Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Royale Rhododendron , Magnificent Magnolia and the virgin forest

This photo feature is the first contribution from the readers of this blog.

In response to my invitation to the viewers, of the blog, to share their experience Dr. Subir Ghosh has emailed me this article for the readers. He has shared his recent(March 2009) experience here. I know Dr. Ghosh from years ,he is just like my younger brother now. We have trekked together in the past. He has completed his M.B.B.S from Kolkata and now preparing for M.D. Apart from surgical equipments, he is extremely efficient in handling his camera as well. Most of the photographs of this article are taken and post- processed by him. Some shots are taken by his friend Souvonik. On behalf of all the readers of this blog,I convey my deep gratitude to both of them.


This busy life ,though I’m not much busy, some times sucks your all energy…you can feel you are caged…sometimes there is a grandiose sense of self importance. That’s why I was feeling some irresistible appetite of going out somewhere into the lap of Nature. And my first choice is mountains specially the Himalayan range…..and forest can add great spice to it. We chose Hilley-Barsey in west Sikkim. I do remember the lines by Lord Byron,

“There is a pleasure in the pathless wood;
There is a rapture on the lonely shore;
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more…..”

Chapter 1: We can stand after ‘Broke up’
We had a group for going out but as everything it was also fragile. But at least we two,Souvonik & me, decided to go out. We made several plans and schedules, follow some maps and info on net and from Sikkim House at Middleton Street, Kolkata. Some information gathered from Mr.S.B.Subba on phone. This man is the managing Director of Green Valley Trek And Tours & Camp Expeditions,Uttarey. We were little bit tense because we were going to experience something new for us. We planned to do camping in Barsey. I’ve no idea how to do it and how safe and pleasant it would be, but I can’t express much because Souvonik is my junior and I’d look normal so that he could feel at ease. Journey on Testa-Torsa Exp.was not much comfortable but it was okay. At 3.20 in the morning the train left us at NJP station. We were fine and comfortable in almost empty platform….had some tea and coffee with cake there and waited until dawn broke.

Chapter 2: Change of altitude
We took a shared jeep from Sikkim Nationalized Transport bus stand at 7am. It costs Rs.104 /person from Siliguri to Jorthang. We ran though the Sevok ,just keeping river Testa on right hand side. This road really tortures your vestibular system and you may have vertigo. At 10.30 we were at Jorthang jeep stand. Jorthang is a small town in Nature’s lap just beside river Rangit.We first tasted some , taste local food and then move around the Sunday market there to clicke some snaps.

At Jorethang Jeep stand

River Rangit at Jorethang

Momo shop at Jorethang

We then find some problem here to get shared jeep up to Hilley. At last we could find a jeep which can leave us at Okhrey . That costs Rs.100/person for 3hr journey to Okhrey via Sombare. At around 4.30 the driver left us in front of the only tourist lodge at Okhrey.

Okhrey tourist lodge

The owner, Mr. Pal maintains it nicely. It’s new and well decorated. Nice accommodation and food costs rs.500 /person/day. Wooden cabin on top floor attracted us with strong force so we chose that one. Warm welcome and hot tea were just refreshing.We realised at night , that the wooden decor was not only eye catching but also very effective in fighting with the chilling cold of Sikkim's night.
Warm beds at Okhrey tourist lodge

Okhrey is at 8500ft above the sea level .It’s a small village with the facility of electricity so we could charge our mobile and camera battery. Afternoon fog was just mystique there.

Chapter 3: Trek begins here

Morning was fresh and pleasant with the golden hue on red rhododendron. After a fish meal we started our trek at 10 O’clock. Our first mission was Hilley. From Okhrey to Hilley is about 12 km jeep road and inclination is within comfort range. Royal Rhododendron was on both sides. In first half of March we could find only four types.

But which caught our attention most was magnificent Magnolia. Its fresh white was irresistible to look at…big trees …no leaf….just white flowers. Magnolias were predominant in this portion.

In our lazy walk suddenly found some vibrant purple flowers just beside the road…it’s Primila.

