Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rendezvous with Rhododendrons #5 – Path to the sky!

Ok, I’ve gathered myself now. To narrate the climbing experience. If you reader, are an avid trekker or a dare devil, you might find this story inane.  But if you are like me, battling to overcome your acrophobic instincts, then you may be able to relate to this.

The Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary in West Sikkim, is a place where every nook and corner radiates beauty. However, some of these beautiful places are daunting too, especially for people like me – steep cliffs, sheer drops, snow-covered slopes and so on. One such place is what the locals call ‘Barsey Top’ or ‘Barsey Point’.  It is about a kilometer away from ‘Guras Kunj’, the forest guesthouse. But the catch is that the second half of this walk is a steep climb. I’m not afraid of climbing. I’m an asthmatic, yes, but I’ve overcome that to a fairly decent level, with positive thinking and breathing techniques. But the bigger problem was the fear of elevation – the gorgeous views that would accompany the climb, those very views would make me shudder and lose my balance. But the fighter in me said, “If you don’t do this now, you will never do any of those great Himalayan/alpine treks that you dream of doing someday”. So, believe it or not, I was the first one to jump up and say, “Let’s go.”

The beginning of the pathway. Who wouldn't want to tread this path?

The temple made of stacked stones. This is common sight in Sikkim.
The first half was as expected. Easy. Then began the climb. Initially, the cobbled stone path was wide enough to accommodate 2 people walking side by side. Later, it tapered down to a very narrow line, which could allow 1 person to step at a time. There were places where at one end of the stone path was a sheer drop. This was when my problem started. All this while, I was holding one of my friends’ hands for that comfortable feeling. Now, she had to walk ahead of me and I had to handle those steps, all by myself. Thankfully, she was a very courageous person who happened to be my messiah that day. She walked just before me, and still lent her hand so that I could keep shadowing her. She also kept talking about the several wonderful experiences that we had during the trip, so as to encourage me to keep thinking positively.  And you know what I was doing? I was busy chanting,” I’m going to make it”. Strangely, the very presence of our trek guide, Mr. Hissay Sherpa also provided a great sense of comfort. And oh yeah, I made it to the top! In fact, we loved the place so much that we went there again the next day, sharp at 5 AM to witness sunrise. The second time, I had a bit of breathing difficulty, but it all vanished when the sun rose!

5 AM at Barsey point. It's still moon's world. Can you spot the crescent?

The valley below. 5 AM. Barsey Top.

Sunrise at Barsey Top.

Kanchenjunga range view from Guras Kunj

So why did I have to explain all this in such excruciating detail? Just to emphasize the fact that most fears are man made and that it can be overcome with positive thinking and the urge to conquer the fear. What the human mind can conspire still continues to amaze me. If it desires, it can make me wet my pants on a railway over bridge; on the contrary it can also motivate me to climb mountains! No wonder someone rightly compared it to a monkey. Restless. Boundless. Reckless. I would've missed all these views, had I not pushed myself.

Views on our way back. That green hut is the place where we stayed.

Coffee with Kanchenjunga

Maggi with the mountains!

Selectively shining sun
Please note - I’m not saying that I’m not acrophobic now. I’m still scared of heights, but the magnitude of the fear is slightly lesser. I’m confident that I’ll, one day, accompany my husband on those wonderful mountain treks, which he does every year. 

And one last word here – A big shout out to those lovely people who were with me at that time,  without whose help I wouldn't have been able to make it.

P.S: This is the penultimate chapter of this travelogue. It will end with my Siliguri experience. So, please do stay tuned!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

My blog's first milestone - 5000 hits for the curious drop!

February 18, 2013 - I created this blog. A curious drop in the bucket. Am glad that it has crossed its first milestone exactly 3 months after that. 5000 Hits.

I sincerely thank every fellow blogger for accepting this newbie as a fellow blogger,  helping my blog reach this milestone and most importantly, for being there as a source of inspiration and motivation. I need to tell you something very important at this juncture. I am not just a name-sake blog hopper. I don't read posts for the sake of reading. In fact, I refrain from reading when I think I can't concentrate. I read posts to make myself write. "Wow, someone's doing such a wonderful job blogging, can I try doing that too?" I feel this every time I visit Indiblogger and click on my favorite blogs.  I once setup a blog in 2011, but miserably failed in maintaining it. This time, I'm not looking back. And I'm managing that only because I've cultivated the habit of appreciate genuine creativity in the blogosphere. I'd like to mention every blog that I've read and admired, but I run the risk of missing out a few of them. 

