Our friend, Janet, collected us at 8:45 and took us to the bus stop. The bus appeared on time at 9:20. Is this a good omen? Late in Birmingham and even later in London so it wasn't! Took a taxi to Ceili's, our bags were rather heavy. Alan, having driven six hundred miles yesterday, was in bed by 18:45 without any food! I watched a DVD with a can of soup. Bed by 23:00, but couldn't sleep and was still awake at 2:30!
Up at 6:00, by Underground to Heathrow arriving at 8.15. Met our fellow trekkers and checked in. We were bussed out to the 'plane, thought it a little unusual, and boarded at 10:45. The plane, a 747, was delayed and the reason for the bussing became clear. A suspicious-looking man had boarded in First class and security had to be called to remove him. He was found to be carrying illegal substances and a weapon. How had he managed to get through the airport security? We had to deplane so that the aircraft could be thoroughly searched. At 16:10 the flight was cancelled and we were all to go to the Sheraton hotel for the night and try again tomorrow. Of course, we had to reclaim our baggage that had been checked in first. Finally arrived at the hotel about 19:15. Sorted ourselves out, met the rest of the group in the bar and went for dinner. Pretty grim, the only vegetarian was salad! Samosas did appear much later.
Up before 5:00, breakfast. Alan was disgusted - no bananas. Then off to catch the bus at 6:00. Discovered that Janet, Stephen's wife, had had enough and was going home. Checked in again at Heathrow. Most people were given new baggage tags, but Kate, Stephen and the box of mugs were not. Enplaned at 8:30 in the same seats, in the same aircraft, with the same crew as before. Engines started, except one of them didn't. Captain, very apologetic, explained that the ignitors in one had failed. Sandwiches and coffee while it was repaired. Taxied towards the runway, Captain announced that he couldn't take off as a de-icer wasn't working! Taxied to a stand while the mechanics worked on it. By this time some of the passengers were a little upset. Eventually the Captain decided that we would all deplane and the ground staff would do something. Reclaimed our baggage from the carousel again, except for Kate, Stephen and the box of mugs. These were missing. Eventually found that they hadn't even been loaded because they still had yesterday's tags. Just as well we hadn't gone to Delhi. Eventually we all joined the queue at the BA desk. We were given £2.00 vouchers for refreshment. Various rumours were now flying around and we got to know some of our fellow travellers quite well, to say nothing of the group bonding within our own group. Finally issued new tickets for a special flight at 19:00. We were told that we were the last, so goodness knows what the rest were to do. Issued with a £5.00 voucher and told that we would get another when we had checked in our luggage yet again. We did, so we pooled them and went for something to eat as it was now 16:30. Before boarding, I filled in a complaint form; it might be worth somethingt. Finally, at 19:30, on a 777, we were on our way. Loud cheers and hand clapping from the passengers and possibly some of the crew as well.
Arrived Delhi 8:50. We were due to fly to Bagdogra at 10:05 but Rex, our leader, had rescheduled to give us a day in Delhi and to fly tomorrow. It was nice to see Rex again. He even looked as if he was pleased to see us. Briefing from Rex, who said that the walking had had to be altered because of problems between West Bengal and Sikkim. This meant that we could not walk over the border but would have to go on a bus. I think that by this time we were all so punch drunk with changes that we would have been happy whatever he said. He also said that three others of our party, who had arrived on time, had gone on to wait in Darjeeling. Lunch in the hotel, The Imperial, very grand and imposing. Full of paintings from the Raj, mainly of the British killing Indians in various battles. City tour followed but we were all rather tired by then so I don't think that we took a lot in. I think we saw a Hindu temple, some Lutyens buildings and the site of Ghandi's funeral pyre. I had intended to go for a swim but by the time we returned it was quite cool so didn't bother. The dinner at the hotel was very good.
Repacked so that we could leave our non-trekking bits at the hotel for collection on the 23rd November. Left for the airport at 7:45, a very respectable time. Checked in and went through the, now usual, body searches and bag checks. We'd been warned to pack all batteries in the hold baggage or they would be removed and held for the duration of the flight. This included camera batteries but watch batteries were allowed. The flight to Bagdogra left on time at 10:10. A nice little aircraft, 737, centre isle with three seats each side. Alan and I were separated. I had a window seat on the left-hand side and he was in the row in front with the right hand side window. Kate offered to change with Alan but it was only a two-hour flight so we didn't bother. I had the best side, as not only were the Himalayas in all their glory but the Captain named them for us. This time Everest was clear of cloud, unlike a previous trip to Nepal in 1997. We landed at 12:10 and we then had to wait for our bus to arrive. Slight problems, but it eventually came at 13:45. We'd been hoping to get to Darjeeling in daylight but no chance now. The drive was beautiful, very steep, with sharp hairpins. The road ran alongside the famous railway for much of the time and we were lucky as we even saw a couple of trains. Apparently, although there is a scheduled service, it only occasionally runs! When we tired of looking at the views and the huge vibrant wild Poinsettias, we amused ourselves reading the roadside homilies. "Hurry burry spoils the curry", "If you are looking for survival do not believe in fast arrival", " You are married, divorce speed". All good stirring stuff. As we wouldn't be in Darjeeling in time for "afternoon tea" we stopped at Kursong at 16:15. Here we had sandwiches, vegetable momos, goat's cheese and vegetable pakoras. It was here that I realised that I was the only vegetarian on the trek. Most unusual. We arrived at the hotel at 18:30 and met Gill, Drew and Lindsey who had travelled the previous day. It was a very old fashioned hotel in the old Raj hill station style. We had a coal fire in our room and the staff insisted on turning down our bed covers and inserting a hot water bottle each! We were asked not to have a bath as they were short of water but showers were OK. I read the house rules which laid down the standards of dress expected from their guests. These included no pyjamas (men), no night-dresses([women) and no slacks(women) in the dining room! They did make exceptions for trekkers, fortunately. They had gone to the effort of making me a huge vegetable pie as an alternative to the chicken but I had to disappoint them as I only had some of the Nepali spinach and daal which was very good and probably much more to my taste.
