half an hour later, we are greeted by one of the horsemen – with a kettle in his hand, and glasses for us to have our drink! Now, this is something which I call 7-star service! He had some juice – probably glucon-D, but that was dissolved in hot water, so it
Hut in clouds
But, the feeling of the juice going down your throat was just amazing! The girls crossed us saying that they would stop min-way to have their
packed lunch, but eventually came around to Sachen, and we had our lunch together. Yuvaan clicked a few photos here and there, while we chatted about the trek, Maggi being banned in India, the weather in north-east India etc. One of them – Sakshi was a lawyer, while the other worked with some NGO. They had been given packed lunch, while a hot lunch of Maggi, soup, cheese sandwich and juice was served to us. After this quick but nice lunch, we were on our way to Tshoka.
Manasi at Tshoka, the next day...
The campsite at Sachen is not supposed to be at the place where we had lunch. It is about a 100 ft away, on a flat space on the mountainside. The place where we had lunch is usually where the horses are kept and is full of horse-shit, literally.
The trail wound around many mountains before it climbed steadily upto a point – which was another break for us. We could see the river flowing below, gushing down with full force. And on the river was a bridge which was firmly tied on both the ends.
From here, the trail dropped steeply to the river. At the other end of the bridge, we discussed the route. Chungda told us that it is all climb from here! We had trekked about 9 kms and the remaining 7 were all climb. I took a quick decision regarding Yuvaan not trekking anymore. I told Baichung to pick him up his shoulders, so that his legs get some rest. After a quick drink stop, we started
climbing. And boy – was it a constant gradient!
Driving the peg in
It seemed like it never ended. We just climbed on and on and on. At one point in time, Sakshi caught up with us,
and when we asked – she said – Mansi is way behind. But, she is a determined girl, and she will catch up for sure.
Occasionally, it would rain. And the rains would come down hard – so, I and Manasi used to get our respective Ponchos out, and wear them. Inside the ponchos, we sweated like pigs, and surprisingly – within a minute or so, the rain used to stop. The exercise of putting on and taking off ponchos was done at least 4 – 5 times during the entire trek.
Just before we headed to Sikkim for the trek, we – all three of us – me, Manasi and Yuvaan watched Touching the Void, a movie / documentary, which I call the “epitome” of determination. A 22 year old guy with a broken leg on one of the most dangerous mountains, fallen in a crevasse, comes out, and crawls all the way to the base camp. The route which they climbed – has never been climbed again – is what the movie says. Whenever I watch a movie with Yuvaan, I tend to tell him the “good things” worth learning from a movie, which can be any kind of movie. Obviously, “the” thing to learn from this movie is to have a good amount of determination. And, if you think you don’t have any – then work towards it, so that it will help you. Anytime. Every time. Anywhere.
Campsite at Tshoka
Yuvaan had a lot of technical
questions about the equipment which was shown in the movie. But it was Manasi, who got “really” impressed as well as inspired from the way in which Joe saves
himself out of the extremely difficult situation he is thrown into. And therefore, “If Joe Simpson can tackle so many odds, and come out alive, then I can certainly walk a little more” became her motivational statement, every time she either got tired, or was thinking of quitting. And, that’s why I say that Joe was there with us – spiritually and psychologically – all the time.
Three of us
In Sikkim, you are walking in clouds for 90% of the trek, if you go in May – June time frame. It felt awesome to see the clouds come in, and after a while, just move away, to reveal the beauty that each of those turns beheld. We would’ve never imagined the altitude / height of the mountains we were trekking in, if it were not for
the clouds that gave us a sneak peek at them, once in a while.
Pond and Monastery
After about an hour or little more than that – we reached the campsite called Bakhim. This was completely engulfed in clouds, and we feared it is going to rain. But it didn’t. I clicked a few photos of the ghostly outline of the forest rest house that stands at this location, with cracks all over it from an earthquake that shook it a few years ago. I was told by local people that when large groups come on treks, they still stay in that house, which I thought – was stupid and risky. Besides the building, there was a cottage where a kid and his mom were staying.
The dad had gone to leave his Tzos (a mix breed of Yaks and cows in this region) on the pastures near Dzongri-La. It’s a tradition here that – to go and leave them for three months. The kid was hanging through the window and waved to me. At Bakhim, we all had a small 5 minute break, when I asked Manasi – do you feel OK? Do you want to camp here?