So, its just one word. THANKS!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Rendezvous with Rhododendrons #4 – Barsey beckoning!

I know, my posts have been sporadic for a while. Life has been trying as much as possible to shear me away from my blog, but I stubbornly stick to my commitment to tend to my baby (blog, I mean! My biological baby isn’t a baby anymore, he is a little boy). It is still taking baby steps, so nurturing it is of prime importance to me. Once in a while, it becomes a little overwhelming, but I manage to successfully overwhelm the overwhelming feeling!

So, where was I?  Yes, I went to bed that night in Sherpa Lodge, Okhrey, dreaming of dancing amidst Rhododendrons.  Did that happen? Did I really dance amidst those lovely flowers? Read on.

I still vividly remember that morning. The birds were still waking up. The cold mountain air and fog was still holding the beautiful valley below in its wraps. The orange ball was yet to make its appearance in the horizon. That was when I stepped out of my room, bundled in layers of warm clothing, clutching my camera to get that glorious first shot of the sunrise, as is always my habit wherever I go.  I held my head high, feeling a little proud that I was the first to wake up, that I’m going to be the only one to witness the gorgeous sunrise.  As I marched outside the lodge, in search of the most appropriate location to perch my camera, I heard him.

“Hey, sunrise dekhnaa hai? Yahaan se mast dikhtaa hai. aao!”

Someone poked a pin into my ballooned pride and enthusiasm. I scornfully looked at who that intruder was. He was the person, who stayed in the neighbouring room and it was his second day at Okhrey. He obviously knew better. I reluctantly dragged myself to the spot where he was standing. There wasn’t any time for my grumpiness showcase. The sun was already rising. 

Soon, my fellow travellers joined me. We had our morning tea, entrusted our bags to the trustworthy Sherpa and set off to Barsey. Joining us on our journey was our guide, Mr. Hissay Gyatso Sherpa. We drove up to Hiley, which is the entry point to Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. Mr. Sherpa had arranged for our breakfast at Hiley. After devouring the yummy Poori-Sabzi, we set off on our trek.  

Wild berries

Air moss


Having Mr. Hissay trek with us was the best part of the trek. Armed with a Himalayan birdwatching guidebook, he helped us spot every little bird that flew by, helped identify every exotic plant that we beheld on our way and helped understand the locals and their ways. He also provided insights into the problems plaguing the sanctuary – such as the heavy influx of local tourists during festival season and the consequential littering, thereby disrupting peace in the jungle. He also briefed us about how the supplies to the forest guesthouse are transported in the absence of connectivity. Sherpas, naturally have great lungpower and a number of them double up as porters to transport the groceries and provisions uphill, offering to carry them on their backs for a paltry sum of three hundred rupees. Tough lives.

Mr. Hissay, our trek guide

After a couple of hours trekking, spotting Magpies, sunbirds and the exotic(?) Himalayan crows(no luck with spotting the elusive Red Pandas though) and learning to tell the difference between Rhododendron Barbatum/Rhododendron Arboreum and Grande/Falconeri, we reached the forest guesthouse, ‘Guras Kunj’. There wasn’t much of literature on the net about this place, hence I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, what I saw was beyond my expectations. It was an elegant wooden cottage with basic facilities, but the location was simply stunning. Painted green and standing amidst raging-red-fire like Rhododendron blooms, it seemed lifted straight from a fairy tale. Probably the most romantic of all places I’ve been to, ever.
‘Guras Kunj’ is basically a dormitory. It has one big hall which can accommodate 20 travellers easily. There is also one double bedroom with attached bath, which needs to be pre-booked. However, pre-booking is tricky as it is a herculean task to reach the owner’s mobile phone. Hence, you have to be lucky to have that room. And not to mention, we were incredibly lucky that day. 

Guras Kunj, the forest guesthouse

That evening was one to remember. I lay down on the cool grass, watching the clouds penning poetry, listened to the whistles of the wind, admired the stark color contrast of the ravens and rhododendrons, peeped into a rhodo flower, witnessed a hailstorm at 10000+ feet, snuggled up and watched ‘As good as it gets’, invaded the kitchen, dished out some French fries for us as well as the cooks and much more. In short, I had the time of my life that day. Never before, had I felt so emancipated. Every mountain in the vicinity seemed to echo my excitement.

