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Old 11th May 2016, 14:52   #1
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Default Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East

When I opened my eyes I could see soft, diffused light filtering through the tunnel of trees. Flowers that had blossomed the previous night, had fallen on my lap, on my clothes and on the ground that had turned into colours of pink, yellow and blue. Birds chirped in the air and a few cold streaks of light had cut across the pre-dawn sky. A new morning was just getting started. The rustling of leaves in the wind, the moist creepers, smell of the dead camp fire, smoky fog, smell of a brew arising from somewhere and the cold ground and the soaked earth felt unreal. A gust of wind swept through the meadow floor and it brought with it, the invigorating air. The creek that carried some snow from the past night gurgled over pebbles.

Was it a wakeup call? A moment to pause?

A lot of curiosity and questions, which I couldn’t answer, arose in my mind. So, I set out for a small discovery around the place until I reached a couple of empty wooden chairs soaked in the overnight dew almost dripping wet.

It was then that I heard “I rarely have a visitor here and the few who end up at my doors are the ones who have either lost their way in the wilderness or had exhausted themselves in their search”, a voice boomed behind me.

I turned around, searching for who it was that owned his magical land and then saw a Buddhist monk, a lama, standing behind me. He had light, watery and blue eyes that shone in the dawn sun and a face that radiated warmth and energy. His gaze seemed to pierce right through me. He stood there, silent, but the place seemed to resonate with thunder.

I didn’t know which category of visitor I belonged to. But I knew that my journey had reached its completion.

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-_dsc9176.jpg

I trekked to Sandakphu and Phalut this April. The journey left me with quite a few stories that I felt were needed to be written down. This travelogue is a collection of those stories. I managed to log my 100th post with this travelogue in 3 years of joining the forum

Last edited by sayakc : 11th May 2016 at 15:28.
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Old 11th May 2016, 15:27   #2
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Default Re: Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East

#1: An Echo of A Journey of the Past

I was a seventeen year old. Had just finished my board exams. Summer had set in the plains with vigour and after the first few days of the exams, life had become dead and boring with nothing to do, nowhere to go.

It was then that dad promised to be a friend. “Pack your bags, we are going for a trek to Sandakphu tomorrow.” he said one day.

Those were beautiful days. And that proved to be a brilliant summer, especially when I think now, looking back. That trip was highly educational. I learnt that in a trekking trail, distance in the mountains are measured in hours. Saw how difficult mountain life was. And it also taught me, how value the most basic things of life because I saw for myself that certain things which we took for granted were luxuries in places like those.

Those days, the Singalila trail was a virgin, deserted meadow, where, flowers blossomed in the summer.

The others walked.I ran. Sprinted.
I remember the routine well. Close all of your thoughts and walk. Walk, and when you got tired you rested with your backpack on a rocky edge, under the shade of a rhododendron tree. And opened a rationed packet of cashews, raisins and dates.

During one of those breaks, a ‘preaching’ dad asked, "Don’t run. Go slow and see those flowers. You won’t get them back home."
Dad and his friends had come to see flowers whereas I found nothing in them. I was instead searching for the mountains that had refused to reveal themselves.

“How old is he, dada? Why do you expect him to be like us?” remarked one of his friends to him. Then they got tangled into a discussion of maturity, age, worries etc. soon after – you know, the types of discussion which we indulge in now – but would give ‘a damn’ about it then.

But that comment was tacky. So, tacky that it had stuck to me like a chewing gum even after all these years. This walk was that walk, only that I grew older by 15 summers - old enough to understand the beauty of those flowers. Apart from that it was a continuum. Of roads and journeys.

A man on an early morning walk on the Phalut meadows.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-01.jpg

Phalut trekkers hut in the distance.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-02.jpg

Chauris grazing on the meadows.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-03.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-04.jpg

A rhododendron tree.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-05.jpg

A rhododendron in bloom.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-06.jpg

Buddhist scriptures inscribed in stone.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-07.jpg

Flowers on the trail.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-08.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-09.jpg

Tonglu hill top.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-10.jpg

On the trekking path to Tumling.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-11.jpg

Bright sunshine and dark shadows.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-12.jpg

Somewhere near Sabarkum.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-13.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-14.jpg

Green and yellow meadows. Blue hills in the distance. At Phalut.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-15.jpg