There was a man at the hotel selling beautiful Tankas, silk embroidery on silk, hand painting on silk and paintings on paper. I liked two of the paintings on silk one of a Lama and another of an old man. Unfortunately he didn't take plastic and we thought we might run short of cash on the trek if we paid in rupees. They were beautiful and they were worth it at US$150 each. A couple of people bought some smaller things from him so his wait for the electricity to return hadn't been wasted.
I was cold in bed. The blankets were so heavy that I couldn't get comfortable so I had very little sleep. Breakfast at 8:00 and we had time to have a quick look at the hotel before 9:00 when we set off in the 4x4's for Pelling. I also made time to write four postcards to my offspring and buy some Windamere tea before we left. Yesterday's drive was quite tame compared to today's; even sharper bends, ascents and descents seeming almost vertical and bigger and better potholes. There were also signs saying to take care as the road had "slipped" in places. Descended to the Rangit River where we crossed and cleared interstate customs. Sikkim was a separate country until 1975 and it still has restricted access and duty free goods for sale. We stopped in Jorethang for our packed lunch. I think that it was here that Diane had her first experience of a real Indian toilet! We arrived in Pelling around 15:30 where we were given a welcome drink, I'm not sure what it was, it tasted like a very sickly sherry. We went for a short wander but there wasn't much to see, just the usual small village shops. We were supposed to have a bonfire on the hotel roof and drink chang (thumba?) but it poured down so the idea was abandoned.
No morning call so we assumed that the sky was cloudy and didn't get up to see the sunrise. Alan had been up anyway, at 2:00, with "the runs". The hotel staff actually forgot. We left at 8:00 for the short drive to the Buddhist monastery. It was interesting and quite peaceful despite the chanting. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos of the paintings inside. I would have liked longer to look at them but I felt inhibited by the presence of the monks. I don't think that they would have minded. We then drove another hour and a half to Utterly along another bumpy road. Here we collected our dzos (cross between a yak and a cow) and the walk finally started. The way was through trees and no views but it was good to stretch our legs. We stopped by a stream to have our packed lunch. There were masses of Mahonia bushes, trees in full bloom, which gave the whole area a yellow look. On looking closer there were many more flowers including purple and white tree orchids. After lunch the way continued upward quite steeply but it was all at an easy pace. This was a good thing, as we had all been sitting around travelling for days. In our case, since 5:15 the previous Thursday morning. We arrived at the large open campsite at 14:30. The kitchen crew and mess tent was there so there was juice etc., but not the dzos with our bags. It very soon became chilly but the dzos arrived with our warm clothes. I think that I will suffer at the camps as the mist comes down and swirls around. Rex says that we can expect it every day. Our first dinner cooked by the kitchen crew, I thought it was good and as usual there was much too much. We do know that it is never wasted! Rex had said that if any day there was nothing suitable for me (i.e. vegetarian and not deep fried) he would ask the crew if I could have some of their daal baht. That was very thoughtful of him, but as it turned out the cook, Norbo, always had something. Camp hours now, so early to bed. I was soon really warm in my sleeping bag and slept well.
Bed "tea" at 5:30. There was frost on the ground but the temperature inside the tent was a warm 6°C. We started walking at 7:15 and as the sun was up it was quite warm enough to wear shorts. We walked up to where we were to camp this evening and then walked back along the Singalila Ridge to a viewpoint at Kalthar. The original route would have had us walking to the camp from the West Bengal border to here. Here we had lunch and admired the views. A small group went on to Singalila Peak, Alan and I did our own little peak and others did their own thing. We wandered back to the view point where we sat and talked to Tashi (our Sirdar) for a while before returning to the camp. We then sat in the sun and aired our sleeping bags etc. The packed lunch had not been up to standard so Rex got the kitchen crew to produce some Noodle soup. Those that had it were very impressed.
Getting colder in the mornings, 4°C in the tent with ice on the inside of the flysheet. Bed tea at 5:30. This was to be the norm and we had discussed having "camp time" where we could change the clocks and call 5:30 the more respectable time of 8:30 and hence bedtime would be 23:00 not 20:00! We left at 7:05 and as we were climbing we were soon quite warm. The sunshine also helped. We walked along a lovely, long, undulating ridge, alternating between Nepal and Sikkim as the ridge marked the border. About 8:00 we saw a panorama of snow-capped hills. They were so beautiful that we all just stood and looked at them. The ridge had lots of Berberis plants, I do find it strange that we have these in our garden. Lunch stop 11:30. The mist was now swirling around and we all got quite cold. I put on my long trousers and fleece but I didn't really warm up. Arrived at the camp at about 15:00 and again we were before the dzos. They arrived about an hour later. The trouble is that once you've arrived there is not much to do until the baggage also arrives. I went up a little ridge on the Nepali side and took some beautiful pictures of clouds and mist swirling around. No big hills though, but we should see them again tomorrow. There was no water for washing tonight, as it was too far to carry for unnecessary things! It was a beautiful clear night with lots of stars. We saw Mars, the Milky Way and various other constellations, the names of which I have forgotten. I think Cassiopeia was one of them. Dinner was early at 18:15 and we were snuggled up in our sleeping bags by 19:35. It was -2°C inside the tent. Reading in my sleeping bag was difficult as I was trying to keep my hand warm. I eventually pulled my book inside the bag and had my whole body covered! It got a bit airless though!
