Kolkata - Hilley - Varsey (Trek)...Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara With The Xylo

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It was well over two decades and we school friends always seemed to be recollecting the same old memories of those days when we used to trek the Himalayas or fondly remember the same incidents of our first rendezvous with independence and freedom in the small town of Ghatshila in Bihar.

And then in took us one fine afternoon to realise that it’s time to move on from the old recollections and create a fresh space. That was the afternoon when one of the school chums, a very regular of our earlier treks was undergoing a heart surgery and we were waiting outside for the operation to get over. The thought dawned to us that Life is short and unpredictable. And we still had time (theoretically at least) to make some new memories before getting declared unfit by life. The man lying inside the OT was the man we needed to be back in the thick and thin of the life that he had always lived earlier. Thus the decision to make a trip together again and make it as wild as possible like earlier times.

Of course it took us 6 more months to come to a final conclusion. Health of the friend and more importantly time constraints were the primary reason in pushing our plans back. But the genesis of it was that we needed to be in the mountains. And not just the typical hill stations but the quaint little villages, the home stay, the trek (however small it might be given our present levels of fitness rather lack of it) and of course all that was defined as adventure.

Starting from Kolkata with time constraints in hand due to professional pressures, the nearest that we could find of course was the majestic pull of the Kunchenjungha (the 3rd highest peak in the World and India’s highest). So be it as we decided on the lesser traveled route of West Sikkim and a fresh love affair with the Kunchenjungha.
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The first halt point that we stayed for the night was Jorethang. This extremely small subdivisional town nestled in a valley on the banks of the Rangit and Little Rangit river is flanked by the Darjeeling hills on one side and the Pelling mountains on the other. Jorethang was part of one of our early days trek route and so held a strategic nostalgic chord in our mind and it was carefully chosen by us to do the night stay.
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From here we went to Hilley (at almost 9,000 feet) where the motorable road ends.
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A gradual trek of 4.5 km starts..
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And culminates in our destination called Varsey (more than 10,000 ft high) which has only one cottage. However big it might look, it has only one room with attached bath and the rest are a huge dining space and a dormitory with bedding placed on the floor for anyone who wants to drop in for a stay.
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On the return journey we halted in the quaintest of villages called Okhrey before heading back for Kolkata.
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We had a big group of school friends who were still firmly connected together even after so many years, but the guys who were available were five of us. But the rest did travel with us with the promise of joining in the future trips. Here we are from extreme right the tallest of us is Partha, Subhomoy, Saibal, Raja and me.
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A small debate as to how to travel was there. Flights would have been expensive, train the nearest to reliving our memories as we mostly used to travel that way in our original memories but reservation and availability an issue, bus from Kolkata to Siliguri would have been uncomfortable. The confusion was quickly doused and we all placed our faith in the good old XYLO and was clear on the fact that if it could have been bohemianism at its best, then the Xylo needed to fire. And it did over the long smooth straights or the rough patches, sailing through the heights and climbing the slope with effortless ease.
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The detailed story follows as we named our drive as ZINDAGI na milegi DUBARA in keeping with the spirit of the trip..
 
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Before getting to the details of the journey, for reference of all am attaching the excel log of the drive / trek, made as usual by Partha.


A small DISCLAIMER on this is that the driving times are not the ideal driving times as this was a drive with a different purpose and we were purposefully way too slower than the Xylo usually is. The slowness was due to huge number of stops/ halts in between all of which are not recorded in the excel but might be captured in subsequent pictures and story.


Truly this was the drive down the memory lane for all us, school friends and had no destination to arrive but to continue with each other for the 4/5 days.



View attachment Kolkata to Barsey Guraskunj.xls
 
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April 18th (8.45pm) to April 19th (6.30pm)
My drives are usually Day affairs and not night ones. I still belong to the old school of thought of work hard and party hard. Rather Drive hard during the day and party hard during the night. But this was an exception as we were cramping up a lot of things in a small time. So the tentative plan was to start of by evening 8 pm and move beyond Siliguri the next day.

