Not the fittest fox around! 😉
It was a risky proposition. A jungle trek and me? Haa! I could recollect the number of times I tripped while walking, spraining my ankle. Thrice during past two months to be exact. But I wondered for a second and then agreed. The proposition of a short trek through the Echay forest to the next village of Sillery Gaon was too good to resist. The trek will take me to an altitude of around 6000 ft from my current height of 5800 ft. It seemed feasible even for a trippy ( 😀 ) person like me.
But I needed some guidance for traversing the jungle path lest I run the risk of being forever lost in the forests of Echay given my legendary sense of direction… 😉
The good thing here is that I was provided with not one but two of them!
Meet the Mountain Squirrels Inc.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the two Pahadi (mountain) Squirrels! Roshan and Dorjee! 😀
Don’t go by their looks. Or age. Because they are highly competent at the task given. They are fully aware of the paths through the forest and they know how to make the journey delightful for themselves and for others.
I leave for my short hike through the jungle at around 9:00 AM post a heavy breakfast. Sunita, my host, thoughtfully hands me over to the two little ones and also a bottle of water, because there is no water source enroute. She also gives me a small pack containing some salt. She informs me that there could be leeches. After a while another gentleman hands me another small package containing some tobacco ash, that he claims to be more effective than salt for removing leeches.
I thank them both and proceed towards the pine and conifer tree jungle. I climb the stairs towards the entrance of the forest.
My guides are already there, waiting at the entrance for me, as I run for it. But I am compelled to stop at places abruptly, because of the views of the surrounding hills and the valleys underneath is clearer as I negotiate the stairs.
and I cannot stop myself from taking another, just another photograph.
Umm…also, it is exhausting, you know? Climbing the stairs?!
Into the garden of Eden…
The air is crisp cold and caresses my hair gently as I enjoy the silence of the forest. Inside the jungle, a slender pathway leads us. I have been told that it may take around 45 minutes of hiking. But as I enter the canopy of the dark deep forest, finite time stops.
I look at the blue sky patches through the green ancient tree canopy, hear sudden call of birds and the sound of our footsteps.
I realise that it has been while since I have looked up at the sky during the day. Normal days would see me at work where an eternal evening rules anytime during the day. I am not complaining, because for me, my freedom in the mountains depends on the captivity in the cubicle. A trade off of sorts, one I can live with for now.
I decide to chuck that thought and enjoy the present moment instead. I notice the deep green ferns and the small flowers by the side of the trail.
Perhaps the magic of the moment at work!
And I stand often, to soak in the sights and the sounds of this reality that seems like a dream.
Some famous scenes from my most favourite movie “Kanchenjunga” by Satyajit Ray comes to my mind. Every dialogue seems to have been taken from real life, every bit true.
As I proceed, at one part of the road, it is muddy and slippery and my shoe grip seems to give up. My guides show me an alternate path that makes it easy for me to traverse.
They wait for me to see the trees and the plants, to take pictures and they also seem to enjoy breaking these fruits to get some kind of nuts out of them.
Also they play with the fruits by balancing them mid air.
I am fully entertained by their antiques and bombarded with questions regarding my life which I happily respond to. We share some biscuits and a drink of water under a tree and proceed further.
And before I know, we have reached Sillery Gaon. Paved roads welcome us depicting a human settlement, though, I miss the roads within the jungle now.
This place has been very popular with the travel enthusiasts for some time now. It is called as the New Darjeeling by many. The place offers spectacular view of Kanchenjunga. But since it was already mid day, I did not get to see the grand view.
Once there, we decide to take a walk within the village.
In a small tea shop, I buy some candies for the two little ones and some “chai” for myself. I share some chit chat with the lady in the shop regarding the local tourism infrastructure. She informs me that there are many home stays in this area and the rates seem quite pocket friendly.
Then we go to the local public ground. It is off season and there are no visitors here at the moment. There is however a group of locals including kids playing some sort of a card game. I sit on the ground basking the sun, talking to them and take some more photographs. Absolute happiness rules this piece of land.
Then I continue my walk within the alleyways of the village. The locals come out of their houses and ask me where I am from and if I am in fact, solo. They seem a bit surprised when I confirm. My two soldiers follow me.
We chase a beautiful butterfly and in no time all three of us are requesting and praying for it to patiently seat on a flower so that I can take a picture, but it does not heed any attention to our requests and flies away.
My tiny guide presents me with this to cheer me up! 😀
We head back to Echay Gaon after a bit more of loitering through the streets and chasing some more butterflies, birds etc. We take the same jungle trail. I enjoy more views.
The kids play my model and guide. We reach back to our destination through the downhill trail, which feels easier than last time.
The entire activity has taken the better part of the morning. By the time I reach Echay, lunch is ready.
The experience of this hike is one that I will cherish for a long time. The trail is a short and relatively easy one. In fact, it is not even a trek per say, but the fact that it was a delightful experience is beyond doubt. Whether it was purely my fondness for mountains and jungles or the sense of freedom arising from being in absolute embrace of nature, I do not know. However, I would recommend this hike to any individual, fit enough and game enough to try coming to Echay.
I know the forest will not disappoint a nature lover.