It was really cold, as the campsite was a frost hollow so we were well wrapped up to start the walking at 7:05. While the others had their breakfasts I took advantage of the clear skies and took photos of Kanchenjunga, I might not see it again. Another short day of undulations along the ridge and contouring around the hillside. The latter part was along a snowy path through a Rhododendron forest, quite like Scotland. We arrived at the campsite about 12:30. This was covered with snow, and perched in the middle were our mess tables and stools! About 14:30 the mist began to creep in from the surrounding hills and it became steadily colder. The tents had been pitched on the snow and as the ground sheets leak we expected some moisture inside them. We put plastic bags down the sides of the foam mattresses on which we put our things. Again early to bed to keep warm, but having warmed up it was very pleasant lying in my sleeping bag listening to the footsteps crunching on the snow as people wandered over to the toilet tent. Not so pleasant for those who had to wander, although lying thinking about it was always worse than going, and coming back to the still warm sleeping bag was bliss.
The floor of the tent was soaking and the water had even come through the camp mattresses. Not through our thermarests though. My rucsac and Sigg bottle, down the side of the tent, had frozen to the groundsheet. The inside tent temperature at 5:30 was -4°C. By now I'd perfected the art of undressing and then dressing my top half, while still in my sleeping bag. Of course, people with sense didn't bother. They just piled more clothes on top when they got up. More contouring and undulating along the ridge. There was still snow on the North sides but once the sun was out it became warm enough to walk in shorts despite the wind remaining chill. Lots of the dwarf Rhododendron that gives off the aromatic smell when the leaves are crushed. They are collected and used for offerings and it would have been nice to bring some home to burn in the fire. Had some good views of Makalu with Everest just visible on the right. Another very short day and early arrival at the camp site around 11:45. A very pleasant spot and more open than last night. After lunch Alan and I went for a walk around the head of the valley to the lake. The view down the valley was very impressive as it was in a deep gorge. The lake was pretty with lots of prayer flags. Tashi later told me that all lakes in the hills are holy lakes. As we were coming back down we met some of the others going up. We decided not to go directly to the camp but followed the path around to two other smaller lakes. Arrived back about 15:30 when it weas starting to get cold again. I had a nasty experience in the toilet tent. I was leaning forward and my glasses fell off, right down into the slit! I instantly panicked and shouted for Alan to bring a torch, I wasn't going to put my hand into something I couldn't see properly. He thought I said toilet paper and was frantically looking for that. I calmed down enough to pull my trousers up and explained why I needed it. They were rescued and quickly washed and disinfected. Nobody was unkind enough to mention it to me later. As the sun was setting and the mist rising we saw a Brocken Spectre which lasted quite a while coming and going. Some of the party had never seen one so they were quite fascinated. No matter how many one has seen, I think they are still wonderful.
At my 5:30 check the temperature was again -4°C with a very heavy frost outside. After the sunrise, which was not as spectacular as expected, the mess tent was quickly in the sun and became quite warm. Of course it was all relative. The walk started past two lakes, one of which we had seen the previous day. As well as the prayer flags, there were hundreds of flat stones, which had been turned on their edge as a mark of respect to the gods. We then climbed up to the pass. We didn't stay long as we wanted to get to the next pass while the weather was clear. On to the Daphe Ve Pass, whic was spectacular with views all round, from the west, beyond Makalu and Everest, right into Butan in the east. We must have stayed here for a full hour just marvelling at the view and taking photographs. Unfortunately Rex was looking at the view on the way to the pass and tripped and fell. He pulled one of his deltoids and it shook him up a bit The next bit must have been quite difficult for him as it was a long snowy and slippery descent. As we neared the valley bottom the vegetation changed to Rhododendrons and Berberis followed by Juniper and Pine. Lunch was taken in the pretty open valley which had been the camp site for the previous trip as it was open with plenty of water. We stayed for an hour having lunch and warming ourselves in the sun. Of course as we were at the valley bottom we had to ascend again to continue on our way. I wondered how the dzos managed on the narrow path but of course they were not trying to avoid being scratched by the various prickly plants. Crested the ridge and then we were on our way down to the next valley where we were to camp. Another flat camp site with a stream running nearby. It was only 14:30 and the sun went behind the hills by 14:45. Resigned myself to another long cold evening, only getting out of my sleeping bag for food! It was actually a slightly warmer evening than the previous one and it was a comfortable +2°C when we returned after the evening meal. My hands are getting swollen with the altitude and chapped with the cold.
Camp rest day, but still awake by 5:00 but refused to get up before 7:00. The sun was now shining on the tent and pleasantly warm. Hair wash, clothes wash and air sleeping bags. Lindsey went for a long walk but the rest of us were less energetic. Some not even leaving the campsite but just passing the time reading and chatting and having gentle strolls. Today was the last day of Diwali and the crew decorated the mess tent with streamers, balloons, butter lamps and candles. Even the dog had a couple of balloons tied around his neck. We were treated to a firework display before dinner and Norbo, the cook, excelled himself by cooking a special meal, beautifully laid out on platters. There was even a cake and a bottle of Rum. The temperature inside the tent at 14:45 was 25°C, at 15:15 it was 12°C and at 17:00 4°C. I didn't take it after that. Lindsey had reached the Nepal border and his maximum altitude was 5086m with an approximate ascent and descent of 1120m.
Not so cold this morning, about 4°C. The sun was on the camp site early and it was warm enough for me to start walking in shorts even though it was level walking . This soon changed to a stiff climb up to the pass at 4239m. Good views looking back at our route of the previous two days. Short descent, about 200m down to the valley. It was quite steep and slippery underfoot as the ground was still frozen. We sat at the head of the valley for a long time to allow the dzos to catch up and overtake. Yet another steep climb upwards to the next pass. We were tempted to stay and take photos but were told that slightly further on the views were even better. They were. The campsite was in a slight hollow and after lunch we all did our own thing. Alan and I first walked southwards, down the ridge above the camp, taking photos all the time. We then turned around and went back to the camp and beyond. Again taking more photos. It really was a breathtaking area for views. It was so beautiful that it was difficult to keep from crying. Kabru in all its glory was the focal point of the high hills but the layers of hazy successive ridges had their own beauty. I think that we all stood on the ridge to watch the sunset and then the mad dive for warm clothes as the temperature did its dramatic drop. Damp clothes left outside the tents were soon frozen. We were in bed by 19:30 and it was too cold for me to hold my book to read. I listened to my mini disc player for about and hour but I only had limited battery life and wanted to keep some for another night. The hot water in the Sigg bottle helped to kick start the warming process!