18th was a week day and I had my usual busy chores in office and returned home (early) by 6.30 pm to take a short nap before taking on the steering wheel. The group met up in somewhere in South Kolkata to kick off the show. I was not part of it as I was enjoying my rest and subsequently throughout the tour sacrificed (happily) some of the enjoyments since I would be behind the wheels steering the Xylo to what would be escape to "freedom" for us in our own style of Zindagi Na Milegi Dubara. The meet in South Kolkata was from 7.30 pm and short and crisp.
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I caught up with the gang at 8.30 pm outside the joint and before anything exchanged our hugs and took the first goupfie. Shubhomoy had landed from Mumbai the previous evening to attend this and it was great meeting him after some time as it was with the others the soul connects of a school some decades back. Apologise for the picture quality though.
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5 adults and naturally the luggage was quite generous in numbers and size, but the Xylo gobbled them up all easily.
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Next up was quenching the thirst of the Xylo and we promptly were at it.
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It took us some time to wriggle our way past the evening traffic of Kolkata but once out of Dankuni it was a breeze upto Burdwan which took us a little more than two hours from my residence. Though we all technically had had our dinner, we all started feeling hungry as we searched for all the eating options by the highway we knew of. But unfortunately post 10.30 pm all were closed and we found one unknown dhaba by the way side and decided to stop. Food was good and we ate to our heart's content and chatted so much that it was almost an hour before we once again took our positions in the car. Again picture quality apology.
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We were to take SH7 from Burdwan and not the conventional NH34 which we usually take. This is slightly longer till Moregram but is a good metaled surface and relatively traffic free. We drove into the darkness and emptiness of the Burdwan district with just about the odd truck to overtake and the odd one coming from the opposite. The Xylo was not expressly fast but on a steady and cruising speed. We were inside the cabin chatting away in a different era altogether. By 3 in the night we were nearing Moregram and we decided to start checking on the first available tea shop for a mini break. We found it after some time hidden behind a barrage of stationery lorries. The dhaba as usual was nothing impressive (though it had an aquarium), but the lemon tea was immensely refreshing and recharging. We said cheers to the life that we were about to live for the next four days.
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By 5.30 am we had hit Farakka but the usual traffic hold up also hit us. We suddenly found us behind a pile up of trucks which as per the local driver's estimate would take 2 hours to clear up. Looked behind for an escape route but in 2/3 minutes time the trucks from behind had also take their position surrounding us from all sides. I gave up, swithced of the engine and opened a biscuit packet. Partha, the khalashi (lovingly called as he accompanies me in most of my drives and being an accomplished driver himself on the highways I gain valuable add on inputs from him on a regular basis on the tarmac) did not give up. He got down and interacted with the truckies and by then Subhomoy and the others too had started applying there mind on how to break free. The drivers were extremely cooperative and they offered us help in trying to drive over the divider to the wrong lane and drive all the way up to the barrage. But the divider was huge. One of the lorry drivers came and told me the he had driven Xylo earlier and it had immense power to get up on the divider. I too knew it, but there were big shrubs and wild plants on it and I was not willing to risk a stem scratching or sticking with some delicate under body parts. Partha and the others by then had convinced some drivers (they were too good and readily agreed) to move the lorries that extra inch forward and some backward to make enough space for the Xylo to reverse and go back to the nearest cut in the divider. The angles were cut out, the gaps inch perfect and we were on the wrong side of the highway within minutes. But it took us almost an hour to cross the barrage and it too had extremely slow moving vehicles on it.