The road from Okhrey to Hilley has no such branch. That’s a great advantage to the trekkers. Near Hilley road side is of Malinga jungle, nice place for bear to live in. But we were comfortable as it was not the season for them to move around. At 1.30 pm we reached at Hilley, a small village with BSF base camp. Two or may be three tourist lodge are there. One BSF jawan came to us to write down our information details and purpose of visit. There is an entry gate where from Barsey trek begins. Here entry permit is to be purchased. Half an hour rest there was refreshing enough to move on.

Gateway of Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary

Red Panda is Barsey's V.I.P
It was already 2 pm. We didn’t have much time in hand. Fog started coming up hill, some times the sun was screened. This trek road was narrow but well formed. After 10min walking the Malinga forest on both sides was so dense that we could not see beyond 4-5 ft. We really were little bit worried. This area is natural habitat for Red Panda, Black bear & Leopard. Some negative thoughts popped up in mind…. ‘It’s not the season for bear and leopards to move around but accident may happen anytime.’ We had knife and a wooden stick on both hands…those were just for mental support. But the stick some times helped to carry our weight.

Small steam water was so chilled and refreshing but we always used ‘Zeoline’ in drinking water. Here was a rule: ‘You never choose LEFT way, always go through the straight way or RIGHT way.’ After 2hour’s trek we could find a large artificial empty lake. Souvonik said, “Wow….we are just like in Jurassic Park….such a huge artificial structure in this remote forest!!” Now we could see the trekker’s hut, ‘Guras Kunj’.
It was already 5 O’clock. So we started experimenting with our tent just after a cup of hot cardamom tea. Strong wind constantly was blowing out tent so it was very hard for two of us to fix it on the ground. Within 10min we could feel penetrating chilled wind. After one hour’s hard word we built our nest for the coming challenging night. Barsey is at 10,000 ft above the sea level. There is no locality here except two trekkers’ hut where accommodation including food costs rs.750/person/day. Camping is one more option there as we did. We enjoyed the warmth of ‘bonfire’ at night followed by chicken dinner. Sleep in a sleeping bag inside a tent was just thrilling and exciting to us though it was not much comfortable like sleeping on bed, but trek itself is not all for comfort.

Camp at Barsey

Chapter 4: Snow peaks
It was just before dawn broke…it was 4.30 am, my mobile alarm already knocked twice. We were awake but were thinking not going out of tent now due to two reasons. It’s still dark outside and the wind was so chilly and strong. But we had enough energy to experience something new, so we came out with our knife and torch. First called Pussay, the care-taker, who’d tell us where from we could see the range of Kangchenjunga. It was just beside our tent. But nothing we could see. Still west sky was enlightened as it was just the night before full-moon and the whole clear sky was full of diamond dots. Monstrous wind forced us to be back to our nest for half an hour. Now we could see faint white lines of snow. In a few minutes they became prominent ….lines became snow peaks…the total range of Kangchenjunga.

Chapter 5: Virginity
Pussay made roti, curry & tea in breakfast. Our next destination was Uttarey. It was about 20km through forest and we already heard the way is not much easy. Our guide for that day, Tshring was ready to walk for rs.500. We said ‘Good bye, Barsey’ at 8.30 am. Journey began through a dense area…we were so happy. After sometime we found there was no such prominent path which can lead us, here Tshring was essential to make out way out through bushes….under the natural broken tree arch.

On the way to Uttarey

Some times path demanded you creeping.

We could see the Kangchenjunga range on right hand side through out our journey still 1pm…we were so lucky. The virginity of the forest and mountains of our way made us not happy but amazed. That’s the taste of virginity. There were inadequate break for 3-4 min after every 30min. trek. Here I could feel the importance of my new friend, my wooden stick. It was taking my weight when walking uphill and my balance when trekking down. At around 11 O’clock we reached ‘Deoningaley Dhap’, a valley area where from still mount Kangchenjunga range was visualized. But here we were depressed when we found the scratch on the virginity……all the golden grass were burnt out due to carelessness of some trekkers who made their camp here. Still we could found some camping material left over there.

