Refueled with Noodles, and with a spring in my spirit (a.k.a. stomach), I took my first steps on the road to Jorethang, the big ‘market town’ for this part of Southern Sikkim. Some 7km away, this would be only an hour or so by foot. Interestingly, this was the first time that the locals were unsurprised by the fact that I was prepared to walk it. Most parts of the world, people look at you strangely and even laugh that you are prepared to walk more than ten minutes. Here in Sikkim however, the walk to Jorethang was considered a ‘short walk’. People after my own heart, they also had the same mentality a me. Why bother spending your cash on a four wheeled monstrosity when you can enjoy the scenery, keep fit and save that cash for some funky food at the other end. While walking from Majitar to Jorethang, I passed by people who were walking back from market and a few locals overtaking me on their walk to Jorethang (impressive for them, as I am a six footer, and my strides are a lot loner than theirs).
My path was a fairly easy one. The road to Jorethang was well paved and more importantly, followed the course of the River Rangeet upstream, meaning that it would be hard to get lost on the way to Jorethang village. As a true child of the Himalaya, the Rangeet had carved an impressive valley for me to walk through. Hard rocks, the foothills of the mountains to the north surrounded me as I meandered my way through South Sikkim. The river however, was always a raging torrent, although the valley it had carved was huge. I can only imagine what it would be like after the srping thaw or during the impressive monsoon season in this part of India.
The river is a hive of industry now that the monsoon is over. The rough pebbles in the bed of the river were being exploited by the local building industry, while the sand banks left behind by the meandering watercourse are utilised as paddy fields bringing rice to the local populace. And nets were cast throughout the watercourse, catching the many fish that populate this part of the river. The Himalaya gives a lot to the local land. Its fertility is a gift to India, and this part of Sikkim is one of the first places to receive its bounty. But it is also a harsh land. I was traveling in this area through the benign post-monsoon season. But during the rains, it would become almost impassable. Landslides are common, and the river itself is a dangerous child of the mountain, sweeping all away in front if it when the rains leave it full.
But life goes on. In amongst the landscape, the many trees and plants that sheltered my way during this sunny walk through South Sikkim, were signs of civilisation. This is one of the least crowded parts of India, but all through business takes place, people are living their lives and despite the many hardships and Blessings of the land, people are just that. People. Eating, going to work, loving, arguing, laughing and crying on their journey through life. One thing you learn very quickly in your travels, whether it is to the local shops or halfway around the world is how similar we all are. It is that rather than the differences which is the biggest eye-opener. And so I arrived in Jorethang, another bustling town on my wanders through life. A cross roads of sorts, nestled in the foothills of the Himalaya.
What a walk! Started in touristic Darjeeling, I quickly left behind all sense of backpackers and travelers and was truly by myself amongst the tea plantations of West Bengal. Crossing the River Rangeet, I made my first, tentative footsteps into Sikkim, a name synonymous with intrigue and mystery. Finally I made my way into ‘Real Sikkim’, and got to saw life first hand, without the help of a TV screen or a hastily written guidebook. I do not know when I will return to the North East of India, hell, I do not know when I will next come to India. But it is a land that I have truly fallen in love with. A beautiful country, filled with intrigue to satisfy even me, the most curious of all people. And if my path takes me to this country again, I hope to revisit this magical place, nestled in the shadow of the Himalaya.
My walk complete I managed to grab a space on a jeep heading towards Darjeeling from the ‘local cartel’. But that of course, is another story…