Hit Malda at 7.30 am and crossing it was hardly any problem as it had no traffic. We decided to give a breakfast stop in the Golden Park hotel about 10 km ahead of Malda. It was an expensive and luxurious option but we could have used their washroom facilities also which we did. Breakfast was good and filling.
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Post breakfast I took a power nap in the sofa alongside the restaurant even as others were finishing off their food. It charged me up well and the others also had a much needed break and we were ready to roll on.
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Another school friend of us from the States, Kaushik Mitra had called checking on our progress and particularly if I was sleeping by then. We took our snaps and sent it back to him. He was highly encouraged by our progress.
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Malda to Raigunj we did in less than an hour and by then we were back to normal momentum. But Raja had his cousin staying in Raigunj, who has his own restaurant right on the highway and he wanted to stop to say hello. We were not very keen as it would break the rythm so soon after lunch and just as we were pacing up things. But reluctantly we gave in and once we met Raja's cousin Raka, we realised that we would have missed meeting a great human being had we not stopped.
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Apart from the restaurant called Megabyte, Raka also has his own truck service center alongside with facilities of PUC and tyre repairs. The Xylo had a PSI check and got a much needed wash too.
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Driving on from Raigunj we skipped the usual route via Dalkhola to skip the Traffic snarl at Dalkhola level crossing. We took the Botolbari Dhantala route instead and it was narrow with chicken of the size of a sparrow moving all across the road. It took special concentration to avoid them. Even as we were nearing the main highway once again we took a bio break. And here Partha discovered some soothing paddy fields and decided to check on them. He went don from the high road and went deep inside the field.
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No sooner than he did, we followed suit and discovered some immense peace within the greenery and simplicity.
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We rested for quite some time even as Raja was busy with the camera and suddenly we discovered that the tree under whose shadow we were sitting was having a lot of Jack fruits in it.
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Saibal also tried posing with them.
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It was well over half an hour that we "wasted" here but this waste of time surely will have enough memories in our mind to last us a life time. We were back on the high road and ready to move.
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We reached Siliguri by 2.30 pm and crossed the Salugara crossing and stopped for lunch at a restaurant in a mall. Now it was time for the hills and by 4 pm we were winding our way up to Melli and from there on to enter Sikkim and reach Jorethang. The Teesta was green as ever and we stopped multiple times to capture it.
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Reached Melli past 5.30 pm and even as we entered Sikkim here by crossing the Teesta bridge the Sun went down enveloping us in darkness. The Xylo relentlessly moved on cutting across the sweeping slopes, the winding roads, the slushy surface at areas and the good tarmac at places. Reached Jorethang by 6.30 pm and decided to call it a day.

It was almost 22 hours on the road though with more than normal required halts and stops. We found a nice cosy hotel. Took up 3 rooms in it. Ordered for our dinner. The town is a very small subdivisional town and closed by 9 pm. So even as the dinner was being prepared we took a walk to the bridge on the confluence of the River Rangit and River Little Rangit.
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Came back to hotel by 10.30 pm walking through deserted streets and a ghostly town. The keys of the main entrance of the hotel was with us as everyone else would be asleep by then. Came to our rooms to find our dinner kept on the table. Food had got a little cold but we enjoyed and retired for a good night's sleep.

Next day the climb for the Xylo from 900 feet to to 9,000 feet and subsequent trek for us.

Read on..
 