We continued walking uphill through the old big trees, many of them standing upright with thunder-shocked proud dead head. In the meantime strong wind gathered more energy and in front of our six eyes one such gigantic tree lost its pride and lied down on the ground. How playful the Nature is! At 2 O’clock we fist can visualize our destination…some small houses…Uttarey. Tshring said that the way was mostly downhill from there. We just got charged with his assurance but we had no idea how terrible the down hill path could be. There were no way for human being…..we made our way through the stones of some dried streams. We were just torturing our knees and ankles. We were just lost in exhaustion. The only thing that could boost you up was the virgin rain forest and the trees with hanging moss. At 4.30 pm we were at Uttarey.

Chapter 6: Load shedding

It was not hard to find out The Green Valley Resort run by Mr. Subba, I already told about him. One three bedded room costs rs.600. And there is a nice restaurant attached with it where you could find Bengali, Chinese foods. Electricity facility was there but we were not lucky enough to have the facility to charge our camera battery. It was load shedding for the whole night long due to strong wind at noon. It was a time for big confusion….what should we do? Continue journey for ‘Pokhtey Dhara’ with out clicking any snap or bring a ‘stop’ here? In the darkness of night we decided to be back to our life again from there. Next morning took a shared jeep to Jorthang that costs rs.80/person. Shingshore Bridge was on our way. It’s 2nd highest bridge in Asia. There was no problem to get a jeep for Shiliguri. It was the day of ‘Holi’. We bought two bus-tickets for our journey back to Kolkata.

Contact information:Mr.S.B.Subba:

Mr.A.Pal: +919733065937/+919832005703

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ronty Saddle ( Part -III)

Though we had eight members when we left Kolkata, but five could reach Rupkund and beyond, who were completely exhausted at Dodang camp. No one was totally fit to accomplish the mission. So we had a very important team meeting after dinner that night. team leader Indrada proposed that as Sumit (myself) is in a better physical condition , so he must go upto Ronty. Every body nodded in support. But we, the armature explorers can hardly get any satisfaction in exploring a new place if we don't have any near and dear one with us. Besides this, I knew that Indrada took a vital role in planning the total trek and in execution of that plan. So, if he couldn't reach Ronty, he'll definitely be utterly frustrated. So I insisted to take him with me and told that I'd like to not to move farther if he refuses to accompany me. That worked and we ended up with the decision that both of us will try to get there.

Next day , we started in the darkness with torch for the final lap. There were no proper pathway. In fact no path at all. Only the front edge of the shoe could be placed amidst the ice and mud lump, on both side of which steep vertical slope descended to several hundred meters. At around 7 we reached Homekund (16500ft). Though Nandajat starts from Wan to reach Homekund, in 1968 it could reach here for the last time. Devi Parvati performed a Homa or a Yagya to get Lord Shiva as husband, hence the name.The kund didn't contain even a single drop of water, neither snow/ice. The porters offered chocolates and cashew there and we moved on.

Offerings at Homekund

Ranjit indicated the probable position of Ronty and the simplest(!!!) way to get there. We need not to trek to get there, actually we had to climb!!! An ice wall, with almost 80 degree inclination and decorated with loose boulders was there to give us a grand welcome and lovely hug. I have no hesitation to write that I was scared. I didn't have any confidence that I could get there. But I recovered very quickly and decided that I must not think about the final target, I'll make some short target and try to achieve that. As in a one day cricket match, the chasing team bats according to per over plan. It worked, though the sun light melted some ice and thus made our journey more difficult. We could see Ronty clearly , a red flag was there to indicate the zero point, yet it was still far away. At last at 10.05 a.m 6th october 2000 I stepped on Ronty saddle, Indrada after 5 mints. I stepped backward to welcome him, we hugged and somehow i could utter "congratulations", no more words, tears from our eyes told the remaining. I couldn't believe that we had done this.

It's me at Ronty

Our Team at Ronty

When the emotion became a bit controllable, I started to take some photographs. The ice cap of Nandaghunti was a bit covered by the frontal rock wall, but Trishul was wide open with it's huge expansion. I could distinguish the three peaks of Trishul from Goaldam, could also realise the difference in heights among them, but from Ronty it was impossible. 180 degree of the my front view frame was filled by Trishul, Trishul and only Trishul.If one stand on Ronty facing Trishul, then Nandaghuti is in his backside, on his left Rishiganga Basin and on the right Genargali and Chanoniakot.

