A day before I had visited the base camp to find about the timings. They had asked me to report in the afternoon. But it did not make any sense to spend time in my Hotel Broadway room, and I decided to go down, in the morning itself. After a hot water bath and repacking, settled all my bills. INR 800 per day was not a bad deal, but was a bit on the higher side, considering the youth hostel rate.
Left at around 10:20 in the morning after having the cake, I had bought from the bakery a day earlier. This time I arranged for a porter, after learning a lesson during my uphill walk along with my luggage. The porter was quite reasonable and took only 100 rupees for the half an hour of downhill porting.
Although the reporting was not started the care taker at Kadambari was courteous enough to admit me. Few surprises were waiting out here, the first was, they would not give any ruck sack and you have to have your own sack. Luckily I had my Swiss gear bag, which was good enough for me. The second surprise, which probably was my ignorance, was to have a medical fitness certificate. I was also not able to find the photos, which I was sure I was carrying. So these were the two things that needed to be arranged before registering myself.
I dropped my bag in the dormitory where I met Swaraj and Mukund, respectively from Pune and Nagpur. This is according to me is the most interesting part of the trek. Met them at 12:30 and by 1:30 we were talking like old friends. Swaraj accompanied me to the market to find doctor, who can issue a medical certificate. I really got lucky here as one of the local doctors in a medical shop issued one at Rs.100 only.
I decided to take a closer look at the market again, as there wasn’t much activity at the base camp at this point of time. It was a bright day, with lot of people on the streets and the market was flooded with people. Went down till the chowk where local singing and traditional programs were being held. It was again a huge crowd, with few of them were dressed in their traditional costumes and enjoying the occasion. The general mood of Darjeeling, as I found, was happy and contented and somehow my conviction says that it’s not because of their well to do financial condition, but again a gift of god, along with the beauty of the nature and pleasant weather.
Now I was quite hungry and a local KFC shop in the market looked quite inviting. Chicken popcorn with rice was quite fulfilling. For next eight days, I would be on constant run and would lead nomadic life, so had more civilized setting for this lunch.
By the time I was back to dormitory, we had a full house and a gang of 7 guys from Pune had joined us. Challenging part was, there was only one toilet to be shared between 10 of us :).The formalities related to filling up of forms, attaching the required documents and photos were completed and we were asked to assemble in the hall. After the dinner we had a short briefing on the trek covering topics like discipline, facilities, precautions and a little history about this trek.
Now it was time for introductions, where initially the camp leaders, in the base camp as well as higher camps, were introduced. We had people coming from all across India, in our batch. There were people from Hydrabad, Banglore, Dehli, Mumbai, Jabalpur, Chennai, Ratnagiri, Colcutta and Punjab. The elderly gentleman at the age of 65 who had completed 12 YHI treks was the center of attraction for all of us. Murthi was retired personnel from LIC and there were four more ladies from LIC who were in their mid-fifties. The rest of the crowd was mainly bachelors and there were couple of IITians among them. It was interesting to meet a couple from Jabalpur who were enjoying these treks now, after educating their son and seeing him settled at Banglore.
I met Vinod from Mumbai, who had quit his software job recently and was pursuing his LLB. Although he had his batch the next day, we persuaded him to join us. None of these people I had met before and now for the next 8 days, we would be together in the wilderness of the mountains and sharing stories, helping each other and clicking snaps. By the time we finish our trek, I would have friends in all the corners of the country and this feeling was amazing.
After getting to know each other, we had already been talking about our past trekking experiences. There was this different excitement about embarking on yet another YHI trek and the curiosity about the route, the challenges, whether we would see snow or not. The declaration of availability of Pakka Houses and no tents made me feel good. Although tents have their own charm, it gets really tough to put up in a tent in this kind of cold. It also creates different challenges to carry out the morning rituals :).
Now it was time to sleep as next day we were supposed to get up early for the acclimatization walk at 7 am to peace pagoda.