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April 20 - Jorethang to Hilley & trek to Varsey
It was early morning which we had decided to move on. But Jorethang was such a beautiful idyllic town that we just could not roll on without being in sync with it as it woke up from its slumber. The pigeons were already up and on flying high.
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The dogs never wanted to wake up, but Shubhomoy decided to be at his affectionate best.
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Football in India has seen a upsurge in the North Eastern countries for the past two decades specially in the state of Sikkim (and Manipur). And Raja could feel the positive vibes as practice was in full swing even in those wee hours.
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Regarded as one of the cleanest states in India we could see the efforts that were on to keep every nook and corner of the street clean.
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We too were ready for the day as Partha and Shubhomoy went to purchase some essential life saving ration from the nearby store. And they were happy to have got the desired and favourite brands.
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The Xylo was standing lonely in the night on the street, but by the time we were ready to crank it up it had a lot of other cars for company.
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Before leaving, Raja and I took another dive into nostalgia. It was way back in 1992 when us school friends had halted for the night in Jorethang. We were on our way for a trek to Dzongri and HMI Base Camp on the foothills of the Kunchenjungha. Jorethang then was a different feeling for us. A sense of stepping into adulthood, freedom, breaking through the shackles, doing the impossible. 26 years on there was no reason for such sort of feelings. But the attempt was to get back into that mode and we did. Behind Saibal and Raja standing was the hotel we stayed a quarter of a century back. The second floor window is the specific room. Alas it is no longer a hotel and appeared in a very bad shape. Things do change but our memories remain.
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We rolled on leaving behind a part of our lost “childhood”
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Jorethang is the border town between West and South Sikkim. The entire town is in South Sikkim, but he moment you cross this bridge at the end of the town you enter West Sikkim. Immediately on crossing the bridge the road to the right goes to the popular tourist spot of Pelling and on to the popular trek route of Dzongri and Goechala. But our road was the lesser travelled left one which climbs up fairly steeply to Orkhe and then Hilley at 9,000 feet and subsequest trek to Varsey and 10,000 feet plus.
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The bridge is on the river Rangit along its right bank is the road to Pelling. The confluence is with the Little (Chota) Rangit which comes down from the hills of Darjeeling. The other side of the river is West Bengal’s Singla Bazar and a steep climb up of 25 km from that side will take you to Darjeeling via Lebong. We had some playful memories of 1992 also when as young college guys we had enjoyed river crossing and hiking alongside in 1992.
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We took the road to Hilley where the first major village will be Sombaria.
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Roads were initially good and the Xylo sped along speedily along the sweeping slopes.
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We encountered a riot of colours in nature..
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And a riot of colours in prayers..
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We reached Sombaria by 11 am after a start from Jorethang at 9.20 and ample stops in between. There is a trek route from Sombaria which climbs up to the famous spots of Sandakphu and Phalut via Rammam, Gorkey and Samadhin Valley. I had trekked that route along with Raja in 1996. Some great memories to recall.
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The Xylo climbed along some pretty cultivation fields..
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And hit Okhrey
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The plan for the day was to reach Hilley another 10 km from Okhrey, park the Xylo somewhere and trek a further 4.5 km to Varsey. The next day we would climb down to Hilley, pick up the Xylo and drive down to Okhrey for a night stay. We had spoken to someone from Kolkata itself for the Okhrey home stay as options here are extremely limited. So we decided while we cross Okhrey to check on the stay which we had booked. And we were impressed and amazed from the roadside itself as we never expected such a beautiful bungalow in such a remote area. Subhomoy though was busy with another new friend acquired.
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We moved on for the final climb of 10 odd km to Hilley and found the cross road to Ribdi. Ribdi again is the end point of the motorable road and is close to Phalut. We paused and debated if we can make a detour but then better sense prevailed as the entire trek was waiting for us and it was almost 12 noon.
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It was supposed to be a quick changeover from drive mode to trek mode and as we approached Hilley we started mentally getting prepared. We stopped just before Hilley for our last bio break.
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Hilley is the end of the road. From here starts the trek. Though I had visited last in 1998 I expected it to be much more crowded but were pleasantly surprised to see it the same deserted place as it was when I had left it last time. This was one of the 14/15 houses of what comprised of Hilley.
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Our contact here was Bondhu Pradhan who stayes here and had arranged for our stay in Barsey. He came to greet us and even as we were busy in changing bags to suit our trek and leaving the rest in the safe custody of the Xylo which was parked alongside 3 other Mahindra on a roadside parking. Bondhu Pradhan guaranteed its safety specially since his house is also adjacent to the parking. The tea served to us by Bondhu was extremely refreshing.
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We were ready for the trek...
 
