QUEST HIMALAYA JOURNAL
From Caravan Trails to A Highway . . . page 2
Witty slogans along the way engender caution to drivers with phrases like, ‘Haste Makes Waste’, ‘Better Late Than Never’, ‘It is better to be late Mr. Driver than to be The Late Mr. Driver’. ‘If you are married, then divorce speed’, and so on. A graffiti attempting to sprinkle some humour at a tricky spot read, ‘You have tasted Coca Cola and Campa Cola, now taste Lanthey Khola’. “Lanthey Khola,” a slang portrayal in Nepali meaning “bothersome river” and Lanthey, indeed, was a bother ever since those highlanders chose to walk this route. This torrential stream when at its peak often floods the road and during the monsoons it gets wilder. “My father recalls it recurrence ever since he first drove past this spot,” informs Tega, an inconvenience that the younger generation have inherited from the times of their ancestors.
I begin to imagine crossing long trains of caravans with burly, thick set chuba clad, long braided hair Lachenpas and Lachungpas transporting Cox’s apples (once famed apples grown in the region), salt, wool, yak butter and other essentials much valued in far away Tibet or Gangtok. High hills loom on one side of the road clothed with forests that have refused to die, the other side keeps changing. At times, it’s an abyss with the Teesta River roaring far below, and other moments there are paddy fields bracing the topography - an interesting sketch upon the mountainous earth.
Sometimes, from behind a hidden corner we unexpectedly come into clusters of houses that have sprung along the highway – makeshift shops catering food and snacks to hungry tourists and wayfarers. Residents of wayside villages like Phodong, Namok, Singhik and others have taken to the newly found profession of feeding visitors. Hospitality trade is a boon for the people in these long concealed nooks.
Past fifty odd kilometers now from Gangtok, the highway shifts over to another hill and we pass the over 600-foot high Rangrang Bridge that indicates we are almost half way through with our journey. Police check posts become more frequent as we head deeper north and obviously more closer to the Tibeto-Chinese borderline.