Kanchenjunga Expedition- To Nathu La and Nepal Border(Day 3 and 4)

This ancient silk route in Nathu La still functions in rudimentary ways. The chinese soldiers often barter chinese cigrattes and bric a brac with Indian tourists across the barded wires.

23august,2004 ( Nathu La and the Nepal border drive)

I am picking this diary after a couple of days . The reason is not lethargy but the lack of time (from 23 to 26) I have been travelling. After the Darjeeling circuit, I am off to Nathu La, a small army cantonment which is also a tourist site as there was an anciet silk route to China from there. Major Amit who is posted there had to go there for some work and Amitabh and I decide to go along site-seeing.

This time we go in an army jonga-a 1988 model as the driver told us and one as Amit tells us guzzles up 3 liters of fuel per km. The driver is from Hyderabad and has never been to an high-altitude region before as I find out once we approach  Nathu-La. He complains of headaches and I am scared he may blackout. Nathu La is at the height of Rotang Pass-approximately and air is thin. The road leaves Siliguri and reaches the Sikkin border after about 70kms. From there on it meanders through the state capital Gangtok and goes up the steep climb to Nathu-la.


The Indian flag flutters on the Indian Side of Nathu La

The scenery on the way is very beautiful and  I wanted to take pictures zooming in on the wild flowers with the mud and thatch villages in the background. However I got some good shots at Nathu la when I shot the Chinese sentries there. I hope those pics come out good. The Chinese soldiers-two of them wanted to exchange a few things like cigarettes, tobacco etc for what we had including our cash. The Silk trade route may have closed but commerce like this still flourishes along the border. The light was good and I just pray the pics come out good. On the way back and up to the Nathu La the army jonga had to stop and report at each TCP station along the route. Amit says it’s the standard protocol for every army vehicle all over India.


Gangtok is just as messy and commercial as any hill-town. The Mongoloid features on the women and men are the only difference with people back home in Shimla. They wear cassocks and sometimes also sari and kurta pajama. The girls looked pretty at the market place. I have begun reading `From Heaven’s Lake’ by Vikram Seth and am enjoying his Odyssey through  China via Lahsa thoroughly. I only hope it helps me keep writing my travelog.

I have not bought any t-shirts . Cherin –the JCO who made our list for us did not mention them and I wanted to travel as light as possible . But now I see I will also require slippers besides the t-shirt. Major Chauhan provides me one-T-shirt with the `Army Expedition’ pasted on the left chest. I manage to give my green t-shirt and pants for wash. My underwear however needs a wash. I want to wash everything I can, including everybit of myself –before I brace myself for a two month life of a bohemian on Kanchjunga.

24 August (To Nepal fm Siliguri)

C N Bodh and Neel Chand at the Indo-Nepal Border

At 7 am we get up to head for Nepal border. Before that there is a temple ceremony in the transit camp’s temple. The temple is dedicated to one Harbajan Baba an ex-captain in the army who is no more but believed by all army chaps as immortal and a divinity. All along Siliguri and Sikkim there are temples dedicated to him. The sanctum santoruim has his picture in uniform with a matching green turban. He seems oddly clean-shaven perhaps he never grew a beard as he was in his twenties when he died.

I was told about his `miracles’ and his divine powers by Ashok on the train but I dismissed it off as a blind belief of the jawans. But I was surprise that even the officers rever him and worship him among the pantheons of other Hindu Gods. Amit who took us to Nathu-La took a detour expecially to Harbajan temple where he stood all grim and serious before the alter, eyes close in piety hands folded seeking blessings for the expedition where he plans to summit. The temple was located on a beautiful ridge several hundred meters below Nath La. It has several small hutments apart from the main temple and surprisingly there are army jawans standing guard over the temples of Harbajan Baba wherever there are.

In the transit camp the temple ceremony revolves around him. All the jawans and officers gather in the temple and do their puja with jawas on one side and the officers and JCO’s on the other. The jawans are certainly a very merry and more interesting group. The officers are busy maintaining a stiff upper lip. They are uptight and officious and boring. The jawans sang songs propitiating the Gods- I notice symbol of all regions were there but prominamtly displayed among the Hindu deities was the picture of the turbaned Harbajan Baba. The jawans had the drum, the tambourine and cymbols. Ashok beat the dholak and sang. Later he showed me his bleeding finger digits from the loud beatings. ` When you are in it. It dosent matter’’, he says. When I ask him why he did that.

A civil bus takes us to Nepal border some 50kms across West Bengal. There are formalities at the border post along with immigration papers etc. to be stamped, so I get time to climb off and use the Indian Army’s Nikon F-100 for the first time. The jawans are there. It is the mid-day sun but the weather has generally been overcast throughout so I am lucky with any sunshine there is.

After crossing the border I see Kazi Sherpa our expedition organiser for the first time. The embassy consulate who escorted our bus into Nepal says he has over-sized lungs. Kazi Sherpa has a world record in 2001 for climbing Everest without oxygen in 8 hours. He has done the summit 5 times and I am in awe of him. He looks like a man with so much potential. He gives an impression of infallibility and success in anything adventurous. He will lead the army with his band of Sherpas across Nepal, to the Base Camp and beyond. The leader of the expedition Col Sharma arrives from Katmandu. We buy our last minute stock. It takes up the better half of the day and we have to shack up in a seedy hotel in Dylabari in the Indian side as there is curfew on the Nepal side because of the Maoist insurgents.

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