We had already trekked about 13 km. and were tired with the 1st
day walk being this long. I could see Manasi struggling to place her next foot. But, whenever I asked her – she used to reply with Joe’s mention – if he could do “that”, then “this” is nothing! I reminded her – that “he” was Joe Simpson, a world-class mountaineer, and you are you – so don’t compare yourself with him. But this happened several times even after we left Bakhim. As I said, it was a constant climb, so on one turn, I pretty much forced her to have something – I gave her a laadoo (sweet, home-made), and water.
She didn’t want to sit, as she felt her pace got disturbed, if she sat and rested. At one point in time, when I knew she was way too tired, I was paying close attention to check if she was OK. And, I saw her lose her balance! She was trying to put her right foot on a rock, and she lost her balance. She didn’t fall, but I could see she was extremely tired.
I told her to drink more water – I even asked if she wants to go back to Bakhim, and camp there, as Tshoka was another hour away, at the max. And out came her trademark sentence with Joe Simpson! I mean – it was great to seek inspiration from him, but then comparing two people is a wrong thing to do – the situations are different, the training is different, the mindset is different.
But, I admired that she looked at him as a hero, and was drawing strength from his life, to take that next step on this trek!
When I saw horses coming down, and people shouting, I realized that we were close to Tshoka. At the beginning of the campsite, we had a glass full of juice, warm and nice. This gave Manasi some strength to push herself further, towards where our tent was pitched.
As we already had our lunch at Sachen, this was tea time. We saw that the tent was already pitched on a campground just opposite the huts where trekkers sleep. We had tea and biscuits as snacks before each one of us went to
our tent, and changed into drier clothes. Yuvaan, as usual never wanted to come in the tent, he would rather play outside.
Peg and Yuvaan!
For some reason, Manasi was fine, when we were having tea. But, as soon as we went inside the tent, she started getting the feeling of nauseating and vomiting. Perhaps, the tent seemed claustrophobic for her, but we were supposed to sleep inside the tent only – there was no other alternative, until the next day – when we realized that the trekker’s hut were equally nice, with wooden beds and mattresses on them, to sleep on.
Manasi - all tired
As evening turned into night, Manasi started feeling all the more uneasy, and had the repeated vomiting sensation again. She mentioned having a terrible headache, and said – she doesn’t want to eat anything. All the
symptoms of AMS, I thought to myself. I repeatedly told her to drink more water. Considering the height gain that we did over the 16 km. that we trekked, I felt that it probably would’ve been pushing a little more than what should have been. Or, as they say – biting off more than what we can chew!
Trekker's hut at Phedang
We spent some time inside the tent with Yuvaan, reading stories to him, and chatting with him on various topics. It was the 1st
trek that we had done together, only three of us, so we were all prepared. Manasi was a little apprehensive about ONLY three of us going, without any company for Yuvaan, unlike last year, when Arjun was his mate! But, inside the tent, our topics spanned from cars to US, to where he was born, to Himalaya vs. Sahyadri, different kinds of tents and many more things! As we were discussing these things, I repeatedly told Manasi to continue to drink water, which she did diligently.
After about an hour or so inside the tent, the uneasiness she was experiencing was too much to bear, and she just had to go outside the tent and throw up. It was raining heavily.
Almost there to Phedang
The task of coming out of the tent, getting the shoes from the fly, wearing them, wearing the rain-jacket and going out to puke – was too much of a task for her. I saw and realized that she was not in a good shape, and after she came back in, I asked her the question – “you think, we should go back from here, right?” She knew that I and Yuvaan were doing well, and that both of us wanted to go to Dzongri, to witness the magic of Kanchendzonga getting lit up with the first rays of sun, when it rises! With that in mind – she answered – let us take a decision tomorrow morning.
Engrossed in tent pitching
That night, she didn’t eat anything. I and Yuvaan had a good dinner, and while on our way back to the tent, Manasi had a stomach-ache. So, I suggested her to go and take a dump. It was so cloudy that one couldn’t see anything a foot way, even with powerful headlamps. I told Yuvaan to go sit in the tent while I accompany
Manasi, as she wasn’t feeling well. Yuvaan felt scared inside the tent, so I had to leave him with Chungda. Manasi’s attempt was unsuccessful, and we retreated back to the tent.
Cold - Brrr!
I was extra careful with Manasi, and kept asking her is she felt OK. We slid inside our sleeping bags, after I massaged Yuvaan’s and Manasi’s legs, as there were chances of both of them getting cramps because of the 16 km. trek.