Nandaghunti from Ronty saddle

Trishul from Ronty

At around 10.45 we started descending. But it was much more difficult than our upward journey. My mind was so preoccupied by the joy of being at Ronty, that probably I was a bit careless. A loose stone under my feet displaced , and started to roll down taking me with it. I was so perplexed that I couldn't resist, luckily I had an ice axe in my hand which helped me to anchor and thus to recover quickly.

Recovery from sudden fall
At around 2 p.m I came back at our Dodang base camp, my team mates welcome me with a hot lunch.

Part -II

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ronty saddle (Part -II)

Next day we covered the remaining part of the Shilasamudra glacier quickly to reach river Nandakini.

Traversing the shilasamudra glacier

Just before that, our guide Ranjit tried to draw our attention towards a ridge which he described as "Ghiew thappani". The story behind the name is like this... Once Nandadevi , while traveling through this region became very tired. Her friends were surprised and expressed their doubts her being a goddess. So Nandadevi suggested to throw Ghee (clarified butter) on the hill. Everybody tried, ghee slipped off the hill, but when Nandadevi threw, it got stuck to the rocky surface. From here the confluence of Nandakini and Shilasamudra rivers can be seen.

Shilasamudra River is coming from the snout

Thereafter, we followed the scree zone along the left bank of Nandakini river. Wide open Nandaghunti in front and Nandakini river on the left hand side inspire to move on. But at the same time, if one becomes too much overwhelmed by the beauty of the surroundings, the feet may slip to dislocate some bones! At around 12 we took the lunch brake. We had rotis (hand made breads) and curry made in the last night in the lunch.

Lunch break on the river bed, Mt Nandaghunti on the backdrop

One of our porter, Gabbar Singh was very excited as if he got some lottery! On the way,first he got a piece of scarf printed with the names of Nandadevi. He made a turban with that. Then he found a pair of woolen socks, then a pair of hunter shoes and at last a leather belt. Finding me very surprised he explained me the fact. During Nandajat, people throw away such things due to two reasons, firstly to lessen the weight and thus to reduce the burden, and secondly, which is most important, people want to reach Homekund barefoot, without any goods made from leather. So.. Gabbar was such a lucky fellow. ranjit told how his 68 years old father-in-law took part in this ceremony bare foot and a seven days starvation.
We reached "Dodang Pass" (15000 ft ) at about 4.30 in the evening. In Garhwali dialect "Do" means two and "dang" means big rocks. Two huge rocks at that place suffice for the name. We ended our that day's trek and pitched tents there.

Camp site at Dodang Pass


Ronty Saddle(Part-I)

On the way to Genargali Pass, the pass is visible at the top left corner

fter spending almost half an hour at Rupkund we started ascending towards Geonargali Pass (16700 ft) which literally means gateway to Yama. A very steep climb along almost 70 degree inclined path made me realise the meaning at every moment. A very unwilling body, being pulled up by a very cheerful mind and climbed that 400 ft. But the views of the Himalayas from the top of the pass wiped away all the hardship of climbing. Just in front of us, Mt Trishul stood like a huge white wall, Mt Nandaghunti at our left. At the junction of these two, our destination Ronty was clearly visible like a small ice patch.

Mt. Trishul from the top of the pass

Nandaghunti (left) and Trishul (right) as seen from Shilasamudra. Ronty and river Nandakini are visible in between these two

After a short photo session, we started to trek down towards Shilasamudra (means, ocean of rocks) glacier , which looked like a huge pile of stone chips as dumped in a building construction site. The descending was more difficult, because fresh snow in between the boulders made the path very slippery . We pitched our tents on the glacier at the day's end. The terrible sounds of avalanche from Trishul created a real panic that night.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

National Geographic Channel's Contest

National Geographic Channel's ensuing venture is "Nat Geo Moment Awards" contest which will accept still images and mobile movie clips recorded in mobile phones, from Indian participants only.

The categories for still photographs are..

1. Wildlife
Global warming
Vodafone People

Deadlines: 22nd April 2009

Shortlisted participants have a chance to win themselves a Digital SLR Camera, a Camcorder, Nat Geo Merchandise and Certificates.

For more details visit