At 5:00 it was -6°C and the upper surface of my sleeping bag was frosty. Most mornings it had a large damp area and it is not good to have to pack it away like that. If we were early at the camp sites I always tried to air it in the sun. The sun reached the campsite before we left at 7:15 so I could start in shorts again. We had the initial climb up the ridge that we had wandered along yesterday, harder with our rucsacs on, even though they were fairly light. Then we had the usual steep descent with snow underfoot. I was beginning to think that poles would have been a good idea for this trip. There were only four of us without them. However, we were soon in the valley we had looked down upon yesterday. We crossed the stream and followed a well graded path up to the next col. A short rest and then down again. Also with snow underfoot making it slippery. Mike, who had poles, slipped and fell a short way but he said that he was OK. Crossing the stream at he bottom we saw two Indian Robins. They didn't really look like the ones at home but that is what Tashi called them. The next long ascent was very short steep zig zags and hard going at that altitude. On gaining the ridge we could see that now there was mist in the both the valley we had just left and the one were going to. We were still in beautiful sunshine on our ridge. As we watched, yesterday's campsite was slowly engulfed. We descended into the next valley and were soon in the mist ourselves. The campsite was cold and misty with slight drizzle when we reached it. Lunch included a bowl of soup, which was most welcome and even I had some. The mess tent gave us some shelter but not much and after lunch we all just stood around with people telling jokes until the tents arrived. It would have been much better to have been walking but then we wouldn't gave seen the views. Short days are a problem. The new dzos arrived with three horses, plus another couple of dogs. Rex made a small ceremony of paying off the old ones and their handlers. They were told that they were to take our friendly camp dog when they went tomorrow morning. The mist remained all afternoon. If it had been nice we had intended to walk on our own as it was such a short day but it was too miserable. We just read in our tents. At one point there was a commotion as one of the dzos came charging through the tents. Fortunately not crashing into any, as they would have damaged both the tent and its occupants. At dinner it was decided that as tomorrow was another short day we would have a lie in and bed tea would be at 6:00. It was generally agreed that we would rather start early and see the views than have a longer lie in, then if the mist didn't appear in the afternoon it was a bonus.
What a change this morning. We were above the mist and the sun was shining on the high hills. It was still -3°C in the tent and this was at the late time of 6:00. Again my sleeping bag was covered with frost but Alan's was not. In fact his only ever became slightly damp around the opening near his mouth. During breakfast the old yak men departed, taking the dog with them on a rope. Some of us were sorry to se him go. The cloud had covered the hills before we left at 7:30 and the camp was in mist. It made a pleasant change to start walking down a valley and we were soon below the mist. As we were descending the pace was rather faster than we usually started off. In fact it seemed to be almost running in comparison. We crossed the bridge over the stream and than ascended on another well graded track contouring around the hillside. There was a little sun, which glinted on the frost-covered grass and leafless shrubs. All too soon we were in the mist and even walking up hill it was chilly. The col looked interesting with lots of large rocks and dotted with prayer flags. The swirling mist gave it a spooky appearance and despite the chill we stayed a while. Shame about the lack of views. The descent was easy and despite trying to slow down we were at the campsite by 10:45. Our friendly dog had escaped from its rope and returned to us. He was very pleased to see us and he obviously prefers our company to that of the herders. Perhaps we just feed him better! Alan's back had been giving him problems in the cold mornings during his early morning squat and getting in and out of his sleeping bag in the cold. Once he got warm and walking it eased. However when sitting on a rock in the cold and damp before the mess tent arrived, it was painful and he had trouble standing up. I hope that it is not a disc problem. The mist turned to rain and then fine snow. Again we all sheltered in the mess tent until after lunch. Soup was again included. I think I would have some lunch every day if it had been soup. The afternoon passed much like yesterday and even I didn't feel like having much of a wash. At dinner we were all a bit subdued despite the reported sighting of a snow leopard by Sangre. The mist was so thick that it was difficult to find the toilet tents. It was worth taking a compass bearing but, of course, that didn't avoid the other tents! Tonight I perfected the art of reading with self, book and torch all under the shoulder baffle of the sleeping bag. A bit claustrophobic and airless unfortunately.