Spice jars
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-16.jpg

Rajdeep, my friend, rests for a while, looking at the undulating hill sides.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-17.jpg

A beautiful village track.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-18.jpg
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Old 11th May 2016, 15:48   #3
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Default The Chorten and the playing children

#2: The Chorten and the playing children

Seated under a leafy shade, a few miles out of Dhotrey, I could hear the slow, ambling steps of Bhim, our guide, gather pace. But, a few yards away from the trail, what caught the attention, was a garden of wild rhododendrons that had grown around a Chorten. I instead motioned Bhim to accompany us to it and as we crossed through the dense undergrowth, we saw a few village children, barely 7 or 8 years old, playing around the chorten.

When they first saw us, some of them stood at attention whereas some giggled, showing a broken tooth. I handed them a few chocolate bars that I was carrying and a conversation had just started between us. But just then the darkening skies had turned into rain. I was a fool not to carry a raincoat. But on seeing me getting drenched in the rain, one of the boys handed me a plastic sheet to hold over my head. Sensing that the rain won’t subside soon, they bid goodbye to us and slipped into the jungle track one by one as the rain seeped through the overhead canopy onto us.

Believe me when I say how much that plastic sheet helped me over the coming days - It is still there in my packed rucksack, now as a memento.

Children playing. At Phalut.

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-01.jpg

Roosters nibble on the grasses.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-02.jpg

Blue hills and the thread like trail.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-03.jpg

At Tonglu.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-04.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-05.jpg

The Indo-Nepal border.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-06.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-07.jpg

Noodles.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-08.jpg

Patch of sunlight and shade of shadows.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-09.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-10.jpg

Dinner being cooked at Phalut.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-11.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-12.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-13.jpg

Between Sabarkum and Sandakphu on the third day.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-14.jpg

Winding trails. Thick mists.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-15.jpg
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Old 11th May 2016, 16:05   #4
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Default Left and Right Wing Politics at Tonglu

#3: Left and Right Wing Politics at Tonglu

Outside the storm raged and it seemed at times that roof over the head would blow away. And inside the room were two lanterns and their long shadows and yellow light. We sat at the table, nursing our tired legs and drinking pots of tea. But the conversation that raged was a potboiler - the ongoing elections in Bengal and the left and right wing of thoughts.

Here is a snippet.

"Somewhere I had heard that Left and Right wing politics had originated sometime during the French revolution. Some were born to create the establishment. Whereas some are born to challenge it.
And whereas the Right Wing - has seemingly been the example to refer to; the Left has been the anarchist who challenged the norm. The revolutionary. The disruptive. But the revolutionary was hungry. He wanted to rise above the multitude and show the world his vision. He was hungry for freedom. He wanted to be heard. And his questions led me to my questions.
  • What was correct - Obeying the suppressor with bowed heads or challenging the rule with the fist of freedom?
  • Who was 'the man' - Steve Jobs or Bill Gates?
  • Who is right - The poster boy or the unrelenting revolutionary?
  • And who is better - the organic team of Barcelona or the assimilated galacticos of Real Madrid?
  • Who ruled the world - US or the USSR?
  • Would you want to be the Mahatma or Netaji? Or Che Guevara and the Imperalists? Socialist or the Capitalist?"
Dear comrades, let me assure you, we never reached a conclusion; but again some discussions never need an ending!

A very typical portion of the trail.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-00.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-01.jpg


Rhododendrons. The white variety.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-02.jpg

My friend and the guide walking towards Tonglu.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-03.jpg

Between Tonglu and Tumling. Along the trekking trail.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-04.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-05.jpg

The valley of Tonglu.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-06.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-07.jpg

Dark mists develope towards Sandakphu in the evening.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-08.jpg

The trail.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-09.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-10.jpg

Earl morning in Tonglu. Chortens in the distance.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-11.jpg

At Bhikeybhanjan.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-12.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-13.jpg

Last edited by sayakc : 11th May 2016 at 20:30.
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Old 11th May 2016, 16:17   #5
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Default A Warm Tibetan Home

#4: A Warm Tibetan Home

Now if there is anything called comfort in the form of tea houses, then we had ample comfort for most of the trek. Especially looking back, when the walk was coming to an end. But on the last day we had the lone tea break at Sabarkum (and that was hours ago) and the cold rain added to the longing for a hot cup of tea. And sometime after the forests had ended and we were dripping wet with the rain, the trench like trail, widened to cobbled streets bringing immediate cheer to our minds - this was the prospect of civilization, comfort and the pleasures of good food, clean clothes and warm drink.

