If you were present at platform 9 of Howrah station at around 4-6 pm, 22nd February, you might have caught a glimpse of 17 bright faces hailing from Jadavpur University Mountaineering and Hiking Club and accompanied by a load of luggage. With smiling teeth, filtered group selfies and the delicious smell of packed roti and tadka, we boarded our train, Dibrugarh Express, around 5:30 and occupied our respective seats.
We were bound to reach New Jalpaiguri at 6:05 in the morning of 23rd February, leaving some long hours for us to kill. Storms of laughter rocked almost the entire locomotive as we commenced a series of games – dumb charades, bluff, and so on – until everyone gulped down the dinner and lay down to get a few winks of sleep.
The morning brought us to NJP station was flocked by all sorts of characters ranging from rag sellers to decked up tourists. We freshened up and booked two cars for Yuksom. The journey commenced smoothly at around 7:30, interrupted by a stop at Siliguri for grocery shopping procuring essential resources such as kerosene oil for firing up our portable stove. We finished up a quick breakfast of bread and bananas on the move while vibing to dance numbers and dozing off during the 6 hour-long car ride. We stopped for a heavy lunch, given the precarious nature of the night meal.
When we finally stepped down in front of the rotating prayer wheels of Manay Lang-gnang monastery, the peaceful town of Yuksom captivated us emotionally. The fresh, cold air filled our lungs and the lush green of the surrounding mountains gave us sparkling smiles. We immediately fixed our camping spot, freshened up, and set out to fix our trekking guide, Girish Pradhan Dada. Four tents were pitched near a construction site, and first-timers were given training in the process.
The evening brought forth the task of helping organize a meal for 17 hungry mouths. Travel-weary hands were armed with one-two drops of hand sanitizer for the incoming ordeal, while flashlights were fished out of rucksacks. Thus our hands shuffled about in slicing potatoes and onions, washing utensils using the tap water of a hospitable family, and essentially lighting the stove. We had two master chefs supervising the entire procedure.
Eventually steaming rice and cauliflower curry gave us nasal fantasies as we prepared to fill our hungry stomachs. We created trails of grunts and giggles as we gobbled up the food, giving out long sighs of satisfaction. Then the cold water numbed our fingers while we scrubbed our plates, and a fixed group of heroes among us washed the bigger pots and pans.
We went straight into our sleeping bags without further ado, huddling together to preserve the warmth. We had four-man tents, so the five girls among us had to send out our rucksacks to the other tents and somehow fit in the space. The trek would begin late the next day, owing to scheduled viva voce exams of three among us.
Sleep descended to our eyes, unaware of the ordeals which lay ahead.
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P.S. – The first and fourth photos had been clicked by Aryan Singh, and the third by Mihir Chowdhury.