Trekking to Varsey

Roads Less Traveled, Part 2 of 3 by Arijit Cakraborty

Dinner had been too early so I went for an evening stroll. I had to buy a comb (though I am the least likely person to use it)and badly needed some tea. To people of Jorthang a tea stall means a stall where you can buy tea leaves. I found the ratio of wine shops to a real tea stall to be not less than 40:1 (There was only one tea stall). Then began my quest for a comb. There was one single comb available that night for sale in whole Jorthang. I was proud to possess it for a mere 20 bucks (The next day was Hut-baar and combs were selling at Rs. 2 each). Up to this everything went absolutely according to plans.

The next morning I was to leave for Hilley. I sensed the first sign of trouble when I went to the bus stand for information. The road is badly damaged, no bus is going to Hilley was the answer I had. I got the information verified from local tourist information office and decided to go for my second option, jeep. (They call it taxi here.) But bad news was waiting for me there too. There is no regular taxi service to Hilley. If I am to go, I have to reserve a whole jeep for myself as no other team is going to Varsey this time of the year. I was utterly surprised and absolutely unprepared for any such situation. I realized I should have been more careful. I just took this trek too easy. I know too little about the place to decide an alternate route myself. I don't even have a good map. My schedule is so tight that I cannot lose even a single day. If I failed to reach Hilley the next day, everything will be ruined. I was suddenly feeling too tired to assess the situation and went straight to bed. I had a bad dream that night.

Being at the belly of a bowl, Jorthang gets a late morning sun. I am always an early riser when am on tour. So I had plenty of time before the taxi counter opened. Just at the outskirts of the town there was a cantilever bridge over river Rangit, one of the tributaries of river Tista. The view from the bridge was simply breathtaking. The spot down there where Rammam-Khola (Khola means river in Nepali) meets Rangit was basking in early morning sun. The different shades of green were just glowing like emerald.

I rushed down to the wide sandy bed of Rangit. It was thick green all around. The air was still & heavy with a peculiar pungent wild smell. Stiff cliffs rose straight up on my right. Standing at the base it's difficult to fix a scale for height. But my head reeled when I looked straight up. On my left was Rangit, big & gushing. On the other hand Rammam-Khola, flowing down from my right at about right angles to Rangit, was cool, green and crystal clear. The rhythm wonderfully poetic and nobody else except me to enjoy the beauty. The whole place was as if freshly picked from the classical countryside painting series of Constable or Wilson. The only difference was probably the absence of a fly-fisher and the dramatic addition of the cliff.

After a while I could not resist putting my shoes off and getting into the cool shallow waters of Rammam-Khola. The advantage you have when you are traveling alone is that you can follow your heart without worrying least about anything or anyone else. Now I was feeling absolutely free from any tension. Even if I fail to reach Hilley today, I can easily spend three lazy days on the banks of Rammam-Khola and go back home. Probably the best thing about being a vagabond is that you don't have to have a destination. As I didn't have any booking anywhere, I was as good as a vagabond.

When I walked up to the top, the sleepy little town was bubbling with people and colour. It was the weekly "Hut". The streets were suddenly transformed into huge multicoloured supermarkets of vegetable, fruits, pullovers, sunglasses ( ..and combs! ), Hrithik Roshan posters, shawls, traditional Sikimeese dress - all sorts of things. People all around Jorthang travel pretty long distances to gather here for some brisk business.

I had my little own business to do. When I reached the taxi stand, local agents thronged round me. They invented innovative stories to convince me how difficult it was to get to Hilley and how they were going to make my life easy if I was wise enough to spend a mere 2000 bucks. With a typical "Gariahat-style" bargaining that figure came down to 800. Suddenly some "fool" butted in and advised me to take a regular taxi to Ribdi, which is at a walking distance from Hilley, instead of booking a whole jeep for myself. And for a young man like me it would be a ômaximum 45 minute or so walk, and that too without a guide.

Now Ribdhi was a new name for me & I was not quite sure what to do. The proposition was no doubt lucrative. I bought some time from the agents and rushed for some authentic information about this Ribdi. On a detailed map I found Ribdi to be at a distance of "10" from Hilley (No units were mentioned).

Authentic sources verified that Hilley was at a walkable distance from Ribdi, but the time required varied from "20 minutes" to "4 hours". I was ready to go for even the highest bid of "4 hours" and decided to try a regular taxi to Ribdi.

There was only one taxi service in a day for Ribdi. That too at 1:30 pm. So in any case I couldn't reach Hilley that day. The only way I could save a vital day was to trek straight to Varsey from Ribdi the next day. I supposed that was not as difficult as it seemed. I got a rear seat in the jeep @ 60 bucks and felt real happy about all the money I saved. Had plenty of time.

So I went to the big flat field with huge swings. The trick is to swing all by yourself, without any push. You have to use the flexibility of the bamboo structure. I learnt that some sort of swing competition was going to take place. My desperate efforts on the swing were highly appreciated by 5 year old kids. They literally rolled on the ground with laughter as I slipped trying a standing trick or while my long ropes got tangled. I realized it was not my cup of tea.

I took some "momos" for lunch. Momos in Sikkim has a distinctive round shape (unlike the more common "puli-pithey" varieties) and a very thick skin. Then I went to the taxi stand to search for my jeep to Ribdi.

Part 3