A big settlement appeared terraced along the hill sides. Small huts with tiny verandahs, colourful roofs, doors that opened with “Happy Losar” written on them, small gardens, fenced boundaries, cattle and livestock and little square fields of cultivation abounded. The longing for a cup of tea was too evident and we placed the request to our guide so that we could sit down for a while. This place was Upper Srikhola.

We entered the home of a young couple (probably in their twenties). It took them a while to brew the tea, but the salty, buttery tea was a livener. We stayed in their home for may be 20 mins. But their hospitality – having provided their lone bed for us to sit, while they remained standing for the entire time – moved us deeply. Probably, everyday some tourist or the other drops by their house and this must be the normal course of things. But we weren’t accustomed to such hospitality. In a city hotel, you pay thousands to buy that smile and hospitality. This came at the cost of naught.

Sometime back I had started a thread http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/shifti...-give-you.html (What did Money give you?) .I believe I must add this experience to that thread.

Rolling pasturelands.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-01.jpg

Flower beds.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-02.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-03.jpg

Evening tea at Phalut.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-04.jpg

My friend walking towards Sabarkum.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-05.jpg

The now famous (thanks to thousands of Sandakphu motorlogues) view of the Singalila ridge at Tumling.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-06.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-07.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-08.jpg

Towards Jhaubari.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-09.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-10.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-11.jpg

Last edited by sayakc : 11th May 2016 at 20:43.
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Old 11th May 2016, 16:24   #6
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Default The Sandakphu and Phalut Meadows

#5: The Sandakphu and Phalut Meadows

The Sandakphu trek is a tea house trek. The path weaves in and out of small settlements, sometimes veers into Nepal and returns back into India. It climbs up till Tonglu, flattens out and then goes down. And the cycle, kind of repeats.

Beautiful huts at Srikhola. All the photos except the bottom 3 are taken at that place.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-00.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-01.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-02.jpg

Streams are rare all along the trail, but the scarcity of water peaks between Sandakphu and Phalut. Also, what peaks, is the wind - stand for a while along the barren meadows and you could hear the wind whistling in your ear – dry and cold, and sometimes moist.

Inside the beautifully arranged Tibetan hut. For me, the memory of this place will stay on for a long, long time.

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-03.jpg

The lone forest camp at Sabarkum is a rest house, where we had the most ordinary cup of tea, taste the best. The barbed wires of the border are porous and the Chauris (grazing buffalos) have made both the countries their home. On all days, the mist and cloud rolled with impunity during the afternoon hours. Dark clouds hovered during the evenings and thunderstorms hit every night. At Phalut, sleep was hard to come by for you could hear the howling wind rattle the doors and windows.

Fences. The problem with a photograph is when a second person is viewing them, they don't have the perspective. And we aren't those great photographers who can tell the story through their photos. I have a crisp and fresh feeling everytime I see the photos of Srikhola village.

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-04.jpg

Mustard cultivation.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-05.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-06.jpg

When you can’t see the Sleeping Buddha (the Kanchenjunga range), pry deeper into the landscape and villages. What you will see, will never cease to amaze the city dweller. Gentle, undulating meadows that rise and fall, through which the trail cuts like a winding brown thread.

Sri Khola - the river.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-07.jpg

Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-08.jpg

This was the Singalila ridge, so classic and so much clearly evident. The sight of that sole rhododendron bent along the hill side, probably obeying to the wind, was not uncommon. Stone engravings of the Buddhist scripts were on the sides of the track. Buds were blooming into flowers and insects sucked nectar from them. This was not a garden that was planted. It had grown wild and settled down on its own and that is where the beauty lay.

