The ancient forest continued to change its nature as we moved on.  Soon after Nunthala we,  went into an area that seemed to belong to the Jurassic era. Though no animal foregrounded, the atmosphere was set in a sort of mystery. The woods became gloomier, moss-covered branches held each other. Sometimes we had to creep through tunnels formed by trees. It was indeed a great thrill. After a quite steep stretch when we entered another flower garden with a blackish red mossy floor, it was 8 o’clock. We had already covered 8 km and four more kilometres were still to be covered to reach Mainam top. We were extremely fatigued then, so we all gulped some quantity of ORS before starting the final stretch.

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As we were nearing the top, pine-like evergreen trees became visible. It was pretty hard for me then to drag my fatigued body upward. At 9:30 finally we reached the Mainam top. The monastery that stood there was not exactly in ruins as we had been informed before. It remained closed. It was at the height of more than 10000 feet where in front of us the whole of Kanchenjunga range stood to greet us. The sight was mesmerising. I literally forgot all my weariness within a second. The clear sky was dark blue and beneath laya blanket of cloud. In between glowed the milky white peaks. At the extreme left was Mt Kumbhakarna, that, like the ever sleepy mythological character after which it was named, was still lying in its bed with only its head kept out of the blanket of clouds. Next stood gorgeous Mt Kabru (North and South). At the extreme right was Mt Pandim that exactly looked like an icecream scoop. The centre of all attraction was obviously none other than the king of all kings, world’s third highest and undoubtedly world’s most spectacular peak Mt Kanchenjunga. My Nikon DSLR remained busy all the time, capturing precious glimpses.
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It was quite cold there. We were all shivering badly. I myself felt it too much because after a long 12 km walk uphill my T-shirt got soaked with sweat and even my jacket became wet. Suresh brought dry branches sooner than we expected, lit fire. This gave us a chance to warm ourselves. This did one more thing which we hardly expected. It helped us to warm two bottles of ice-cold water that we had with us. The plastic bottles were placed inside the fire which, to our utter surprise, did not damage the bottles much even after 10 minutes. We used the hot water to prepare two bowls of a tasty mixture of chattoo, milk-powder, raisin and sugar, the same food that we had had at Tendong top. The food was enough to appease our hunger and it was a great energiser, too.

After a one hour stay at the hilltop we bade goodbye to Mainam as our next destination was Valedunga top. It was a 2 km downhill journey first and then it was again uphill for two more kilometres to reach the hilltop. The path was not as steep as I had expected before. And the barren landscape was quite picturesque. The long straight trees with two or three upward looking branches that were completely devoid of leaves made it clear that the place remains snow-clad most of the times. Suresh showed us the place where he had once helped Mr Nirmal Kr Dutta to move through knee-deep snow. I had seen the picture in ‘Bhraman Trekking Guide’. In less than an hour we reached Valedunga top. The word ‘Vale-dunga’ in Sikkimese means ‘the head of a cock’. People say this hill looks like that from the opposite hill. The fact that was really bone-chilling was that we were standing on the edge of a hill and that side went down straight 1000 feet. The inclination was almost 90 degree. But it was not possible to have any idea of that because of the weather being cloudy.


We started descending soon. On our way back we met a group of three trekkers. At 12:30 they were still two hours away from Mainam top. We didn’t know whether they had any plan to spend that night at the hilltop. Perhaps they had. They would be quite lucky if they could see Mt Kanchenjunga glowing in moonlight. But they would have to brave the biting cold for that. Without sleeping bags that would be next to impossible. Near Nunthala we met a group of 6-7 tourists. We were surprised to see a boy of 9-10 among them. It was past two then. It was not at all possible for them to reach Mainam before evening. But the group seemed undecided. We heard from Suresh at the bus stop next morning how he had rescued them from Nunthala. They were trapped there till 11 pm. They brought with them a self-proclaimed guide who carried a sickle in his hand but was not much experienced. We, on the other hand, were really lucky to have Suresh, a very experienced guide among us. And the lesson we learnt was that an experienced guide is a must in a wildlife sanctuary like Mainam. We learnt a few more lessons. First, follow the guide. Secondly, don’t get isolated from the group. There is every chance of being lost because there is no so-called road here. Thirdly, please do not throw plastic packets, bottles wherever you like. You are habituated with those wastes of civilisation, but the inhabitants of these ancient forests are not. You have no right to harm them. Therefore, a little bit more conscience is expected. At 4 o’clock we reached the spot from where we had started our journey. The twelve our stay in the midst of Mainam really rejuvenated me.

Now more than 15 days have passed since I have returned to my city life. But still I feel a tremendous hangover. Again I feel a strong urge to be in the eastern Himalayas, which, for being very green, very moist and very erotic and for many more unknown reasons will continue to haunt me throughout my life.

By Chiradeep Chowdhury


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