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It was under some heavy fog that we left the metaled road the Xylo had carried us up on and entered the briddle path and some steep initial "stair case".
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A 500 meters climb and we reach the gate of Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary which was rich in Flora and Fauna. The Red Panda is the most common animal available, but being an extremely shy creature hardly any trekker gets to see it, though the forest guard in charge told us he had seen many during his routine patrols.
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The trail to Varsey is part of the Sanctuary and so we needed to get the entry permit and remit the fees. The forest guard has an office out there. Just behind it is a staying place which has 2 rooms and a toilet. The last time I was here in 2008 I had stayed here for a night with a friend Srijit. Hand wonderful memories of that moonlight night with some views of the Pandim. The rooms have since been done up much better.
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The trail to Varsey is well marked out and we trudged along merrily.
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We took a first pit stop in 20 minutes time. As we tried to gather our breath back we were amazed to see the thickness of the vegetation all around and the dense fog penetrating through them.
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A brief halt of 5 minutes and then we carried on. Sometimes keeping pace in a group...
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...at other times falling alone.
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There was one big sack of Partha which we had used to dump our one night essentials. It had all our food and drinks (did not trust what water we might be getting up there and so carried all liquid provision which lasted us next 3 days) ration too. Naturally the sack weighed heavy. So we took turns in carrying it. It was rotating shoulders every 20 minutes.
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The only person who was exempted form carrying the load was Raja, but he had come out of a open heart surgery 6 months back and that he was fooling around with us in such long drives and treks at 10,000 ft plus is commendable and unthinkable itself. Speaks volumes of his will power.
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It was my turn and I get the feel of a sack after long long time.
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Amongst the group only Raja and I had the experience of major treks early on and though this trek of 4.5 km each way was nothing matching some of our past efforts, the load behind me sent shivers down my spine remembering the old times and made me make a silent resolution to work back on my fitness to get back on the path again regularly.
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In the entire stretch we did find the odd 3 or 4 sheds constructed for trekkers to sit and rest. We sat in one such shed not to rest but to catch up on some gossips of our past. Lucky it coincided with a slight drizzle which did turn heavy for some brief concerning moments. But then it stopped and we were on our way.
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And now it was the turn for Saibal to carry the load...
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...and now Shubhomoy
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As we gained altitude the fog thickened contrary to our expectations. But it was engulfing us with a sense of mystery and uncertainties. A feeling we started getting a fondness for.
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And then suddenly a signboard appears the image of the Panda standing larger than life. And we knew we are near our night halt destination.
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True to our anticipation on one of the turns the bungalow appears unannounced and enveloped in fog and melancholy. It appeared straight out of an English countryside fairy tale waiting to unfold its story on us.
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There were 2 tents pitched along side for in case anyone fails to find a place under the roof. It had only one room which was a 2 bedded room when I last visited but now converted into 4 beds with additional 2 beds put in the same room leaving almost nil space to walk in the room. The room had an attached toilet. The ground floor also consisted of a extra large dining space and the attic was a dormitory where mattress is put on the floor for almost 20 guests. We had reserved the only room some 3 months back and so were immediately ushered in.
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There was another bengali group of 3 individuals who were staying in the dorm whom we met. Later we found that 2 other groups totaling 9 to 10 people were also around in the dorm who were exploring around even as we trekked in.

Lunch was fabulous. It was well past 4 pm when we had it but got it deliciously hot and piping. Rice, vegetables, dal and egg curry. Was so famished that could not take in much pictures.

The Kunchenjugha which is bang opposite the bungalow was not ready for us yet as it had a cloud cover. As darkness fell rains came in for some time. I was tired and decided to take a nap. But it turned out to be a lengthy sleep when I was awaken by the bungalow attendant to come and have dinner. So from late lunch to very early dinner, my memories of Barsey was only in dreams.

The bungalow did not have power, so the dinner was on dimly lit candles, but again the taste of the food more than made up for the sombre mood. It was chapatis for now and chicken curry. Night was cold and windy. We did just step out post dinner to see if the Kunchenjungha was ready to oblige us but were left disappointed. The chill did not allow us to explore much outside and we decided to get into the warmth of the room.

