Many times my host, an accommodation owner or the staff, happily recommended quite reasonable guides for day treks. But no one ever suggested two guides for the solo day trekker until I visited Chemchey. The selected mid-end hotel staff citing weird reasons arranged two guides for a half-day trek to Tendong. The local village boys (guides) in mid-twenties did not want to trek alone. Although the visitors never sighted bears yet bamboo groves favorite of bears stand beside the trail.
The staff split the guide fee ₹1,500 into two: ₹800 per guide. One hundred rupees extra to make it a round figure. I had no other option in the unfrequented place but to accept. The school drop-outs unwillingly spelt out real reason while on the trail: they wanted a paid fun holiday if I interpreted their single syllable replies correctly.
One of the guides collected a khurki (a big traditional knife) from a local house in Damthang bazaar before starting the trek. On the trail, one guide walked in front of me and the other behind me. They courteously walked quite close to me. I felt weird and embarrassed for they imitated Z-security guards who follow the VVIPs like their shadows. Many VVIPs use the guards as a status symbol. Some have real security reasons like known threats to their lives. I am neither a VVIP nor endorse their lifestyle. That is a direct attack on the privacy and freedom and against the essence of any adventure. Even though I may not have many friends yet I do not have enemies who will be after my blood either.
I have observed during past adventures: (1) Wild animals rarely attack humans without any provocation; (2) Since the animals are also afraid of humans, it avoid areas, especially, those regularly visited by humans.
I actually thought of trekking alone as the chance of missing the wide wellmarked trail frequented by local shepherds was rare. But the “friendly” host convinced me to drop the thought by repeating if bear appears what I would do.
I am neither a VVIP nor endorse their lifestyle. That is a direct attack on the privacy and freedom and against the essence of any adventure. Even though I may not have many friends yet I do not have enemies who will be after my blood either.
Leeches - thin, fat, long, and short - stealthily clambered my limbs without sending any signals to my brain. The mild sensation began when it started sucking blood. They had prowled on white socks when I lifted the trouser to check the source of prickly sensation. The worry got a chance to settle in the brain. Gluey leeches were difficult to hold and pull out. They coiled on the consequent cuts. They preferred my left leg to the right. The black coils were
everywhere below the knee of the selected leg. One of these sticky creatures managed, clambered or fell, to reach the neck and activated its hypodermic sucker. Dawa, the observant guide, removed it in time. One of the toes of the guide bled because of a leech bite but he was unperturbed. He removed the leech but did not try to clean the blood. Karzi, the second guide, stamped his shoes heavily and repeatedly on the ground to shake off the leeches.
The conspiring elements, the rain, segmented worms, blood trickle, and anxiety, diverted my attention to my limbs and leeches. They got a grip on me. I stopped looking for frames. Leeches consumed entire camera time.
An anesthetizer-cum-anticoagulant in their saliva delayed the sensations until they were on work. But the special substance dilated the blood vessels, increased its flow, and prevented the clotting, a natural safeguard.
Rains of Sikkim are special because of good and bad seasonal transitions: an increase in lushness of the forest, occurrence of landslides, and emergence of leeches.
While lunching, I felt the poor menu smelled favoritism: eighteen pieces of the Indian bread gave complex to the relatively small box of dry potato sabji. The boys expressed disagreement over sharing the lunch in short almost mute soft voices. But they willingly did not let me carry the lunch and equipment. My hands were free to take any type of shot but the rain was not as agreeable as my guides. At the watchtower, they briefly parted ways seeking my consent. Along the trail also they were reluctant talkers; I felt I spoke too much recalling my earlier guides and co-trekkers who always questioned my long silence. They asked me to stop and checked the grove for bears or wild life on every unfamiliar sound reaching their ears. During extra brief and soft conversation, they tried to satisfy my curiosity: they left school just like that. One guide wore formal leather shoes and the other walked in bathroom slippers. One wore pants, the other wore Barmuda shorts.
The tall watchtower in disrepair was locked when we reached Tendong. Had it been open, it would have been of no value because the rain clouds had imprisoned the mighty Himalayan panorama. After an hour or so, the labor arrived and opened the lock.
The multi-level watchtower was littered with broken liquor bottles, empty plastic water bottles, construction material, food waste... The labor made a fire using the litter. The smelly smoke filled the wide staircase connecting the levels and tried to propel tears or cough. The labor did not have essentials for repair work. Labor could not contact their supervisor due to extremely weak B.S.N.L mobile signal that appeared only in a few short sections. One of the laborers shared his two methods to protect himself from leeches: (1) sprayed Volini on boots and limbs for complete prevention from leech bite or (2) kept walking and removing leeches as and when predator climbed. But Volini is a medicine that may produce adverse symptoms in healthy conditions, I think so.
The distinct green trail crawled under thick entangled canopies of tall and wide trees. Foliage was abundant. Wet foliage under feet and dripping
foliage overhead slowed down the visitors. The canopies doubled as a sun block.
Abundant foliage and rainy season created a green and gray landscape. A few orchids and other flowers added a hint of color. A segmented worm added red color on bodies of the ignorant or inattentive hikers.
During desk search, one of the documents reported, Tendong sits on a dormant volcano. But I have not yet found any details about volcanic profile of the hill. Another document says the word “tendong” means an “upraised horn” in Lepcha dialect. Tendong hill rose from a flood to protect the residents.
Although the sky was dull gray yet rain favored us while going and for an hour or so at Tendong. Then it poured.
Almost opaque fog gave a new identity to the forest stretched out on all sides: spooky mysterious. Vegetation was wet. The flexible fog strolled freely around fat trunks, thin dense boughs, canopies, foliage…. The plumage of birds was difficult to describe due to poor visibility. Leeches could not reach or hurt the fog.
After completing the trek, I took an elaborate hot water bath ensuring that leeches neither hid in private corners and hair nor robbed me off my only asset uninsured rich red blood.
(Note: Names of the guides have been changed to ensure privacy.)
A bird from Tendong
An orchid at Tendong