QUEST HIMALAYA JOURNAL
From Caravan Trails to A Highway . . . page 3
Often there are scenic wonders lurking round the bend and what appealed to me most were the sparkling frothy white torrents thundering down steep rocky clines. The sheer magnificence of the enormous powers of Nature at work is indeed breathtaking. How awesome they look! And especially so is the famous Seven Sisters Fall whose viewing spot became so popular that even the state government took the initiative to place a permanent tea stall selling tea and snacks for tourists halting to observe the cascade. For a better view, take a short climb above the road to a nearby cardamom grove.
The Seven Sisters Fall acquired its name on its having seven stages of cascades in its entirety with the last section being the longest one. Diki, a young girl serving tea at the shop secretly told me that someone did tell her that there was an unseen the eighth fall above and beyond our present view. “And where is that one?” I enquired. “You need to get to the top of this hill to see it,” she says. “But, they say there are many more as you go higher up,” Diki further discloses letting out the entire secret. But for now, seven is good enough I feel staring up at the eroded cliff.
It seems amazing, the way the highway has been carved off precipitous slopes. The builders have bored through stubborn rocks, negotiated hills and valleys, braved scary precipices, endured shooting boulders, witnessed terrifying landslips and occasional deaths of fellow road workers. It made me wonder whether all the trouble and sacrifice made was just another means of livelihood or did those who pioneered this road really did have some noble aspirations. Whatever be it, this intrepid bunch did manage to effect a great change in the livelihood of the local people. Today, they say there are about sixty hotels in remote Lachung alone. Lachen on the other side is also growing rapidly. and Chungthang enroute has prospered, and the old tribal societies have now marched on the trail to modernity. Isn’t this enough change in a little over a decade?
Tega himself had attended a reputed public school in Darjeeling. There are many like him. Their generations have taken on to modern jobs; doctors, engineers, teachers and some today are even successful entrepreneurs. So the highway that has succeeded the old caravan trail had indeed opened up opportunities. A journey that once took days and required a good supply of food, sufficient camping hardware, enough ponies and manpower thus seeming like the migration of an entire village is now a mere eight hours drive. The caravan trail to roadway story doesn’t end here, we now need a tag-line to relate to the conclusion of the story.
Hours ago, as Tega had careened into the North Sikkim Highway departing from the Zero Point at Gangtok he had cried out customarily, “Syo Syo” as his ancient ancestors had done each time they had hit the trail to head back to their homeland. “It means blessed be our land,” Tega had explained. I suppose this salutation of theirs has miraculously worked over the years.