Slept early by city standards expecting to have a rendezvous with the highest peak of India the next day. And God answered our prayers. Read on..
 
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April 21 - Varsey to Hilley (trek back) and to Okhrey
Morning was early wake up to catch the Kunchenjungha off guard. And we were not disappointed. The glass windows had accumulated dew drops and and we cleared it with our hands and we could see to our great good fortune that there was no cloud cover and behold the majestic range was full clearly standing in front of us. Quickly put on our shoes, woolens, caps and opened the door and ran outside. The sleeping Buddha (as the Kunchenjungha is often referred to due to its shape) was truly sleeping then with the first rays of the Sun yet to strike.
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Few minute from then we could feel the main peak just about twisted and turned and gave its first signs of waking up.
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The much lower Mt Pandim was still sleeping..
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As was Mt Sinoulchu more Eastward to it.
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Raja and Shubhomoy could not blink an eyelid..
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.. as the main peak opened its eyes to welcome the day.
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Mt. Kabur followed suit..
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and the entire mountain range lit up to an unbelievable warmth and freshness.
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We were shivering as the temperature at the wee hours of the morning were quite low and a gentle breeze blowing across adding to the chill.
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But our cameras kept working overtime.
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And now the Pandim wakes up
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and almost simultaneously so does the Sinoulchu..
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By now the cold was telling on us and Partha quietly slipped back into the comfort of the blanket and the room even as he kept his eyes firmly on the proceedings.
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In a matter of 20 minutes the entire range was fully awake and ready for the day.
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The Sun by then was blazing on the bungalow too increasing our comfort level
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We checked and breakfast was getting ready. We were feeling lazy and did not need to hurry up. After all the day was the gentle trek back to Hilley of 4.5 kms and back with the Xylo a 10 km drive back to Okhrey.
 
