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.
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|
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.