The 5:00 (at 4:30) temperature check was -7°C Alan's back much worse. He managed to get to the toilet tent but had a great deal of difficulty standing up again and only managed to do so by pulling on the tent pole. Somehow he managed to struggle into his sleeping bag but just couldn't move to get out again. I told Rex who called for Kate (a doctor). It was decided that it was severe muscular spasm and that he should go down to the hotel in Yoksom. At the moment he wasn't going anywhere, as he still couldn't move! Gina (nurse and aromatherapist) gave him a deep massage with essential oils and it eased sufficiently for him stand up. Of course, he was upset but it really wasn't an option to continue. He might not be able to move at all tomorrow after another night in the tent and cold. He had breakfast while I packed for both of us and Rex arranged for a Sherpa to take us and to carry Alan's rucsac, and a dzo to take our camp bags. The ground was icy with a very heavy frost but at least it was clear. Pasang Dorcha was the one to draw the short straw to come with us. Rex thought of sending a tent with us but decided that as we were both "good movers" we would be as well to go all the way. He reckoned it would take 9-10 hours. We set off at 7:30 and once Alan was moving he seemed reasonably comfortable. We passed another trekkers camp just below ours and it was the first we had seen in the whole of the trip. They were at the washing water stage and not yet up. Lazy bones, we'd been up for hours! We passed the trekkers hut in Dzongri where we actually spoke to someone. Alan started the altitude log, so although the time is correct the heights etc are slightly out. We had a short climb onto the ridge. This turned into a lovely walk, alternating between being out in the open with magnificent views to Pandim, Jopuno etc swirling in cloud, and walking through Rhododendron forest. The sun was gradually melting the frosted branches and icicles and it looked like a Disney film. We walked quickly as Alan seemed to be OK. I think he was beginning to feel a bit of a fraud. The route now began to show evidence of being a trekkers route, i.e. tissues and sweet paper droppings. We were now on the main drag. To confirm this, we met a party of trekkers from the USA, all making hard weather of the upward route. Of course it was all right for us, we were going down hill and were much more used to the altitude. They didn't know about Alan's back. The vegetation began to change with bamboo now appearing. We passed through the pretty village of Tsokha but didn't stop. The route became very steep and I was worried that it would jar Alan's back if he stumbled. Again we could see the gradual change in vegetation as we were now in a mixed deciduous forest. We decided that a rest was a good idea so we stopped and Alan, foolishly, sat on the ground. It took both Dorcha and me to lift him back onto his feet again as he was in pain and couldn't get up! He stopped thinking that he was a fraud and could have continued with the trek. We carried on to to Bakim and saw a sign saying Dzongri 7 miles. We had another stop at a house just south of here and had a cup of tea. It was the best tea I have ever tasted. It had a lovely smoky flavour. I don't even like tea but I enjoyed that one. There was another sign here, Yoksom 12k 300m so we knew just how far we had to go,. I thought it interesting that the first sign was in miles and the second in kilometres. We rested here for about 30 minutes, sitting on a wall, before continuing down to a bridge across the Rathong Ghu. As usual, the bridge was very rickety with planks missing but it was quite safe. Now we had a steep uphill climb. As we were at a lower altitude it was fairly easy. Once we reached the level (!) path we stopped for a packed lunch in a little concrete shelter. This had a seat so Alan risked sitting down. Norbo had given the lunches to Dorcha to carry and there was enough for ten, we hardly made a dent in them. According to Dorcha the rest of the way was "mainly level" of course this was Nepal/Sikkim level which really meant lots of up and down. We could see Yoksom, looking quite near, when we were still about 2 hours walk away. The vegetation was now very lush with various colourful flowers. There were lots of blue ones that looked as if they belonged to the Gentian family but they were a lot bigger than any I had previously seen. Just before we reached the road head at Yoksom there were some beautiful smelling pink flowers on a tree that Dorcha said only flowered at Diwali. Possibly a frangipani? Finally we arrived at our destination the hotel "Tashi Gang" about 15:50. As we walked through the entrance, the telephone at reception was ringing. The receptionist answered it and handed it to Dorcha saying "Its for you" - rather spooky! The hotel was almost empty so we had a choice of rooms. We opted for a suite as we could be spending a lot of time in it. We had tea with Dorcha in the tea garden but he wouldn't stay long as he had his accommodation to organise, with friends in the village. We gave him a tip and he left saying he would be back later with the dzo. Now we had stopped walking we were beginning to feel the cold so hoped that our bags would not be too long. They arrived about 17:30, about an hour earlier than expected. Apparently there had been two dzos, one to carry the bags and one to keep the other company! We then unpacked and had a very welcome hot shower. We had previously ordered our dinner for 20:00, to give us plenty of time. The menu was extensive, but there wasn't much available. Basically, if you didn't want chicken or vegetables, forget it. For a change I had more choice. Rex had warned me that we should not expect too much and said that there might only be daal baht. What we had was very tasty, if a little cool. Alan made the mistake or ordering a chocolate pudding, a bad mistake as it was disgusting. We were in bed by 21:00, a late night for us. We were lovely and warm all night.
Alan had problems getting up and I had to help him dress, but again, once he was moving, things weren't too bad. The view from our window was of Kabru, snow covered and glinting in the sun. It was framed by nearer, lower hills, which made a perfect foil as they were dark with vegetation. Last night we were asked to order breakfast and we had ordered "Juice for one, fried eggs for one, turned, toast for one and tea for two" for 8:30. We had to order again, twice, when we sat down in the dining room, carefully avoiding the table we had used last night as it hadn't been cleared. I looked for the dormouse, as I had the fleeting vision of the "Mad Hatter's Tea Party". Alan had to order again, making it clear how he wanted his eggs and two seconds later everything arrived. Did they have two lots of eggs ready and just brought the correct ones? The tea was stewed and much too strong for me, but as I knew that the coffee was worse I just drank it. We asked the hotel if they had any post cards, they didn't but they could get some by this evening. We asked for 22 and stamps, no problem! We went for a gentle walk up the road to the helipad, which was slowly being built by one man and his stone chipping hammer. The road was also being built but that had a few more people. The technique was the same though. On returning to the hotel we sat in the garden drinking 7ups. We met Catriona, a Dutch lady whose party was also trekking, but returning today. Alan had chicken again for lunch and I had a plate of fresh fruit, which the hotel fetched specially for me from the market. We wandered to the shops and further along the road in the afternoon. Although Yoksam had a large secondary school and at least two primary schools and so obviously was the centre for the surrounding areas there was very little in the shops. I suppose it was because the villagers were mainly self-supporting for food. No postcards arrived as the bus (a 4x4 jeep like thing) driver was having to scour all the surrounding villages. Tomorrow some time, we were told, and could they please have some more money. Dinner wasn't so good tonight, perhaps we were less hungry after our lazy day. We moved tables again. We had three power cuts.