Hut in Bakhim
At around 12:30 am, Manasi woke me as she wanted to go pee, as a result of the large amounts of water she had consumed. So, I was showing her the light in pitch dark outside, so that she could get out of the tent. This went smoothly, but it was a couple of hours later – around 2:00 am, when she had that nauseating feeling again, and she woke me up, telling me that she is going to throw up. Again, I wake up, show her the light, open the tent door, and out she goes. This was the time when we both witnessed something amazing – the clouds that had filled up the sky, had parted and all the splendour of snow-clad peaks of Kanchendzonga were shining in the moonlight – right in front of us.
It felt like a miracle, and the view was something we both will never forget for the rest of our lives.
The moonlight, with sparkling stars in the sky, and the majestic mountains in the backdrop! For a moment, we were so captivated that we both forgot that Manasi was not feeling well. That moment ended soon, and I took her inside the tent immediately.
Samarth, I think I am going to die here!
The next day, she recovered from a good night’s sleep. Yuvaan was feeling great, and was jumping around with a stick in his hand.
I asked Manasi how she was feeling. She replied with an emphatic “OK”, and said she wanted to go further. I was a little careful, and I confirmed with her before calling Chungda. Our next camp was Dzongri, which was a 10 km hike from here, with about a thousand meters to climb.
The previous day, we had climbed about 1300 m. Yuvaan felt perfectly OK, and was all ready to go up. I called Chungda, and he also advised Manasi to not let emotions control her. He said, it is perfectly OK to go back from here, if she
didn’t feel good. She had some serious AMS symptoms the previous day. But she stuck to her decision, which I was wary about. In hindsight, I feel, I should have forced her to return the same very day. All of us agree on a mutual plan – of hiking up 5 km, upto Phedang, and taking a decision there, whether to go further to Dzongri or not. Phedang is a small campsite, with a hut for trekkers to rest in, but there is ample space for a couple of tents to get pitched.
Campsite and Trekker's hut - Phedang
I realized that we didn’t have any snacks / energy bars while on the trek, so I bought chocolates from a shop at Tshoka. You get everything over there – at twice the price!
After the mandatory water drinking session in the morning, we went for breakfast. I almost forced Manasi to eat some cereals otherwise she wouldn’t have any energy to hike further. Although I was certain that Yuvaan would be able to walk the entire 5 km, with a 500 m of elevation gain, I told Chungda to let him walk half the way, and the remaining half – on Baichung’s back. After a heavy breakfast, we all left for Phedang.
The tent I pitched!
The trail from Tshoka winds beautifully through a meadow, with a small pond on it, and perched on one end of the pond is this beautiful monastery. Chungda told me that this was where immigrants from Nepal came and settled couple of decades ago, but eventually they were made to leave. The site is so pretty, that it would be a dream to stay at such a place. Once on the trail, we continued with a steady pace, until the trail was replaced with huge wooden logs, placed horizontally.
Cold - Brrr!
It was almost like a step-like formation, which got boring after a while. Added to this, the mud, slush and Tzo-shit, which made the trail really filthy! After about half the distance was over, I told Baichung to take Yuvaan on his back. This second continuous day would be too much for that 6 year old. After a couple of breaks, we reached Phedang. We both were so amazed at the beauty of this place. The hut was at one end, the tent was pitched right in front of it, and there was a green meadow just a few feet away, with a trail going towards Thangsing, another viewpoint on the trek, and on one end – there were tons of rhododendron trees, with pink flowers. Because the campsite was at an altitude of about 3500 m, it was cold. So, Chungda and others quickly lit a campfire in the small hut’s front yard. We all sat there, having tea, biscuits, pakodas! For dinner, we had soup and momos!
I remembered my Stok Kangri expedition, when the American couple were served momos as a part of their dinner. Manasi looked good, as she had tea and some pakodas. But, she didn’t eat much for dinner. The songs near the campfire just went on and on, as it was awesome weather. We discussed the next day’s plan, and Manasi said – we can go to Dzongri. But, little did she know what awaited her at night.
