Having gone on Sandakphu trek in March 2015, the image of Kangchenjunga haunted Sharat Kolke. He came back on the trek again in December to experience a familiar trail in a completely different hue. It was his New Year dream come true!
It is said that insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results every time.
So quite a few eyebrows were raised when I decided to repeat my trek to Sandakphu with Indiahikes. I managed to convince my wife Sunita who wasn’t keen on this trek, but was searching for a winter trek in the Himalayas. There are times when one falls in love with a place and it beckons to visit it again. Sandakphu was one such place. Having done quite a few treks in the Himalayas, I tried to fathom the reason, but it remained elusive. The lure just grew stronger till it became irresistible. When the occasion presented itself, I grabbed it with both my hands.
I had done this trek in the spring of 2015 and the vision of Kangchenjunga and Everest flanked by Lhotse continued to haunt me. I could still visualize the blooming rhododendrons and the painted skies as the sun went down. I wanted to see once again, the Singalila ridge at the Indo-Nepal border, the sunset at Tonglu, the sunset at Kalipokhri, the lighting up of the Kangchenjunga peak by the early morning sun.
A place in a different season can seem to be a completely different place all together. This time around, I wanted to see these places covered by snow and the trees, which in March had bore flowers of all hues, bereft of their leaves. With these thoughts in mind, I registered both of us for the trek and booked our flight to Bagdogra, the nearest airport to reach the base camp.
My first question to our Trek Leader when I met him at the base camp in Jaubhari was whether there was snow up there and to my disappointment he answered in the negative. And so I started my trek with a bunch of young and enthusiastic co-trekkers. Even though it hadn’t snowed yet, the temperatures were sub zero, especially at night. The frozen dew formed a thin layer of ice in the morning, sometimes ice replaced the water in our bottles. The 3, occasional 4 layers of clothing hardly helped. But all these hardships were compensated by the crystal clear, mostly cloudless skies offering an unhindered view of the mountains. We could visualize the Kangchenjunga Range which included the Kumbakaran, the Kangchenjunga peaks, Kabru, Frey, Simvo most of the times during the trek.
We trekked on for 11 kms and ascending nearly 3500 ft to Tumling on the 1st day, then to Kalipokhri on the 2nd day and then the final summit to Sandakphu at nearly 12000 ft. The campsite was about a kilometre away from Sandakphu at Alle. Beautiful vistas, clear skies, amazing sunsets and a 360° view of the Himalayas, but no snowfall yet!
The trek was nearing its end. I was getting impatient. Our route had been altered and we were to skip Phalut and camp at Molley for the night after Sandakphu. As we reached Molley (a small village at a height of 11200 ft and 14 kms from Sandakphu) a dense cloud cover had built up, not withstanding the glorious sunset and a equally brilliant sunrise the previous day at Alle. The peaks were no longer visible.
The mist was moving in rapidly and the darkness set in earlier than the previous days. The chill had increased and as we retired for the night some of us noted a mild snowfall. I drifted off to sleep that night after a fun filled session of ”Mafia” with my trek mates hoping that the morning would bring me what I had repeated this trek for.
It was the dawn of the new year, and I woke up with a start and peered out through the frozen glass panes. A distorted view of the landscape presented itself. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief wondering if I was dreaming. A layer of white had enveloped the entire landscape. The compound, the trails, the trees, the roofs were all white. My dream had come true on the penultimate day. I put on my gloves, grabbed my camera and rushed out in excitement. I didn’t want to miss a single moment. The sun was just making its presence felt and the treetops basked in its golden glow. The skies were bereft of clouds as if all the accumulated clouds of the previous evening had come down in the form of snow. In the distance the Kangchenjunga stood majestically. It was truly a magical moment for me. I was living my dream and my purpose of repeating this trek was fulfilled.
“If you want a happy ending, it just depends on where you close the book!”
― Orson Welles
I closed my book here. The rest of the trek for me was just a formality. Visibly excited, we all descended down through bamboo forests, which had also witnessed the snowfall and made for a lovely picture. Gradually, the snow cover wore thin and disappeared as we trudged down the long path to Gorkhey eager for the hot lunch that awaited us. The next day was another long descent to Sepi from where the vehicles took us to our respective destinations.