Knotty Ten­dong

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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

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