I massaged Yuvaan’s and Manasi legs, so that they don’t get cramps. We retired to our sleeping bags, and it was around 10 pm, when Manasi woke me up. She had a terrible headache, and she was completely nauseated. I immediately opened up the tent, and told her to go out. I went with her, and saw that all that she had eaten during the snacks was thrown out of her body. I told her to drink some water, so that she feels OK. She couldn’t talk properly; she told me that the whole world is spinning in front of her eyes! I got shit-scared, and thought of waking up Chungda. But waited for a while, and thought of how to get Manasi to rest. I
was wondering if Yuvaan was OK – but he slept peacefully. I thanked god for that. What would I have done, had both of them gotten AMS symptoms? I told
Manasi to try to sleep, and tucked her inside her sleeping bag. I slid into mine, thinking about those 7 hours before sunshine would warm things up. I
always feel, that in the mountains, one feels a sense of uncertainty / insecurity at a place, if it is dark. The night makes the new place / campsite more mysterious and scary, for some people. There is no light anywhere, and if the clouds engulf the sky, it ups the ante of the “eerie” feeling. Things are a little better off, when you have the moonlight shining brightly, with stars twinkling. And of course, you are more comfortable, when you have company, with whom you can chat, and discuss stuff. This unknown uncertainty eventually fades away, when you have travelled / camped / hiked / climbed enough in the mountains, but it does take a few years for that feeling to go away. I have personally experienced that, and have seen many people like that. And, once the sun comes up, and the tent gets warmed up by the sunshine, you come out of the sleeping bag with a smile on your face, you come out of your tent to witness the beauty around, and have that hot cup of tea. Daylight tends to provide a different level of comfort to people in the mountains like nothing else.
Here we were, just the three of us, in a tent, at 3500 m above sea level; Yuvaan sleeping peacefully, and Manasi suffering from severe AMS. It was again at 12:30 am, when Manasi woke up, and I went out with her – she threw up again! I was concerned – what should I do? Should I wake up Chungda? Should we start descending at night?
Trekker's hut at Phedang
In the hazy beam of the headlamp, piercing through the clouds that engulfed us? Should I wake Yuvaan up? Will he be able to walk at night, after having woken up in the middle of his sleep? Should I have Manasi sit on a Tzo or a horse, so that she doesn’t need to walk? Does she have energy to walk, coz she doesn’t have anything in her stomach to provide the energy? After the throwing up at 12:30 am, she felt a bit better, and told me that she is going to sleep, as she is extremely tired. I could imagine – a continuous trek of 21 km. followed by vomiting everything that you have in your body! Nobody would feel good in that condition. When she slept off, I just prayed to god to get the sunlight an hour or two earlier. My gut feeling was that she would feel better, once the night is over.
Route to Dzongri
At around 3:45 am, Manasi woke me up frantically, with a statement that shook me, and made me jump out of my sleeping bag. Samarth, I think, I am going to die here! – she blurted out. I went across to her, and asked her what was happening? Her head was blasting, she felt extremely nauseated, she didn’t feel like drinking water, she felt totally weakened, and the entire tent was spinning in front of her eyes! I don’t want to die here, Samarth. Take me to Punyaee (our home)! Yes, I
will take you – we all are going to go. Nobody is dying here, I comforted her. Holding her in my arms, I tried to not think of the worst! Keeping an upbeat mood, I told her that it would be another hour or so, before sun will come up, and she will feel good. I checked the clock – it was 4 am. I knew it was going to be at least 2 hours before sun comes up, and she can feel assured. For those two hours, I held her in my arms; she was sleeping intermittently. But, probably the comfort of being in my arms was enough to ease her stress out. I thought to myself – this is the first time only three of us have come on a trek, and see how it has turned out to be. God forbid, if something bad happens, then I won’t be able to forgive myself for the entire life. What will I tell everybody back home? While holding her in my arms, I actually checked about 4 – 5 times, whether she was breathing or not. It is difficult to express the overwhelming feeling that I experienced, when I sensed the breath coming out of her nostrils.
Ravi, BC and Shivling
While holding her, my mind wandered to a similar experience with Ravi, during the B-II expedition
, and how he suffered at that altitude. For a second, I thought of the pressurized bag, which is a must-carry equipment on high mountains like Everest, and is used, when climbers face severe AMS. How I wished I had it here with me. The only way to feel better and get rid of the AMS symptoms is – to descend. And, 4 am was not a time to descend, when your kid is sleeping, you wife thinks she is going to die, and it is pitch dark outside. Patience and hoping that Manasi holds on for 2 more hours was all that I could do. I felt sad that I had put her in this situation. But, I was glad that we didn’t go all the way to Dzongri. Also, once in a while, I cursed Joe Simpson, who kind of over-inspired Manasi to push herself, in this case – way beyond her own limits.