Getting up was still a problem but Alan did manage to dress himself so things are improving. We walked up to the Dubdi monastery in the morning. It was built in 1701 and is the oldest in Sikkim. I thought it was beautiful and so peaceful. The caretaker (?) unlocked it for us to have a look around inside but we weren't allowed to take photos. We sat in the sun outside for a while before wandering down and back to the hotel for lunch. Chicken again for Alan but no fruit for me. The 7up had also finished so we had to have Merinda, not very nice orangeade. We chatted to some of the Dutch group who had arrived yesterday. Only some of them had gone up to the Goechi La and it had taken them about 5 hours from Samity. It will be interesting to hear how our group does. Later we had a short walk to look at the "King's Throne" where the first king of Sikkim was crowned, interesting and in the process of renovation. In fact the whole of Yoksam looked as if money had appeared from somewhere for it to be repainted etc. Sitting in our sitting room, having a cup of tea and no biscuits which, we were told, were not available. We had seen packets of them in the market earlier, so we made a note to buy some tomorrow and smuggle them into the hotel. A knock on the door produced the manager and our postcards. I'm not sure how far the "bus" driver had to cast his net but 22 cards and stamps were produced. I think that the whole post card stock in Sikkim must have been bought up We were suitably grateful and forgave them the lack of biscuits! We then wrote all 22 and returned them to the manager for posting tomorrow. There was a post-box in the village but it didn't look as if it had been used for years and after the effort that had gone into procuring them we did not want them to rot in a disintegrating metal box. Dinner for me, was very good with a vegetable biryani and stuffed tomato. Alan had chicken korma again but with vegetable fried rice and a chapatti. He enjoyed it but again made a mistake of ordering a pudding, pineapple fritter. It was a canned pineapple ring covered with a chocolate cornflour sauce and of course, a cherry. The large bottles of beer have now finished and we only have one a night, honestly. We were happy to settle for two small bottles. Two power cuts tonight, both long and it was still off when we went to sleep.
No power when we got up, but the water was still warm enough for a quick shower. Our trousers were nearly dry on the balcony despite there being no sun this morning. I washed the long sleeved shirts, ever the optimist. Walked back along the path on which we'd arrived on Sunday, as far as the bridge. We had time now to admire the view and the way the path contoured around the hillside. The waterfall at the bridge was quite impressive and the pools looked very inviting but I wasn't tempted to try swimming despite the trip notes suggesting that it might be a good thing! Back at the hotel we chatted to a group of Bengalis who were very interested in what we'd been doing. They were very impressed by Alan's "great age". They even took a photo of him. Alan took some of them but I declined the invitation for "Aunty" to appear with them. No fruit, fresh or tinned, for lunch today and Alan's chips looked as if they were yesterdays refried. He said that the Chinese chicken was also grim. We seem to be finishing up all the hotel supplies and as there was no Merinda now we tried Splice, a sort of mango drink. Tried the market after lunch and saw lots of bottles of 7up and Merinda, and bought a sort of Bourbon biscuit and 3 small bars of Cadburys chocolate. The biscuits were rather like cardboard. We had dinner with Tashi and the head yak man who had arrived earlier. We greeted each other like long lost friends. We heard that only five had attempted the Goechi La. Tashi reckoned that we were now famous because of the speed of our retreat from Dzongi. We counted our money and decided that our bill would be about IRe 10,000 and that would leave us with almost IRe 4,000 for tips and camera duty. This wasn't enough, but we had great faith that with Rex's help we would be able to sort it out.
Settled our bill, IRe 9,400 so near enough to what I had thought. We walked up to meet the others at the road end but became fed up with waiting, we were much too early, so we walked to the market and bought some Cokes. We saw a couple of the hotel staff buying supplies and decided that they had been waiting for us to pay our bill so they had some money. When we returned to the hotel some of the others had arrived and they seemed as pleased to see us as we were to see them. Every one had arrived by 12:00 and all attacked the now available beers and cokes. Norbo cooked the lunch in a camp kitchen that they had set up over the road. Alan said that it was much better than the hotels and it looked it. The mist was down early and it was damp so there was no sitting in the garden chatting and looking at the view of Kabru as promised by the trip notes. Norbo excelled himself with the evening meal. It seemed quite strange to us to be part of a large group again with all the chatter and noise.
We left the hotel in the Mahindras (4x4) at about 8:00. We were sharing with Mike and Stephen again. The three of us were concerned about Alan's back as the roads were partly tarmac, partly dirt and stone and fully pitted with large holes. He managed to jam himself in the corner and was fine. I had more trouble being in the middle and the road seemed to consist of nothing but hairpin bends and road works. At one point we went over a land slip and the outside wheels were just on a plank. Alan thought it was great but my stomach had other ideas. We stopped at Jorethang where the shops were selling duty free booze. I found a chemist and bought some more Brufen for Alan but they didn't have any Valium or Temazepam/Diazepam (muscle relaxants). I did get a new battery for my camera, obviously this was a thriving place. Back in the 4x4s we continued to Melli where we crossed the border. Tashi did the paper work and the rest had lunch in a roadside café. We saw lots of monkeys and birds. Jill later reported that she'd seen a snake. I wish she'd said as I would have liked to have seen it. We had been following the Ranget river to Melli where it joined the Rongni. Later in West Bengal it became the Tista. It became an old friend and we were sorry to leave it. We arrived at the Himalayia Hotel in Kalimpong at about 14:00. The hotel was faded Raj but the rooms were great, double bed, en suite shower, a small sitting room and an outside sitting area. Kalimpong was a large town and we had a wander around. Found a chemist, but Rex was there and he bought the Diazepam for us. We went to the church which was Church of Scotland! It still gave Sunday services and we had quite a long chat with the organist. I had been getting quite worried about our cash flow as Rex didn't think that we would be able to find a bank open or an ATM. However, he arranged for Rimo to advance us some money when we returned to Delhi, invoice KE and we could pay them when we returned home. I stopped worrying then and it all worked very well. We all met for pre-dinner drinks in the lounge. Various people had had a massage from the masseur and it was decided that it would not be recommended to the females in the future! There were two men selling Tibetan jewellery in the dining room. Some of it was really beautiful, I bought a bracelet and earrings for Ceili and Alan bought a necklace for Emma. Dinner was at 20:00 and was excellent,. Egg drop soup [minus the egg for me], chicken korma, alao bindi, gobi masala, rice, daal and roti followed by lemon mousse. Fortunately they hadn't thought to provide a vegetarian option for the pudding so I didn't have to eat any more. I had already eaten much too much, as did most people I think.