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We had breakfast sitting out in the Sun. The rays were blazing and despite the altitude and the wind we could feel the pinch.
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We took our time in an easy paced way and had a lot of school memories to share and stories on how life has caught up with us in the intermediate years. All along we were inder the watchful eyes of the Majestic Kunchenjungha which by now was at its glorious best with the blue sky as a canvass behind.
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It was April and the season for the famous Rhododendron flowers. This sanctuary is named after the flower and has plenty of the trees lined up. But unfortunately as it happens many times this year the trees were miserly with the blooming and we had to be content with whatever little we got to see.
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We still had a journey in hand and returned to the room for packing.
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Even as we put our sacks and bags on our back and started the downhill we took one long last close look at the beauty..
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We never wanted to budge but had to move on as the lonely trail by then was once again calling us..
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It was late morning when we started the downhill climb and the Sun was at its scorching best. Unlike the previous day when we climbed up there was no cloud or mist cover. So the going was warm but not utterly uncomfortable. The trail had its share of ups and downs though mostly downhill.
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Not being in a hurry we did take time outs to catch our breaths back
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I was super excited to meet back with the Xylo who was stationed in Hilley and the first sight from the trek route did excite me beyond imaginations. It was standing with quite a handful of cars going by Hilley standards. And waiting to welcome us back..
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But our trek was still not over and we completed the last few meters and reached back the Forest check point at the entry.
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We showed our entry fee receipt though it was not required.
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Just by the side of the Forest check point was an extremely small shop which was manned by a relative of the Forest Guard. Amongst some unique things available was local fruit wine and Rhododendron wine which was without any preservatives and freshly made. Personally Partho and me had this type of wine in Himachal area of Chail and on route to Kinnaur. But they were sort of manufactured and branded under local companies approved by competent statutory bodies. But this was raw and not even bottled. We purchased and they filled up from the reservoir to recycled sterilised bottle through a funnel. We mainly got Ginger and Rhododendron wine and they tasted heavenly.
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Leaving aside wine we were busy with the local tea which was the ideal antidote to our stressed out limbs.
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And then we climbed down the final few steps to reach Tarmac and back to where we ruled with the Xylo
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The raod back to Okhrey of 10 km did not take much time and the Xylo was rearing to go being out of action for more than 24 hours and being without us. Reached our "colourful" home stay before lunch and took no time out to getting our luggage out.
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We 5 of us were given a 4 bedded large size room, but the stay being empty the owner accepted our request to allot 2 such similar rooms at no extra cost, though we were willing to pay for it. Shubhomoy immediately got into one of them to catch back on the World as we were not connected to mainstream for last 24 hours. Yes Rafael Nadal was playing the Barcelona Open final against Kei Nishikori and had missed the news. Shubhomoy delighted me with the news of another Rafa victory
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while some of us took time out in the balcony..
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Thread Starter #11
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The balcony which was all to ourselves was the best part of the bungalow in Okhrey. But the first impulse for us was to get back to the mainstream. Varsey did not have the luxury of the mobile / data connections and so once in Okhrey the moment the handsets started to show any response we got busy restoring and patching back with the World. The phone calls/ Messages/ data surfing for the first half hour included informing our families of our current position, checking work in office, catching up if Rafael Nadal had made it to the Barcelona Open finals or not (he did) and many more. Nature and the heavenly solitary house at one end of a lonely deserted village took a back seat.
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Tea appeared piping hot. And seemed to wake us up. Wake us from the shell we had succumbed to working our way back to the Worldly affairs. It charged us up as we kept aside our phones and realised we were yet not prepared to be sucked into the mundane routine back in town. We still had the day to make the most of it.
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The view in front was amazingly beautiful. We started enjoying it to the fullest. The narrow road in front was the main highway to the village (and 10 km onwards to Hilley also). We could find a car passing every 20 minutes. This lack of traffic was striking a chord. The village people walking down appeared in no hurry and as if they had all the time in the World. The dogs too were on a slumber mode. The clouds started forming very lazily as the Sun tried to play its part too. Yes we were in a trance when we got the call to appear for lunch.
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The Xylo meanwhile was resting and preparing for a long hard grind for the next day.
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Lunch got over late by 3.30 pm It was the same rice, dal, vegetables and egg curry. But the standardisation of good taste across all places we stayed was so very good. The fresh vegetables added to the taste and soon we were struggling to get up after over eating. But I did because the cosy bed was alluring me. And no sooner I was fast asleep.

When I was woken up the light was still there and the others had planned to visit a small Monastery perched on a hill top overlooking the village. It was more than 3 km and two house members of our home stay offered to show us the way. We had contemplated walking so as not to disturb the Xylo. But then on advise of the locals decided otherwise and were constrained to disturb its peace. The sky was by then showing some signs of rain bearing clouds.
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On the way we realised it was a good decision not to have walked it out as the road was climbing extremely steeply at places. By the time we reached it was pitch dark and were lucky as the last prayer service was on inside. We quickly slipped in.
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It was an extremely small structure but big in faith and peace. We enjoyed the short while that we were there and it filled our hearts with fulfillment and containment as we came out in the darkness and with the cloud cover having become thick and threatening to rain the moon also had no chance of moonlighting us.
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But the darkness did not deter us from performing our spiritual desires.
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We returned back to the bungalow and by now a slight drizzle had started. The village did have electricity but it was extremely unpredictable and with the rains coming heavy the power was shut for then. So it was back to candles, the nip in the air, the sound of the rains, food, drinks and friends catching up on the 4 days that just went by and also the school days which had long gone by.

Dinner was taken at 10.30 late by the local standards but the owners too relented perfectly understanding how much we all needed to unwind. Dinner was chicken with rice, roti, vegetables and dal and as lip smacking as ever. We retired back to the coziness of the bed quite late by midnight to be fresh for the next morning.

The next day when we would attempt to be back in Kolkata directly. Read on..
 