I don’t want to – ever – recall how those 2 hours passed by. It was around 6 am, when there was enough light outside, for me to take a decision to move out of the tent, have a quick breakfast, and start descending immediately. There was absolutely no question of going ahead, towards Dzongri. I woke up Manasi – she woke up from deep sleep, and gave me a first piece of good news – that her headache has subsided significantly. The tent was spinning anymore in front of her eyes, and she felt a little better. I told her to just lie down, and I rushed to the trekker’s hut – to wake up Chungda. I narrated the incident to him, and we both sprang into
action. He woke up the other people, and they started preparing the breakfast, while I went to the tent, and gave some hot water to Manasi to drink. I immediately started packing the stuff that was strewn around the tent. There was a method to pack the stuff as well – the dirty and filthy clothes on one side, the good and fresh clothes on one side, food, jackets etc.
Within an hour’s time, we had left Phedang. We had some biscuits with tea, to refuel our bodies, and took the majority of the breakfast in a packed state. After the tea and biscuits, Manasi felt much better. When I asked, she confirmed that she will be able to walk on her own, and does not need a horse / Tzo to carry her down.
Climbing down all by himself!
Still, I walked besides her, to make sure that she doesn’t fall down due to exhaustion. Yuvaan as usual, ran down with Baichung and Chungda. An hour of descending, and Sakshi came and met us from behind. She had started early the previous day, and had reached Dzongri, which is 10 km. away from Tshoka, in a mind-boggling 3.5 hrs!
Tired...but regaining strength, as we were descending
Her friend, Mansi stayed at Tshoka, to take rest, as she too was completely exhausted. When she overtook us, she mentioned that she woke up early in the morning, climbed up with the Sherpa to Dzongri top, to witness the sunrise over Kanchendzonga range (this climb is another 500 m or so), returned to the camp, had breakfast, and is on her way to Tshoka!
Going towards Tshoka
I congratulated her on her speed and will to cover this much of distance in one day. Moreover, she has plans of going down all the way to Sachen, and camping in Sachen, so that the next day, they would only have 7 km. to Yuksom. I wondered if Mansi – her friend would be able to do it. As for our case – even when Chungda asked twice whether we should try to make it to Sachen, I told him – we are staying at Bakhim.
At the monastery
Phedang to Bakhim would be good enough for Manasi and Yuvaan to descend for the day and take rest, as it would be stressful on the knees.
At the Monastery
The next day,
we planned to go all the way to Yuksom.
Paneer Butter Masala at Bakhim
We reached Bakhim well in time for lunch.
We were served hot noodles, spring rolls and soup. As usual, Bakhim was completely in clouds.
Manasi felt much better now, with the descent in altitude. She had not eaten much, but I had constantly made her drink water while descending, along with a piece of chocolate here and there.
After the sumptuous lunch that she had, she was fresh again! Yuvaan, as usual was playing with everything and anything that he saw lying around. The shephards had gotten their Tzos from Yuksom, and they wanted to prepare their food, which comprised of remains of kernels of corn, and some other things, all boiled together.
This soupy stuff is given to them, which energizes them. Yuvaan was busy getting the fire burning for the food to get ready.
Meanwhile, after tea, Manasi volunteered to cook for all the people. Paneer (cottage cheese) was available, and so were the spices.
Effects of earthquake
The boys and shephards in the trekker’s hut were quite
amused that she had volunteered to prepare the meal.
Replacing the prayer flags
Close-up of flowers
Yuvaan cooking Tzo's meal...
At first, Manasi had insisted that we stay in the hut – but then, when she realized that all the men – about 15 of them are going to stay in it, she was glad that I kind of forced the decision of staying in the tent on her. The Paneer butter Masala turned out to be a hit, and along with the mint chutney – it was fabulous!
Awesome trail, just above Bakhim
We retired to the tent after taking a few clicks of the dizzying heights of mountains being revealed to us, when the clouds parted.
All three of us...clicked by Chungda
The campsite was a little away from the hut, with the trail right behind it. This is the place where I paid both Baichung as well as the Tzo guys a tip, after consulting Chungda.
You want a Tantric or a Doctor?
Next day, we had planned on leaving at 7, but left a little past 7. Breakfast provided the energy required to go all the way to Yuksom.
Trekker's Hut at Bakhim
It was all down, except for the two huge climbs that we knew. One was the climb right after the river, after crossing the bridge.
Tzo and his meal
And the next one was the one just before one reaches Yuksom.
