Blown Away!


That’s it – it’s official.

After 2 and a half months travelling in India, we finally have a winner.

You meet people along the course of your travels who often ask you the highlight of your trip so far – your favourite place, the definitive experience. Our typical response has always been a little non-committal – something along the lines of ‘Well… there’s just so much diversity in India, it’s really too difficult to pick a single moment’.

It’s true – we’ve loved observing the cool dawn and the serenity of the Sikhs at Amritsar’s Golden Temple, climbing through the bizarrely lunar landscape of the Zanskar Ranges in Ladakh, exploring the labyrinthine streets of the fairytale fort in desert Jaisalmer… basically just enjoying those serendipitous encounters that you have with people along the way when you travel – stumbling into a wedding party in the back lanes of Shekhawati, being invited for chai and homemade bread (though possibly home-made several weeks before… they like their bread with a bit of crunch round those parts) in a sun-soaked farmhouse in Skiu.

But I must admit, these wonderful moments have been somewhat overshadowed by our most recent adventure.


On Christmas Eve, we returned from a 5 day trek along the Singalila Ridge – crossing through a sprawling National Park which straddles the border between Nepal, Sikkim and Darjeeling in the Eastern Himalayas. This time round (in comparison to Ladakh), we got the spectacular mountain views without the pain and aching muscles, and found ourselves absolutely awestruck by the magnificence of the Himalayan landscape (I may have even shed a tear… Goodness!)

Our constant companion on the trek was the towering mountain of Khangchendzonga – the third highest mountain in the world at a dazzling 8598 metres – and the glorious panorama of snow-capped mountains that stretched around us in a 360 degree vista. Even Everest put in regular appearances on the horizon as part of this stunning show.

Gazing at these gargantuan mountains it seemed difficult to comprehend the argument (admittedly through a haze of whiskey) that I had had a few days earlier with an Indian fellow at the local pub. He was adamant that Australia was home to far higher mountains than India. Given the current sight, it was all too apparent that Kosciuszko didn’t quite cut the mustard in this company.

sin-sitting-girl.jpg sin-young-monk-at-work.jpg Our trek took us on a 83 km journey through the Singalila region of north-western Darjeeling. Officially, it is mandatory to hire a guide on this route so hapless trekkers don’t unintentionally stumble over the border and into Nepal. In practice, it seems that the guide is actually required to navigate all the short-cuts through the Nepalese countryside and negotiate with officials at the border out-posts. Rakesh, our wonderful guide, certainly seemed to know the shortest of all possible short-cuts for this trek and he wasn’t about to let any pesky international borders stand in the way.

As it turned out, our unexpected border-hopping brought us through some beautiful countryside – passing through friendly Nepalese villages with fluttering prayer flags and flapping chickens lining our path.

sin-the-mist-through-the-trees.jpg sin-island-in-the-clouds.jpg We wandered leisurely over undulating green hills and – with regular chai stops at the little tea stalls that periodically appeared along the path – this seemed like luxury trekking compared to Ladakh (Certainly a far-cry from the 5 days and 100km of overland donkey travel from civilisation that seemed the thing in the Markha Valley…)

As we progressed deeper into the park, we began to climb in altitude and the landscape changed as we made our way through layers of shifting cloud. Wispy curls of mist licked at the edges of the path until the rising water vapour closed in to enshroud us completely. I think we were almost expecting Frodo or one of those other hobbity-types to come waddling out of the mist.

Then, as we passed through this band of fog, we would again find ourselves with bright blue skies and the yellow expanse of a brightly lit alpine meadow. More hills and climbing and the path would slowly course into a cool, dense conifer forest until our glorious, exhausted arrival at the peak of the trip – a trekkers’ hut at a place called Phallut and the site of the most magnificent view I think the three of us had ever witnessed.

Here, we sat atop an island of golden grass – a small hillock nosing its way out of a sea of rolling clouds – and watched, buffeted by the wind, as the sun slowly set over the Himalayas. The encircling mountains were first struck pink with the light, and then – as the full moon rose in one half of the sky, we watched the sun dip and set in the other – blazing pink, then gold, then fading to indigo blue.

An utterly spectacular, indescribable experience.

The perfect sunset.


And one that left the three of us each speechless (not to mention, begin questioning why we were always hauling our tired bodies out into the freezing cold mornings to witness beautiful sunrises, when we could quite happily enjoy this most majestic of views at a much more civilised time of the day… Just as I always knew!)

After this trip to the peak of the trek, it was two days of walking – downhill – through rainforest territory and a series of mountain villages. It’s almost more exhausting doing this sort of walking through steep, slippery sections of the path, but I think we were buoyed by the visions from Phallut (and the thought of a hot shower when we made it back to Darjeeling)

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Not to mention that Rocky – our intrepid Dutch travel buddy – was well-experienced in the art of such trekking. He apparently had partaken in an epic month-long cross-country odyssey across Sweden (Craziness I know! I always thought they had an excellent public transport infrastructure in those Scandinavian countries…)

Anyway, Rocky knew the perfect antidote for all those aches and pains associated with trekking, and introduced us to the joys of a hot chocolate and rum cocktail (ah.. bliss!). Combined with liberal splashings of the local tonba (fermented millet beer), as well as the special home-brew vodka, we were well hydrated to make the journey home.