Thursday, April 07, 2016

Northeast India Trip - Yuksam, Sikkim


The morning we headed from Rabong to Yuksam started sunny and warm and with some clear, if a touch hazy, views of the snow-capped Himalaya peaks:



We followed the winding and still way too dangerous for my liking road, stopping to watch a primate eating Magnolia flowers by the roadside:




At another spot we saw a Rufous-bellied Niltava:


Handsome bird:


The light was good enough to illustrate the steep nature of the farming they do in these mountains.   Quite often the lowest tier or terrace is right over a huge drop to the valley below:


Our guide asked us if we wanted to visit the lake that was shown on our itinerary, I replied it would be good to see as many water species as possible, so we headed that way first.

On the way we passed some picturesque waterfalls, which were rammed with tourists, so we stopped only briefly and didn't go any closer:


The road passed over a number of mountain streams:


At one point we stopped next to what looked like a dirt track.  Apparently it was a new road that would shorten the distance to the lake, once the guide had confirmed this, we took it.

Road is too strong a word.  It was a wet dirt track that even the guide felt compelled to walk part of in case the car didn't make it.   The conditions were so bad we spent nearly an hour on the shortcut alone, it's fair to say it was a very stupid decision involving conditions that were extremely unsafe and given my vertigo it was also selfish.

Anyway we finally rejoined the pitch road and arrived at the lake:


It turns out that Buddha's birthday is a holiday and that the lake is a Holy Lake.   So there were lots and lots of people and no birds.   The guide explained all this whilst we trekked around it looking for the non-existent birds.   We were furious.   This was the pinnacle of the non-thinking behaviour that was one of the most frustrating factors of our birding trip.

So we left the lake and headed to Yuksam and the hotel, which proved to be a bit of a strange one.   The staff are friendly and helpful, it's cold with no means of heating but the food is good.  One wacky thing, there's a kettle and sugar, two mugs but they cannot provide tea or coffee and apparently no one close sells it in the town.  Weird.

Also apparently the hotel, the Tashi Gang is owned by a Bollywood star.

We had a relatively quiet afternoon, I was exhausted and couldn't really work out why.   We thought partly shock due to the extreme experience the earlier driving had provided.

Anyway we had an early dinner and an early night ready for our 4am alarm.

At Bon Farmhouse they'd told us we'd have a really good chance to see the Holy Mountain, Mount Kanchenjunga.  On the first morning we awoke to see the light of dawn striking a mountain that did look a lot like the Holy Mountain:


A breath-taking sight at 5am and well worth getting up early for.

We set off walking from the hotel passing a local holy lake in which the mountain was reflected;


It was still very early and the light faint, but the birds were up and about, feeding, like this Blue-winged Siva:


From the road an Asian Barred Owlet was scaring the smaller birds:


As the sun got higher a butterfly basked:


Here's another:


This is the map of the huge hiking area that is the park we'd barely started to walk into.   Apparently it is used for high-level mountain hiking training:


A Verditer Flycatcher matched the colour of the sky:


Along the trail we met a young French lady who was elegance personified.   She'd caught local transport from another town and was walking up to the monastery alone which we thought was very brave.

We carried along the road until it turned into a narrower track with sharp drops.  Given the previous day's entertainment I couldn't face the kind of terrain I'd been semi-comfortable in, and getting better with, only a few days before.  I also was also feeling exhausted, really properly empty.  As we turned back I realised I wasn't going to be able to make the three-odd mile walk back down to the hotel so our car was called when we were halfway back.  I felt embarrassed but then putting two-and-two together worked out that I probably had mild altitude sickness.  I repeated the symptoms I'd been complaining about (headache, light-headed, feeling empty) and my guess as to what it was.  Yes said the guide.    You know when you want to thump someone?

Anyway to his credit he did then explain this to the hotel staff who provided some strong garlic and ginger soup and ginger tea to help me out.   I spent the entire rest of the day in bed, looking forward to our descent the following morning.   I'd managed to send a text back to the UK, discovering the SIM wasn't barred in this part of India and my sister-in-law had provided the medical advice we needed.  Basically descend 500 m as soon as you can and stay there until you feel better.

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