Saturday, August 29, 2009


Today, we climbed a mountain.

On the road to Yuksom two days earlier, Danny and I met a Japanese guy, Kimura Hiroki, a 22 years old student in chemistry who is travelling alone and will be accompanying us in our stroll around Yuksum. By the way, Danny is 32 and is employed as an IT engineer for a medical company. Today we're heading towards the holy lake of Khecheopalri, five kilometres away from Yuksom. The great Khandchendzonga falls are on the way, where we take a break and enjoy a good bath in the fresh water down the falls. After walking another kilometre or so, we must choose from three routes, and a local advises us to begin directly by climbing the mountain through the jungle rather than to stay on the road. We thus engage in this shortcut of the trekking road (the other way being the road). The lake is on the other side of the mountain ahead of us. The path turns out to be more than sloppy and very steep. It seems that we're climbing half a metre up at each of our steps. And it will be that steep for the whole way, more than two kilometres. I will have to stop the climbing every forty minutes so my heart can slow down its beating to a normal rythm, instead of continuing it acceleration until it bursts my chest. I am also heavily sweating thanks to the effort and a burning midday sun.

As we almost reached the mountain top, we settle near a sugar cane field to gather our remaining energy. Exhausted with fatigue and hunger, I'm close to hallucinating. I have a strong impression of having lived this scene before. In a dream! Dan sitting in the rock in front of me, admiring the green mountains with small villages on them and the brilliant blue sky, while I'm getting my energy back sitting on my rock. I had dreamed this very moment and place a couple of nights ago, and the memory I have of it fits precisely and vividely with the moment. This was doubtelessly due to the mixture of heights, intense physical effort and heat.

We get offered a stick of sugar cane, cut in three pieces of approximately forty centimetres by a kind lady farmer and a sharp billhook. We tear away the green skin to reach the white flesh, of which we suck the sweetness while resuming slowly our walk toward the heights.

At the top, we halt at a restaurant / hotel and we feast on today's special, a mixture of sticky rice and vegetables with local pickles and chillies. Delicious. And three litre bottles of water. Our waiter, a twelve years old kid, teaches me how to say "namaste" in three local languages. They correspond to three different castes of the region. In Limboo, "sawaro". "Khamri" in Lepcha, a language close to Tibetan. And "kyapso che" in Bhutia. After a much deserved one hour break and a tasty lunch, the lake awaits us just half a kilometre away from here.

We remove our shoes to cross the bridge going onto the lake, rolling the prayers rolls on our way. We pray looking at the lake, with two other Buddhists by our side. Hiro is of Buddhist faith too, and he's closing his eyes while praying. We drink some holy water from the lake, which we purified with Dan's SteriPEN that he bought in Kathmandu. 99,9999% of the bacterias are killed by leaving the SteriPEN in half a litre of holy water during forty eight seconds. We prey some more after each sip.

It' s getting too late to walk back to Yuksom, so we decide to rent a Jeep to go to Pelling, further to the West. The tourist season only begins in a few weeks (from the end of September till December, then from March to mid-June) and nobody is interested in going to Pelling with us. Since the driver can't fill his Jeep with more tourists, we have to pay him for the whole vehicle, instead of buying single seats for each of us. We negociate the journey at Rs700.

Dinner at the hotel / resto-bar of Pelling, where they will play live music every evening... a month from now! A dozen employees of the hotel are all busy watching TV in the reception room, on the other side of the window that separates them from the restaurant section. We accompany our meal with some local strong beer (the "Hit") and some tasty honey-flavoured Sikkimese rum.

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