Dzongri, Sikkim. November, 2000
After a week of action-packed white water rafting on the remote Tamur River in eastern Nepal, our group of intrepid adventurers dwindled down to just three – me, my friend Patty, and her husband Jack. For us, two weeks in Nepal trekking and white water rafting weren’t quite enough. Since we were in the neighborhood, Sikkim was on our list too. This remote area of the Himalayas is a special part of India that few travelers get to see.
We said goodbye to our group at the end of the river and took off in a truck, transferred to a tiny car, and finally ended up in a jeep for the drive to the Indian border. Once through the checkpoint, we walked across the border into India and negotiated with a gaggle of Indian taxi drivers for a ride to Darjeeling. Moments later we were forced to negotiate again, this time with the local police who stopped us for no reason except some easy cash (bribe). We reluctantly paid the “foreigner fine” and were on our way. Welcome to India!
Our plan was to go overland from the border, heading north to Darjeeling, a former British hill station and the trekking center of northeast India. This city is also the burial place of the legendary Tenzing Norgay, the sherpa who first summitted Mount Everest along with Sir Edmund Hillary. A perfect area for some epic Himalayan trekking!
After ten days roughing it in remote areas of Nepal, we splurged for a few nights in the nicest hotel in Darjeeling, enjoying a real shower for the first time in weeks. Darjeeling is famous for its tea plantations and was the place British rulers escaped the heat of India. It’s a beautiful town with a British colonial vibe, great local markets, and amazing views of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak.
After a few days of hot showers and cold beers, we set off for the harrowing drive on scary Indian roads to the tiny village of Yuksom. Miraculously, we arrived alive and were greeted by our crew – one young guide and two big yaks who we nicknamed “Brownie” and “Blackie”. The yaks would serve as our porters for this 4-day high altitude adventure. Since we had big yaks to carry our stuff, we decided it would be a good idea to buy a case of beer for the trek. Big mistake.
The trek began at Kanchenjunga National Park in Yuksom (5,800 foot altitude), and the first day was a 10 mile hike going straight up to the small village of Tshokha (10,000 foot altitude). The air at Tshokha was noticeably thinner and the quick ascent was felt by all, with wobbly legs, racing pulses, and throbbing heads. At that point, the last thing we needed was a case of warm beer that we had strapped to poor Blackie! The high altitude also resulted in very little sleep, but the views were absolutely stunning and well worth the pain!
The following morning we continued the uphill climb to Dzongri (13,200 foot altitude) where we spent the night in the trekker’s hut and planned to set out early the following morning to catch the sunrise from the peak. The guesthouse was rustic, kind of barn-like, and it was a cold, November day high in the Himalayas.
We slept very little due to the high altitude and the freezing temperatures so we passed the time listening to the night sounds; mice nibbling on the straw, yaks snorting, and porters snoring. Around 4am our guide gave us an unnecessary wake-up call.
We crawled out of our big straw bed, snacked on a few handfuls of trail mix washed down with a sip of hot tea. Then we set out for the final stretch to the top, hoping to reach the summit of Dzongri peak in time for sunrise. With hearts racing and lungs burning, the high altitude sucked every last ounce of energy. It was painful. Patty cried, I moaned, and Jack breathlessly cheered us on, five painful steps at a time.
Living in Hawaii, our bodies were used to sea level and we struggled our way to the top, arriving just as the sun rose, lighting Mount Kanchenjunga and the rest of the Himalayan range.
The three of us stood at the top, soaking up the incredible Himalayan mountain view with the sound of prayer flags flapping in the wind. We each gave a little prayer of thanks to whatever God gave us the strength to drag our tired asses up to the summit, thankful for the chance to experience this remote area of Sikkim.
Standing there gazing around, Patty commented: “You know what would make this even more perfect? A cup of hot tea. Wouldn’t that be amazing, sitting here with this view while sipping a cup of tea?” My response: “Yeah, right. Dream on!”
Moments later we heard a sound just behind us and we turned to see a Tibetan porter, wearing only flip-flops and a light windbreaker, running up to the summit with a pot of steaming hot tea. We sipped our tea and savored the perfection of that moment…hot tea and the Himalayan view at nearly 14,000 feet.
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” ~ Ibn Battuta