The Diazipan appeared to be working as Alan's back was much better this morning. It was decided that he would just take some each night before he went to bed. We left at 7:45 and again we were in mist so the "spectacular views of the hills" were not seen. The 4x4s were ideal for the now customary winding narrow mountain roads. The profound statements reappeared. "Better Mr. Late than late Mr.", "Speed is a virus, don't catch it". I wonder if they really do any good but they helped to pass the time for us. After about two hours we were suddenly out of the hills and into the long town that was Siliguri. Arrived in Bagdogra at 10:10 and flew out on the 12:35. This time it was the long way round via Guwahati first and then to Delhi. Alan was on the correct side this time to see the Himalayas and he had the window seat. A bus took us back to the Imperial where our money was waiting plus our tickets and itinerary for the four day extension. A quick trip over to the Craft emporium but didn't buy anything. Back in the hotel we sorted out our clothes and repacked, some to take but most to leave in the hotel for collection four days later. I looked at a silver necklace but didn't buy it. Perhaps when we come back. Another great meal, we were all in high spirits but with a touch of sadness as is usual at the end of a good trek. We said our goodbyes and hugs to every one who was going home. Even Rex was off to the UK and Tashi would soon be going to Austria. We then went to bed as we had to be up at 4:00 to leave at 4:30 to catch the early morning flight to Udaipur.
I woke at 3:50 and the call was on times at 4:00. The taxi arrived at 4:35 and we drove to the airport. The roads were busy even at that time. Our flight was Jaipur, Jodpur , Udaipur and then Mumbai. We had the usual three security checks and they objected to my satsumas, which had already been through other security checks. They poked their thumbs into each and then said I could take them. I opted to dump them at the first waste bin. The plane was an old 737 that looked as if various bits were held by sticking plaster and faith, but took off and arrived on time, just after 9:20. We were met by Shiek, our guide for the day. We later discovered that it was his own business. We went straight to the Shiv Niwas Palace which was now an hotel. It had been built for personal guests of the Maharani. It was beautiful, but we had no time to admire it as after a quick breakfast by the side of the pool we were on our way sightseeing. Walked to the City Palace Museum first, we saw an ATM here so we would have been OK for money. Shiek was really on top of his subject and made it all very interesting. We spent three hours there and could have taken much longer. The paintings and glass work were so detailed and beautiful. A car then whisked us away to Jagmandir, temples that were half built by a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law about 1,300 years ago. Sandstone, with very intricate carvings, Hindu with Moorish influence. Lunch was at a new resort overlooking the ruins. Just pakoras for Alan and lassi for both of us. Shiek would not have any as it Ramadan. We then went to a co-operative to see how the paintings were done. Shiek had a rest and one of the artists explained everything to us. The brushes were made from squirrel hair with the very finest from a camels eyebrow. The paint was made from ground stone with resin and water added. The gold was more difficult as gold leaf was mixed with the ground stone, resin and camel fat added. The paintings were on silk, marble, paper and on anything else that you wanted. We bought one done in the old style (we had seen one in the museum earlier in the day) by the artist who had shown us around. It was IRe 2,750 including a frame. We also bought some little ones of animals for presents and a dressing gown for Alan, not painted. Quick dash then to Lake Pichola for a boat ride to the Lake Palace and then back to the hotel by 18:15. We were tired, it is exhausting being a tourist! It was too late for a swim, so shower and change, then dinner by the pool. I had stuffed baby aubergines in a spicy sauce, lovely. I don't remember what Alan had but he enjoyed it.
It was another early start so we were up at 5:30 and collected by Shiek and Mr Singh at 6:15 who took us to the airport. Said goodbye to both of them and booked in and caught the 8:10 to Jaipur. We arrived at 9:10 and were met by our next driver with a car which took us to the hotel. The Samade Haveli, was very different from the last hotel. Our room was not yet ready so Alan had his breakfast. The dining room was very ornate with all the walls hand painted. Unfortunately it was too dark to get a good photo. I wish I had tried harder though as it really was "interesting". Our guide arrived at 10:30, we had just been given our room. Two double beds, a large ceiling fan plus air-conditioning. The bathroom had a huge rectangular marble bath. We didn't take advantage of it as we just had our usual showers. Just dumped our bag and away we went sightseeing again. First to Hawa Mahal (The palace of the Winds) and then to the City Palace and Museum. It did not seem as interesting as yesterday but maybe that was because there were many things that were similar. Again, our guide was interesting and very knowledgeable. We did gat a slightly different slant on things as he was a Hindu. The Jantar Mantar (jyantra=instrument, mantra=magic formula) an open air observatory was next on the list. This had enormous stone and concrete astronomical instruments built by Jai Singh between 1725 - 1734 . This was fascinating and when Alan checked some of the positions with the GPS they were only a degree or so out. We were now beginning to flag, so we went for a snack. Alan had a lamb burger. Our guide was very happy to talk about the various gods etc of the Hindu faith. I made a note to read more when I got home. A short rest while we were driven to the Amber Palace, or so we thought but first we had to stop at another co-operative where they made carpets, did block printing and made Kashmir jumpers etc. We were getting the hang of this now so accepted the offer of tea and settled ourselves for the demonstrations followed by the big sell. To be fair it was all very interesting. We ended up buying a silk and wool mix carpet, block printed duvet cover and table cloth plus a pashmina for me and a jumper for Alan. We arranged for the carpet to be packed and transported to home and the other things to be delivered to our hotel. We then had the drive followed by the elephant ride up to the Amber Fort Palace. Fortunately the elephant ride was only 10 minutes as they are not my favourite mode of transport. After the obligatory photo we were allowed to tour the palace. The famous Sheesh Mahal hall of mirrors was as impressive as its reputation, we were near closing time so it wasn't very busy and we could have a good look without too many people getting in the way. On the drive back to the hotel we stopped at a blue pottery shop. My fault as I had said earlier that I was interested. The Indian spiced tea was nice and I only bought a few things. We refused to go to the silver craft place as we had spent more than enough money today. It is too easy to spend as these places all take plastic! We were back in the hotel by 17:15. We said goodbye to our guide as it would only be the driver that would collect us tomorrow. We arranged for him to come at 8:30 so as to have a lie in. Alan was exhausted and went to bed. He was asleep by the time I'd had my shower and didn't want any dinner so I went on my own. He'd had a good lunch. There was buffet which included stuffed aubergines plus lots of other lovely tasty vegetarian things. I watched a puppet show and then went for a walk around the hotel grounds. Alan was still fast asleep so I read for a bit and then went to sleep.
