We are living among the Stars (Day 3)

I’m sure you’ve read enough blogs about solo trips by now, but give The Alternative Way a chance to show you another perspective. In August 2019, I decided to visit Zuluk, in Sikkim and do it solo. First, because I’d never done it before and second, because I needed a break from my life, including the people in it. Elaborated in the form of experiences, this is a collection of the epiphanies I had while on the trip.

Day 2: Just another day… is covered in detail in the first article of the series. Even though the learnings are not really chronological, the journey was and it would serve for better reading if you read the first article (if you haven’t already) before reading further.

Day 3: Trying to reach Zuluk…

Stairway to Heaven

Photo by Kaushik Nag on Unsplash
First light at the mighty Kangchenjunga captured from Zuluk

Zuluk is nothing short of heaven on Earth, and trying to reach it during the off-season of Monsoon was as hard as you could imagine. I had to reach the bus stand in Gangtok at 6 AM to avoid missing the 6:30 shared taxi (10 people stuffed in a cab ideal for 6) to Rangpo. Another shared taxi towards Rongli, up to a point on the road where it was damaged due to a recent landslide. From there, it was a 15 min downward trek to the other side of the road and another shared taxi to Rongli.

Rongli is a small town, kind of a resting spot for the people going further up and has a big taxi stand. It is also the last town to have a full-fledged market. So for the residents living further up in the mountains, all the marketing (that’s what they call shopping for groceries and essentials) happens here once a week. Padamchen (pronounced Phademchen) is the nearest town further up and is a 2-hour drive, the roads are not well built and are currently under construction. They’re obviously in their worst shape during Monsoon.

I reached Rongli around 11 AM, only to find that there were no taxis available for me to go to Zuluk (this was after getting the necessary permits signed and stamped at the local authority).

The Idea State

Photo by Aditya Vyas on Unsplash
The only glowing light in the pitch black darkness

Sitting on a bench that is usually used by residents to sit and drink tea made at the adjoining shop, I looked across the road to the taxi stand, the small shops on the side, and the people roaming around, engaging in conversations as usual. Almost everyone looked very peaceful, most of them were always smiling, or laughing. In all literary sense, it was just another day from the days of Rongli, but it wasn’t, not for me.

A year or so ago, I was watching a Ted Talk on how to get the brain to focus, in which the speaker talks about how the people living in cities and metros are so used to stimulation now that we never let our minds breathe and think. It’s always rushing, neurons firing all the time. We reply to texts on WhatsApp, click on a notification that just came, read an email and call a friend, all within 1 minute. He explains that this is a state of high stimulation for the brain, and it has its pros and cons.

He practised not doing anything, some people may call it being bored. There were days where he would just look at the hands of the clock moving. The aim was to get the mind to a state of very low stimulation. Almost all amazing shit happens here. Low stimulation means that your brain is focused, and distractions don’t affect you and what you are doing. Programmers don’t realize how time flew by when they have just completed a code, writers feel the same when they’re done writing something.

I call this state ‘The Idea State‘ simply because, in this state, we get a lot of ideas. The speaker advises keeping a small notepad with you at all times. You never know when an idea might come, and we simply forget to note it down or register it because we are always in a state of high stimulation. That’s what I’ve been doing since then, and that’s how I remember all of these epiphanies I had (I noted them down).

Back to the bench again, I realized how simple life is here. The level of stimulation was so low that nobody was rushing to go anywhere, or do something. Everybody walked, talked and moved calmly, going about their business with grace. I decided that going forward, I will not let my surroundings or the stimulus define how my state of mind will be, I will chase to be as calm and composed as the people in the mountains.

Chase the Idea State

The power of Human Interaction

Photo by Leonardo Yip on Unsplash

I had to wait for almost 4 hours until a taxi driver agreed to take me to Phadamchen (and not any further) if enough people want to go up. There were private taxis available but it would’ve taken ₹2,000 as compared to ₹70 with the shared taxi.

Being an introvert, I rarely engage in conversations unless I had to. So it was uncomfortable at first when people started approaching me to know what I was doing in Rongli. On finding out that I was travelling alone, they were so amazed that it was very surprising for me. Only families and groups used to travel further up, it was rare for someone to be travelling alone in that region. Even without me asking for any of it, people came forward and offered advise and help.