Raven and the Rhododendrons
Rhododendron Grande
That evening, I also had to prepare myself for the last bit of the trek – the steep climb to the Barsey point/Sunrise point and back. Why prepare, you may ask. Well, I have a weakness that I hate to admit, that any self-confessed traveller would hate to admit – I am scared of heights. The minute I look down from a height, vertigo engulfs me and bogs me down.  However, I constantly try to work on my weaknesses. From being scared of climbing railway over bridges, I’ve come a long way - I’ve parasailed, climbed temple hills, done one day hill treks etc. However, mountains still manage to scare me out of my wits. I just can’t walk over a ridge or look from over a cliff. And this last part of the trip had both. I just had my fingers crossed.
Dear reader, please let me gather myself to come back and narrate the rest of the story. Till then, hold on and stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Healing souls, touching lives....

“Transverse Myelitis”, he said.

 “Transverse …err… what?”  I gasped.

“Transverse Myelitis. It is a neurological disorder causing inflammation of the spinal cord. Look at this, can you see this bulge? This is the problem area”, the neurologist said, as he held the MRI film against the brightly lit board.

“But, how did that happen, Doctor?” I still could not comprehend what exactly was going on.

“Can't say exactly. It is a very rare condition that affects one in a million people… Almost all people affected by this condition get paralysed. You are lucky that your husband is still ok, relatively that is….”

The whole world seemed to spin around me. We had just returned from our backpacking trip to Europe. My husband, still in his late twenties, had been complaining of numbness that seemed to have originated at the feet and crawled its way up to the chest, throughout the trip. I had in fact been mocking at him, for imagining things. However, by the time we returned, we knew something was terribly wrong. And unfortunately, it was.
Initially, I hadn’t understood the gravity of the situation; I had taken my husband to consult a family physician. Only when the doc gaped at him like a specimen in a science lab, we figured out that this wasn’t common at all. After all, the doctor hadn’t seen even a single TM patient in his entire career!

He was then referred to a super-specialty hospital. A team of neurologists assessed his condition. He was immediately hospitalized and a high dose of steroids pumped in to decelerate the numbing process. Though the doctors were non-committal with the prognosis and recovery, they were almost certain that he wouldn’t be paralyzed after this point. And I should say that they were spot-on, my husband indeed miraculously escaped from the clutches of that dreadful condition.  

 After a week at the hospital, my husband was discharged. He could barely walk, let alone resume work. However, we were extremely positive. “This too shall pass”, we kept telling ourselves. True to the word, that too passed. Today, my husband is almost cured and till date, I cannot thank those neurologists enough.

Ah! That was just my husband’s story. I have one more personal story that makes me vouch for today’s modern healthcare. It is my little son’s story. The dreadful story of acute bacterial pneumonia turned into a gruesome empyema. A keyhole surgery (Laparoscopy) was performed on him to remove the puss and to drain the infected pleural fluid. Thanks to modern healthcare, my son has just a small mark today, instead of a huge scar cutting across his thorax.

The two stories penned above have an eerie coincidence. Yes, they happened at the same time. It all happened like clockwork, with the two most important people in my life battling with indescribable pain and agony, almost concurrently. And there lay my battered soul, clinging to the hope that the doctors provided. Looking back, I realize how lucky we were to have access to excellent healthcare facilities, without which there wouldn’t have been a ‘normal today’.

Minimally scarred body, maximally healed life. That’s one of the greatest promises today’s modern healthcare provides. If not for its intervention, my life’s trajectory would’ve been poles apart from what it is today. Till date, when illnesses invade our peace, I keep telling myself, ‘This too shall pass’. That word slips my mouth, JUST because of today’s healthcare.

Thank you God. Thank you doctors. You’ve not only touched my life, you’ve made it livable. 

(This post is an entry to the Apollo Hospitals - Indiblogger 'Touching lives' contest. you can read more about the hospital here:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Skywatch Friday #8 - a lone tree in the sky!

Here is a lone tree, shrouded in clouds and fog. Standing tall at 10000 feet, this is a Rhododenron tree in full bloom. Rhododendron si the state flower of the Indian state of Sikkim. These flowers are in full bloom for just two months a year - March and April. This tree lives in the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary in West Sikkim, India.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Fellow bloggers! Care to spare a minute???

Hello brethren,

I'm currently enrolled in a short term course and I need to run a survey as a part of it. So here I am, to seek asylum in the blogosphere. If you are a WOMAN living in India, especially BANGALORE, I request you to take this survey. If you are a traveller, you have more reason to participate :)

GENTLEMEN of the blogosphere, you can contribute too! Please forward the link to all the ladies you know. Thanks much!