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April 22 - Okhrey to Behrampore (Bengal)
It was a long way back to Kolkata. Not distance wise but challenges wise. Distance was 680 odd km to Kolkata but the initial rough mountain stretches before Jorethang followed by some bad roads before Melli and once in the plains the notorious jams of Siliguri, Malda, Farakka and a host of other places were the hindrance. But we had decided to take the day as it unfolds. With Kolkata in mind we would set out but would not miss out on the enjoyment of the drive back.

It should have been a very early morning start but we were painfully lethargic and took our time. The Sun was up nice and shining over the Slopes and glittering amidst the clouds.
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But it was not before 6am that we tossed up from bed and made the first move. We started to explore the same old scenery in front of the balcony once again
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Breakfast was ready as per schedule though we were running behind the clock. We made our way down to the kitchen cum dining shack.
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Our host for the home stay was ready with his everlasting smile. Previous night when he had bade us Good Night the smile was the same pure and genuine.
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Breakfast was Maggi tossed up in some vegetables and Omlette spread over it. It was hot and delicious and we just gobbled it up.
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We took turns in the wash room to have a quick shower which did help us get past the hangover of a lovely evening the previous day. Raja as has he always been doing here caught putting on his clothes standing on the bed. while the others gently strolled in front of the cottage to loosen themselves before the long winding hill roads.
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By then the Sun was perched nice and high up in the sky and the sky was as blue as it could be.
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We had our customary good byes with the residents and locals of the area. They wished us a happy drive ahead back to Kolkata. We took our last set of group pictures with the house and everything associated in the background.
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Finally the Xylo cranked up and set rolling at 7.30 in the morning. A group of 3 bengalis whom we had met 2 evenings back in Hilley who had come for birding here came down to meet us at our starting point. They were in a different homestay and were fascinated to see us drive down all the way from Kolkata. So a kind gesture from them to come over and wish us a safe journey as we moved on for the long journey ahead..
 
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The road winded downwards this time and we were pretty much relaxed now as we knew what lay ahead of us than when we were climbing up. The greenery, the loneliness, the desolateness and the silence was certainly baffling us. As was the riot of colours that was in abundance everywhere specially in the boldly painted structures.
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The Prayer flags too appeared to be in sync with the nature and they too ran a riot of colours.
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We crossed many lonely bridges till suddenly we decided to stop around one of them. And decided to walk it across. We had all the time in the World and were not particularly bothered about the time,
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Raja the avid photographer decided to pick up something in particular..
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The colours of the flowers were not extravagant but subtle enough to tinker your senses.
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We moved on and reached Jorethang by 9.40 am and drove down to Sevoke by 1 in the afternoon. Had lunch in Gautam Hotel which is a great favourite of mine on the banks of the Teesta overlooking the Railway bridge to the Dooars. After a sumptous lunch started driving again and reached Botolbari near Rigunj by 3 pm. The plan was to tentatively to drive to Kolkata but we were all game to another night out, the final night out but as near as possible to Kolkata. We took the Behramore route this time and reached its vicinity by 11 in the night and checked on hotels and found a good one on the highway.

Rest we unwind ed ourselves to the core as if there is no tomorrow...
 
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Yet another lovely travelogue from you, which offers an engrossing read.
The pics are lively. It very well portrays the spirit of school friends going for a trip again after a long time to rekindle the old memories. We cherish nostalgic memories but cherishing it by repeating the past is commendable, not many do that. [clap]
The title is apt too.
 
Thread Starter #15
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Yet another lovely travelogue from you, which offers an engrossing read.
The pics are lively. It very well portrays the spirit of school friends going for a trip again after a long time to rekindle the old memories. We cherish nostalgic memories but cherishing it by repeating the past is commendable, not many do that. [clap]
The title is apt too.
Thanks a lot Samba for your lovely words. Yes the idea was to go back in the past and live that life which we had left way back. And we thoroughly enjoyed the journey and the experience.
 
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