I woke quite early but Alan slept until 7:00. We had a slight dispute about the bill as the management found it hard to understand why there was only one breakfast and one dinner yesterday when there were two of us. I had a tea this morning so that counted as breakfast. Our driver was waiting when we emerged at 8:25 and we were soon on our travels again. We saw lots of working camels and decorated horses again. We had been told that the horses were decorated for weddings. Once we were clear of the city you could see how flat and arid everything was so the use of camels appeared logical, although they had originally been imported into India. Stopped at about 10:30 just for a drink and a break at a place called Midway! As we drove eastwards there was a gradual change to less arid conditions and more greenery appeared. Arrived at Fatehpur Sikri (the ghost town) just after 12:30 and met our next guide, Atul Martin. He had just finished a PhD on George Bernard Shaw and his relationship with his parents and children. Further post doc. study was to follow. The town was built of red sandstone and very intricately carved. It had been built by Akbar (an emperor) to give thanks for the predicted birth of his three sons. It was finished in 1571 and was only occupied for 17years as the river changed it course and the town ran out of water. Again very very interesting but I think we are getting a bit over loaded with facts and figures. As we were driving off we saw 8 or 9 bears on ropes which were for "entertaining" the crowd. This has been outlawed but it still happens and the bears looked very unkempt. We left at about 14:00 and arrived in Agra at 15:00. We decided that we would have the afternoon off and so arranged to meet Atul at 8:00 tomorrow. The hotel was modern and quite impersonal. Alan had a snack while I had an icecream then he went for a long soak in the bath while I went for a wander around. I found nothing of interest in the vicinity of the hotel and really couldn't be bothered to get a tuk tuk to the bazzar. I returned to the hotel and had a look at the pool, not inviting so just read my book until l it was time to eat. The meal was not as good as the previous ones we'd had and so was disappointing.
Our driver appeared at 8:00, a different one, but the old one also appeared so that we could give him his tip. The new one was a better driver so we were quite happy. The Taj Mahal was today's high spot, quite expensive at IRe750 each. Alan wasn't as impressed as I'd hoped that he would be. The trouble is now that it is all given such a hype it just cannot live up to it. I saw it as a child and really not much had been said about it. I still thought it was beautiful. I don't remember there being a haze before but as it was about 47 years ago perhaps there wasn't! We were not allowed to video inside it but could take stills. My camera's battery was still playing up so I just left it to Alan to take lots. Next we went to a workshop to see how the semi precious stones were inlaid into the marble. Very costly, as we bought a small marble table top, this also had to be shipped as it was too heavy to carry. Agra Fort was the last tourist attraction; it's only partly open as the army uses it as a barracks. After a quick lunch we said our goodbyes to the guide and started on the drive back to Delhi, arriving at about 17:15. We arranged for the driver to collect us again at 22:30. There was no day room arranged for us but a quick call to Rimo sorted things out and we were given a room to shower and repack yet again. We had an excellent dinner in the hotel and while we were killing time waiting for the car I bought the silver necklace that I had previously been admiring. Our driver arrived but he got lost on the way to the airport! He found his way after we had been round in circles a couple of times. We arrived at 23:30 and started going through the various checks straight away, arriving at the gate at 1:40. At last we could sit and do nothing. No drinks available yet so had to remain thirsty until the coffee shop opened. Alan dozed while I people watched. The coffee shop opened but I realized that I had given Alan the remaining rupees for the charity collection and I didn't want to wake him. A woman dropped her duty free, smashing the bottles. The glass was left for quite a while before it was cleaned up, people just stood and looked at the mess.
Boarded, all together. For some reason they don't seem to board by rows as do others. We had the two seats in row 51, by the window. We must remember to ask for row 52 next time as there is even more leg room. Plane left at 3:30 and we were both quickly asleep. I woke again after about an hour for a drink but I managed to doze for a while. Alan had about six hours. Breakfast was very grim. I didn't try, but Alan was very hungry but gave up. Not even any juice. Arrived on time but were then held. We were about an hour late by the time we eventually disembarked. Collected the baggage and just walked through customs. Alan wanted another breakfast. While he was eating we decided that we would get the Heathrow express, because it was easier, and then get a taxi from Paddington to Euston. We were there about 12:00 and our train was at 14:30. It left a little late but it got later and so we missed the connection at Oxenholme. Another taxi, after we counted our money and found that we just had enough, £18. Home at last.