The road to Yuksom

This is a story from the time I spent in Sikkim in 2010.




“…and then I distributed campaign chits for SDF. It was boring work. So I became guide at friend’s company. Goecha La is beautiful. If you want, I can take you to Goecha La. The first time I went there I was 10 years old, my father pushed me down a hill because I was walking slow to teach me how to walk on mountains. Hahaha. Now it’s not difficult. More difficult for you. But easy for me. But don’t worry, I’ll take care of you if you come with me. I have tent, sleeping bag, blanket, everything. I like my job. Meet lots of nice girls. I can join you in a group if you like. Cheaper for you and also more fun. 10 years after, you can tell your babies you met your wife on Goecha La with me. Hahaha. One girl from France went with me 2 years before still sends me letters and postcard. If you come to my office, I can show you. Then there was this other Italian…”

I cut Sonam off here and turned to his more reticent partner Tashi and asked, “So what do you do?”

Before Tashi could open his mouth, Sonam blurted, “He loves a nurse” and laughed uproariously in his typically screechy manner.

The three of us were cooped up along with the driver in the front seat of a jeep packed full of people going from Geyzing to Yuksom. Tashi had to put up with the least comfortable seat next to the driver with his legs spread over the gears. They were perilously close to Tashi’s member and the driver had to toggle them up, down and sideways frequently to stay the course on the mountainous road. I had to squeeze myself in the corner next to the window while Sonam appeared to be the most comfortable having a lot of space not just to talk endlessly but also to spread his legs and wave his hands about to elaborate his points.

Tashi had a resigned, saintly look about him whenever Sonam would open his mouth to mock him. But at the suggestion of a romance with the nurse and the scornful laughter that accompanied it, he appeared positively miffed.

“I’m not in love. I only like to talk to her. That is all”, he said, with a mighty huff.

“He’s in love. She’s 10 years older than him but he likes her very much”, said Tashi.

“That is because nobody can talk to you. She is a nice person. Not like your foreign girls.”

“So you do love her, huh?”

“I don’t. And even if I did, I won’t tell you.”

“You don’t have to tell me anything. I know. Everyone knows. Hahaha.”

Tashi was enraged. He turned towards Sonam, wagged his finger, and said, “One more word and… and…” The driver who was trying to keep his vehicle going in the middle of this unwelcome confrontation pulled Tashi by the collar, whacked him on the head and said, “Sit straight or get out!”

Sonam’s victorious laughter that followed this punishment was cut short by the driver yelling at him saying, “And you! Shut up for 10 minutes or I throw you out also.” He looked at me and said, “These two, always fighting. Don’t talk to them.”

I took his advice and stayed mum while Sonam and Tashi kept bickering at each other. It got boring after a while and I fell asleep. My mind soon drifted into dreamspace but deep within my subconscious, I could hear rumblings of a cantankerous boy yelling at somebody saying, “I’m Slim Shady, yes I’m the Real Shady All you other Shadys are just imitating…” This made the more conscious parts of the subconscious think, ”Hey, I think I know this motherf…” to which the uppermost crust of my thought strata responded, “What the fuck is this jerk doing in my head?” At precisely this moment, I was woken up by Sonam yelling Eminem’s immortal whines in my ear.

During the 5 minutes I was asleep, Sonam, Tashi and the driver had put all their differences aside and had begun to jam together to all the pop songs they knew. Sonam laughed at my bleary eyes and said, “Haha, you fall asleep. Can’t sleep in car!”

Sonam and Tashi lived in the same village and worked for the same trekking outfit, taking groups into Dzongri and Goecha La every season. This banter I witnessed appeared to be a routine they had rehearsed all their life. Sonam, being irreverent and bullying Tashi while Tashi quietly letting his anger simmer only to explode violently before the driver shut the two of them down. It was terrifying to witness it sitting in the front seat because the driver would lose control on the precipitously curvy roads every now and then while getting distracted with their fight.

Soon we reached Yuksom and I sauntered into the first hotel I could spot. Their budget rooms were sold out but they had a room free in the underground basement with a shared toilet that I could use for 100 Rs. a night. The room was in a corner of a dank yet spacious hall and was not a lot bigger than the size of a matchbox. I was incredibly sleepy, so I dozed out without a thought in its claustrophobic interiors.

Two hours later, I was woken up by loud 90s boy band music playing outside my room. I went out to investigate the source of this disturbance and found a big party of local boys smoking weed and getting drunk. Among them were the familiar faces of Sonam, Tashi and the driver. Sonam welcomed me into the fold like a long lost friend who had wandered away. All the members of this group belonged in some way to the trekking fraternity. There were cooks, porters, guides, handlers and fixers. After a few rounds of moonshine and barley brews began a session of sharing stories and venting frustrations about the prickly tourists they had to endure.

Much of the conversation was in Nepali and I could only get a gist of what was being said. In any case, since the howls of laughter never ceased, the stories must have been very amusing indeed. Soon, another gallon of barley wine arrived and people got drunk even more. In the middle of this round, