Tendong and Mainam-Valedunga trek

Delving Deep into Wilderness

Walking 56 km in two consecutive days that took us into the heart of two forests in South Sikkim was not at all an easy task. It can never be. To many it would seem a tough trek especially when the terrain is not plain but a mountainous one. And it often makes me wonder how I did that impossible job. From Ravangla in South Sikkim we trekked to the Lepcha shrine Tendong on the first day and then, on the second, into the wildlife sanctuary called Mainam, to reach two tops, Mainam and Valedunga.
Now let me introduce ourselves. I have long stopped calling myself a tourist and I love to be called a traveller. And having completed this trek I now feel proud to call myself a trekker. But before this trek, I really had almost no such experience. Nor did my facebook friend Subhrajyoti have any. The only experienced guy in our three-men-army was Somnath who had just been back from the Deoriatal-Rupkund trek. It was this Somnath, a passionate trekker, who not only made the whole plan but also managed to contact Mr. Suresh Suji, our very amiable and quite experienced guide. And then, from the virtual world of facebook pages where we had lots and lots of discussion sessions, we physically reached Ravangla from where we took two journeys on October 21 and 22, 2012. Before that I had to meet Somnath for the first time on Oct 19, together we had caught the Darjeeling Mail to reach New Jalpaiguri and then, via Singtam, Temi Tarku and Dantham, had reached Ravangla to find Subhrajyoti who had been waiting for us in the hotel room.

Day 1 (Oct 21): Tendong Top

Having started the day with lemon tea (Nestea, a ready-to-drink one) prepared by me that helped us shrug off all our sleepiness, we three, accompanied by Suresh, boarded a Siliguri-bound bus that dropped us at Dantham market, a junction from where you can take right turn if you intend to reach Gangtok via Singtam and turning left will lead you to Namchi, Jorthang and also Siliguri. We took neither of these two. After finishing ‘WaiWai’, which is nothing but noodles dipped in a spicy soup, served hot at a roadside stall, we took the narrow steep steps that went straight between two buildings. Soon we entered the sanctuary replete with wonderful flora and fauna. The winding mossy brick-road through the verdurous gloom took us to the top in around three hours. On neither our way up nor way down did we find any other trekking group that day. But once in a year, in time of a Lepcha festival, this narrow 12 km path becomes very congested and the hill-top turns into a fairground with lots and lots of Lepcha pilgrims assembling there to offer puja. It is said by many that Tendong is a dormant volcano. But has anyone ever heard of any volcanic eruption or the existence of any volcano in this hill state? May be it’s just a Lepcha belief that if ever any volcanic eruption takes place in Sikkim it will be exactly here. The belief has become stronger after the 2010 earthquake that has massively devastated the hill-top. Since then everyone has deserted the top. No chowkidaar is ready to guard the place. Though the short trek is popular among outsiders, the tribal worshippers come here only in festival time.

The hill-top is a beautiful garden covered with pink and pearl cosmos flowers, amidst stand a monastery, a watchtower and a few cottages. On one side are scattered the ruins of a few ancient chortens. The place has its unique charm. That the hilltop bore the brunt of the massive earthquake is still visible in the structure of the watchtower. Cracks are seen everywhere. The staircase remains badly damaged. Hence, no one is now allowed to enter. Inside lies an earthquake measuring instrument.
Having devoured a wonderful lunch of water-sodden mixture of chhatu or sattu, milkpowder, raisins, and sugar, we started descending through the gloomy woods and this time it took a little more than two hours, including two or three breaks for gulping water or ORS, which was quite less than that required while ascending. After reaching the same road junction from where we had started in the morning, we sat for a while, calmed ourselves with steaming tea and then headed back to Ravangla in a Bolero SUV owned and driven by Alex, a Govt officer, one of our guide’s close acquaintances. This friendly guy gave us some valuable information related to our next day Mainam trek besides inviting us to pay a visit to Chardham near his native place Namchi. In the post-lunch session we ascended 340 steps to Ravangla monastery, a place we all loved for being so picturesque. After coming down to Ravangla market we went further downhill with Suresh to reach his sweet home. We were invited to taste ‘Bhati’ a country spirit very popular among them. The tangy white drink was served in teacups. It was really a different experience.


The next morning we were to trek to Mainam and Valedunga peaks. We were told by Suresh to get ready by three o’clock in the morning. So, back home we wasted no time, made our bags ready in a hurry and slept very early.

Day 2 (Oct 22): Mainam and Valedunga

Mainam had been calling me since I came to know about it for the first time in ‘Bhraman Trekking Guide’. I knew it was going to be a trek of medium difficulty level through a dense forest which is a domain of some fierce wild animals like Himalayan Black Bear and Cheetah. And even the ever shy red pandas can be sighted in this sanctuary by a lucky trekker. That at the top of Mainam hill lies a monastery in ruins and that the trek from Mainam top to Valedunga top would be tougher due to the more steep terrain were also known. The chance to respond to the call came all of a sudden, in ‘Team Paye Paye Onek Dur’ facebook group. As soon as I noticed Somnath’s invitation to be his trekking partner, I responded in affirmative. Subhrajyoti, another group member also did the same. At Ravangla we noticed a lot of tourists and expected to find a few of them in the sanctuary. But to our surprise we actually found only two groups in our 12-hour Mainam-Valedunga trek.
Our trek started at 15 minutes to 4 in the morning. Before that a cab arranged by Suresh, our guide, dropped us at the entrance. As instructed by Suresh, everyone carried a torch. Without it we Mr.couldn’t have moved a single step because the jungle was very thick there and the light of the day could lead us when we had already walked 3-4 km. The first two kilometres were through a plain path but soon we came into a very steep part of the jungle. When we reached the first halt it was absolute darkness. But even in that darkness we could see white flowers glowing all around.We were in a natural flower garden encircled by the ancient forest of giant trees.

We walked on for another 2-3 km through the gloomy woods and at daybreak reached Nunthala, our second halt. We were feeling quite tired then. We were sitting under a tin shed where burnt remains of tree branches scattered all around us. It seemed that very recently a group of trekkers had spent a night here. Adjacent to the shed lay a huge tree log that looked like a sleeping python. I had read about this log in Mr Nirmal Kr Dutta’s writing on his Mainam trek published in a 1997 issue of ‘Bhraman’ magazine. When I started talking about this writing, Suresh smilingly said that he had been Mr.Dutta’s guide in that trek. Mr Dutta was an elderly gentleman then, perhaps in his late 50’s, and he came here in winter. A photo of Mr Dutta being pulled out of knee-deep snow by a young guide is there in that writing. We came to know that it had been none other than Suresh in his early 20’s. In our short break at Nunthala, Suresh alleviated our tiredness with a Kishore Kumar number sung in full throated ease, sitting on that log. The song was ‘Agar Tum Na Hote’ (Had you not been with me …). Truly, had we not responded to the call of the ancient land called Mainam and spent a glorious morning in the midst of this verdurous gloom, our days would have been empty, life in its dreary desert would have no meaning. This may seem to be an overstatement even to me now, but in Mainam we felt so overjoyed and our contentment was so deep that we started feeling that way.

By Chiradeep Chowdhury

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