Tea plucking. Gardens of Mirik.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-09.jpg

Forests near Sukna. Very typical of North Bengal.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-10.jpg

We took the long, unending downhill path from Phalut to Srikhola. After the forest camp of Sabarkum, the track became an unforgivingly knee wobbling stretch. The barren meadowlands had given way to deep, mist filled forests, birds chirped in rhythmic intervals; the sound of our feet gave way to sounds of rustling leaves in the immediate vicinity. The track resembled waist deep military trenches. Leopards aren’t uncommon in these jungles, but they usually hide in the deeper reaches of the forests. And since this was the third consecutive day of walking 20+kms, fatigue hit us very easily forcing us to drag ourselves through the downhill trail.

Sometime later, as we continued our downhill walk, we could hear the sound of a stormy river. Terraced fields, concrete mule tracks and electricity cables appeared. The density of settlements increased and then we could see the beginning of a black topped road. This was transition from the pristine to the normal. It meant fresh food, fruit juices, fragrant tea, clean linen, a good bed, hot water bath and a drink of beer somewhere down the valley. It meant the end of one life and the resumption of another.

My friend and me(wearing googles).At Phalut.
Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East-11.jpg


Last edited by sayakc : 11th May 2016 at 20:51.
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Old 12th May 2016, 10:56   #7
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Default

Note from Support: Thread moved to the Travelogues section. Thanks for sharing!

Last edited by GTO : 12th May 2016 at 10:57. Reason: Bump
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Old 12th May 2016, 12:25   #8
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Default Re: Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East

Exceptionally well written travelogue. Trekking to unknown places has its charm. A friend of mine recently got interest in trekking and I mention about your ventures to him.
Many thanks for sharing such wonderful logs!

I must add that your "What is Money?" related thread pulls up a very important point, which many grown-ups have not yet realized.

Last edited by gearhead_mait : 12th May 2016 at 12:30. Reason: Rated 5 deserving stars
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Old 12th May 2016, 13:03   #9
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Default Re: Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East

Wonderful travelogue. Thanks for treating us with exceptional and awesome photographs.
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Old 12th May 2016, 13:50   #10
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Default Re: Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East

Another awesome travelogue. The write up expresses the emotions with realism. Thoroughly enjoyed the pictures even though photographs don't do justice to the first hand experience. Keep them coming and thank you for the visual delight in the summer heat!
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Old 12th May 2016, 16:36   #11
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Default Re: Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East

Quote:
Originally Posted by sayakc View Post
“I rarely have a visitor here and the few who end up at my doors are the ones who have either lost their way in the wilderness or had exhausted themselves in their search”, a voice boomed behind me.
I often dream of losing my way and wandering around in the hills

Great travelogue sayakc. Envious of all folks who can pack their bags and visit the hills over a weekend.

Last edited by procrj : 12th May 2016 at 16:38.
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Old 12th May 2016, 19:52   #12
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Default Re: Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East

Absolutely breathtaking Sayakc. Was deeply intrigued and felt connected while reading your travelogue. It has been a dream for me to once visit Sandakphu. As i am hailing from Goa it is quiet far thats why said atleast once. The enthralling beauty of the region and your Right Left dialogues were quite interesting. Kudos. Will visit there soon. Thanks for such a beauty of a travelogue.
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Old 12th May 2016, 20:55   #13
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Default Re: Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East

As always when i saw a travelogue written by Sayakc, i knew what to expect! Man you are gifted! You have an amazing writing style and the pics are awesome as always! First i rated 5* then i started reading your travelogue & i made no mistake!
Your itch for travelling frequently to the Himalaya's is turning out to be a great boon for the readers in Team Bhp! Hope to see many such lovely travelogues in the near future.
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Old 13th May 2016, 08:35   #14
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Default Re: Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East

Just amazing...the photos and the play of words.
"Walk slowly, enjoy the flowers, you won't get them back home" How good an advice it is.
I seem to be telling the same thing to my young daughter and who obviously doesn't seem to listen to me
Keep on trekking, keep on giving us wonderful reads like this.
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Old 13th May 2016, 10:01   #15
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Default Re: Phalut: The Meadowlands of the East

Ok, so this is an amazing travelogue. The pics are mesmerizing and the words are enchanting. I have read several such logs on Sandakphu and Phalut, none as good as this.
And trust me Sayak, when I saw the name and started reading the post, I felt I know this guy. And a pic of yours towards the end of the travelogue has more or less confirmed my gut feeling. Is this Sayak from Coochbehar, St. Mary's High School. Because, if that's you, my name will ring a bell.

Hats off to your beautiful post...
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