Clouds parting, giving us an excellent view...
Yuvaan left with Chungda, and I and Manasi descended slowly, as this entire descent was indeed going to put pressure on our knees. Chungda took a photo of us on the trail, while we were walking in the clouds.
Posing while sleeping
At the river, we took a break, drank lots of water, and climbed up the first steep climb. I had told Baichung to take Yuvaan on his back once we cross the river. After a few breaks, we easily managed to climb up the second climb as well, which led us into Yuksom.
Campsite in the clouds...
Once the cobbled road was visible, I was assured that we are close, and soon we started seeing house of people from the village. Once we left the trail, we saw Yuvaan happily drinking Coke along with Baichung. Manasi and I gobbled down one bottle of coke, and it felt so refreshing!
Tea at Bakhim campsite
Chungda was playing carom at one of the shops, and Yuvaan got excited. Before his excitement could turn into a nagging, we started walking towards Chungda’s place. A hot-water bath after almost 5 days felt awesome, and it was during dinner while I was having Chhang, that I realized some kind of irritation on my left arm and shoulder. When I tried scratching it, I realized that it was nothing small, but a huge lump – as if something had bitten me badly! It started getting itchy on
my legs as well, and I called out to Chungda.
Awesome camping ground
He rushed towards me, and as I showed him my shoulder and back – the expression on his face changed! The allergy (of something) had spread all over my back, and it was spreading at a fast rate! Within the next few minutes, my legs, forearms, thighs and stomach started showing the same allergic reaction.
Discussion @ load
It was 9 pm, and Yuksom didn’t have a hospital – Chungda told me. Manasi immediately called up her father, sent him some Whatsapp pics of what had erupted, and he suggested some medicines, which we didn’t have. That’s when I realized the ill-planning on my part, when it came to medicines for this trek.
Because this trek was combined with a trip in Sikkim, I had not planned well, and I repented for it.
The local hut resident
Chungda told me not to worry, and to my amazement – offered me a “solution” which anybody in Yuksom would accept. He spoke about going and getting a Tantric guy, who would read some “mantras” and the allergy will go away! A fictitious figure of a bearded guy, clad in semi-dirty clothes, with ash strewn on his forehead, and some peacock feathers in his hand came up in my mind.
Packing to head to Yuksom
These were the kind of tantric guys I had always seen in movies. I asked Manasi – she said – we don’t have any choice, but to call him! It felt strange – to have somebody cast a spell, that will make a physical problem go away.
Trekker's hut - this is where Manasi wanted to sleep!
But, there are quite a few strange things in India, which are inexplicable, so I agreed. Chungda disappeared in the night, and came back about 20 minutes later. Gladly (for me), the tantric guy was already working on something / somebody, so he was busy, so Chungda had managed to convince a friend of his to give me a lift to a primary medical care centre in Yuksom.
All padded up!
I was so relieved to see the old Maruti 800 that took me to the primary health centre. The doctor needed to be called in.
The chhang that I had had before dinner, combined with about 10 ml of Atarax (which we had) had not done any good, but the combination was deadly – alcohol and Atarax, which also makes you sleep.
National Park entrance
Sachen, on the way back.
When we spoke to Manasi’s father, he recommended an injection of Avil, which was also an anti-allergic medicine. And, if the injection wasn’t available, then a tablet of Pednisole would do the cure.
Chungda and Yuvaan!
Seeing the intensity of the reaction on my body, the doctor gave me a tablet of Pednisole, as well as an injection of Avil!
Really HIGH mountains all around Yuksom
And, the injection is supposed to be given at a very slow rate – the nurse pumped it in my body!
Chhang + Atarax + Pednisole + Avil – and I was gone. I instantly slumped in the chair I was sitting in, and what I vaguely remember is holding on to Chungda all the way to his house, and dozing off almost like I was dead.
The next day, we left Yuksom.
Bottle full of Coke!
In the car, thoughts related to “all” the mundane things of life (back home) started cropping up in my mind.
Nice small bridge
Things and deadlines and relations and expectations that gave stress, and tensions.
The last climb!
That very instant, I turned and saw how pleasantly Manasi was sleeping in the car – head rested against the window. And, Yuvaan snuggled besides her.
Chungda's Family and Home
Looking at her, all the things; and I mean all of them – back home – seemed frivolous. An overwhelming sense of peace and calmness made me relax, when I realized what we went through, and the end result is – Manasi is alive. Nothing else mattered. Frankly.