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Sikkim Trek -Phalut toGorkey -Day 8

There had been the opportunity to get up at four thirty this morning to see the sunrise on the mountains; I didn't take it thinking the clouds that had been around last night as I got into the tent were still about. The tent had been flapping around for most of the night in the strong wind and I was convinced that the bad weather had returned. But, on sticking my head out of the tent I saw that the sky above was now clear and looking further out across the panorama of the hills I saw that we were actually above the clouds now, which were congregated in the valleys below. It was quite an atmospheric site.

My tent overlooking the clouds in the valley below our camp at PhalutRealising I had missed a good photographic opportunity, I decided to see what I could recover from the situation and set off up the slope beyond the tents to see what I could of the mountains. I didn't have a lot of time and was torn between seeing the views of Everest or Kangchenjunga. Stopping half way up I saw that the clouds were partially covering Everest and Makalu but maybe the views would be better from the top towards Kangchenjunga. I hurried on and by the time I reached the top I had never felt so tired but the views were stunning. Lying dead ahead of me the whole of the Kangchenjunga massif, Pandim and other mountains to the east of Kangchenjunga, whose name I don't know, were clearly in view. I took photos but regretted not having made the effort to get up earlier to actually see the light pick out the mountains at dawn.

The views from the top of this slope were impressive but I couldn't hang around as I needed to breakfast and get ready fro the day ahead. I returned to camp to breakfast. Instead of a mess tent the tables and chairs had been set up in the lodge. But this was no ordinary room; the tables had been set up right in the middle of a communal dormitory full of people. As I dined on bowls of porridge followed by a sort of muffin filled with cheese I saw the occasional blinking eyes from beneath piles of blankets, the occupants stirring from their slumber. Others started to rise, and I noticed that they were all Indian trekkers; most were wrapped in layers of clothing, some even wearing balaclavas despite it being relatively warm in the lodge. I was to later learn that this route is particularly popular with people from India, but that due to the recent flooding in the plains near Bangladesh the numbers were down.

Whilst we had been eating the trek crew had packed up the tents and equipment and set off. The horses, which were carrying the tents, were taking a different route to us on the way to Gorkey. Having been following the Singalila Ridge for the past few days we were now going to turn away and head down into the valley and would therefore loose the stunning ridge views.

Ravi (our trek Sirdar) arrived to brief us for today's trek wearing a kukri, the traditional Nepalese knife. Apparently the route of the trek today was through forests of bamboo, which was renowned for bears, a threat he was obviously taking seriously and he advised us to stay in groups through these areas and not leave the trail without letting him know.

Leaving the campsite we soon turned away from the ridge, the route we had been following for the past few days, to Part of the Kangchenjunga range seen from the descent from Phalutdescend from Phalut. First we had our last look at the Kangchenjunga range of mountains, we wouldn't be seeing them for a few more days until we approached from the next trek to Goecha La. What a fantastic site it was. The mountains acted as a white divider between the blue skies and the green jungle trails of the Sikkim Mountains making a wonderful visual backdrop to our trail. It was as though the spirits of the mountains, sensing our departure, had decided to put on a dramatic show in compensation for the earlier days of cloud at the start of the trek, leaving me with a permanent reminder of the beauties it held. This mountain vista was one of the best I had seen anywhere.

Soon the canopy of trees and bamboo obscured the views of the mountains; at times trees covered in lichen appeared to shoot right up above us to form a shady cover from the sun above. The path, which had up until now been quite reasonable, soon deteriorated into a series of deep grooves in the earth carved by the heavy monsoon rains. I was glad to have my trek poles with me to assist negotiating these awkward footholds. The poles really come into their own on ground like this and are a great help for the knees which take such a pounding on these awkward stretches.

The route continued to take us through vast areas of trees and forest, the paths sweeping and contouring around the hillside like a giant switchback. For those who felt more adventurous, there were steep intersecting paths, which would halve the time in descent but were decidedly risky. Pete and Ravi , after many years of experience were both well accustomed to walking down hill, having developed the 'art' of taking small steps and not locking the knee as you step down, took up the challenge to race each other down. I considered doing the same, for all of about two seconds, before my brain engaged to remind me that my knees were definitely not what could be described as supple, in fact they make the most alarming noise at times as though a packet of crisps were being crunched up. How I wish sometimes that I could have access points fitted where I could just drop some oil in.

After descending for 1600metres we eventually left the forested are to emerge into fields of maize and crops. Walking towards the village ahead I came across a group of kids sitting by the path and stopped to try my limited Nepali. I had taken along a small hand puppet, a white Scottie dog and started an impromtu glove puppet show. All was going well till one of the younger kids, decidedly unsure who this lunatic was with his hand shoved up the behind of the miniature dog, burst into tears. The others fell about laughing and the ice was broken.

The path continued through the village to almost the end where a large wooden lodge had been erected for trekking parties. At its front was a concrete area and some walls where I sat and rested soaking up the sun whilst the trek crew inside were preparing lunch. Sitting there I watched the children playing nearby, whilst just behind us a local woman was busy sorting out the harvested corn, it was a tranquil setting.

The horses had to take their time coming down the steep paths and it was much later in the afternoon before our kit arrived. Deciding to take the chance of getting some 'dhobi' done Marilyn and I set off for the river. Unfortunately being in a steep sided valley it wasn't long before the sun dipped down behind the hills to cast long shadows and prevent any chance of any drying the washing.

The evening meal was taken in the hallway of the lodge. It was a pretty tight squeeze but probably better than trying to pitch the mess tent in the limited space outside. Although having been given the option of staying in the lodge, most of us had opted for the tents. I for one had got quite accustomed to the tent by now, it was one of those igloo types and was really quite comfortable. As I made my way back to my now familiar domicile I was graced with a wonderful starry night. It was a shame that the hills once again prevented seeing the full vista from being seen but after the cloudier nights of late this was a real bonus.

Trek Diary - Sikkim
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