Through these interactions I got to learn so much that helped me plan my trip. I found out that I needed to have a reservation at one of the hotels or homestays before they would allow me past the first checkpost, so I browsed with whatever connectivity I could get and found a homestay that was not operational but allowed me to stay anyway (more on the homestay later).

I also got to have an amazing conversation with Guddu, the owner of the adjoining shop where I had delicious Momos and Tea. Turned out that he had family in the very colony that I live in and he frequents Delhi every 2 years or so. We became friends and he offered a gift in the form of a key-chain as a token of the newly formed friendship. It was very visible how innocent that offer was, and how beautiful and amazing the people of the mountains are. When the taxi was finally about to leave (the driver finally got 10 passengers), it was so rushed that I forgot to pay him for the snacks I had and he forgot to ask.

The thought I had while leaving Rongli was this,

“When all technology is stripped away, all books burnt, all distractions are taken away, society will turn back to the foundation of its existence: Human Interaction

I know it’s uncomfortable; Approach, be social anyway.

No plan.. is a Good Plan

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
Not this time

The ones who know me would know that I like my life organized, I like to plan things and I like for things to go according to that plan. Before any of my travels, I always have a list of things I need to pack, a list of places I wish to go to, things I am going to do. Since the idea was to switch off in this trip, I decided to let go of the planning. The only planning I did was the flights to and from Delhi, and the rest was ‘we’ll see when we get there’.

Even though the travel from one place to another was very hectic as I’m not used to the cramped up shared taxis and the always bumpy roads, I was still calm throughout my time in Sikkim because I had nothing to look forward to. There was no item on my checklist waiting to be crossed. The calm was refreshing, as was the experience.

I reached Padamchen and my unplanned residence called Mandala homestay, the owner as it turns out is Mr Penjo Lama and yes he is a Lama. He runs a hostel for kids who go to school 3 km further up, and tuitions them in the evenings. The top floor of the hostel was reserved for guests like me. The hostel itself had a refreshing view of the valley across and the kids used to come and greet me in the morning and afternoon by saying, ‘Good morning, sir’ with as cute a smile as you can image. Just by the expression and their way I could feel that it was a genuine greeting, one not forced upon them as we usually do in schools here.

The trip was made up of many such instances where I was greeted warmly by surprise after surprise, and it would not have happened if I had a plan in place. I realized that sometimes you have to let go of the need to control, for life to show you how amazing it is.

Let go of the need to control

A thing about Perspective

Photo by Pritish Srivastav
One of the only three pictures I took in Sikkim

Lama Ji asked if I wanted to buy some snacks and groceries with the helper at the Hostel, Vijay, I agreed immediately. To give you some background, the markets were 2 hours downhill and not on very pretty roads either, so it was quite difficult for the locals to get stuff. We arrived at this small corner shop just a few kilometres further up.

We got the snacks and Vijay ordered a few chicken momos for some other guests, he very politely asked me if I could wait because it would take 5 mins, I said okay. A couple of minutes later, a woman comes out with 2 live chicken, kills them by twisting their necks, strips their feathers and hair off, puts them in boiling water, cuts and gets its intestines and organs out with blood dripping everywhere (happening on the right in picture).

Typically, this would’ve offended me as an animal lover and a vegetarian, I hate seeing animals being treated like this. However, I found myself smiling at seeing this and not feeling offended at all. It seemed completely natural in that environment where there were limited shops, roads were not great, and the nearest market so far down. I thought to myself,

“This Is Extraordinary, perspectives change with the place you are at.”

A stimulus as strong as cruelty against animals did not trigger any negative emotions in me. This deserved a picture.

Perspective can change according to your environment

Day 3 ended with Vijay cooking a hot homemade Egg Curry, Rice, Raita, and Salad. Actually, it ended with me licking my fingers after dinner. If you still haven’t read the first article on Day 2, here it is. I hope you enjoyed reading and if you are wondering how the title of the article is relevant to the content and the story, please browse to the 3rd and final day (chasing the queen of the hills).


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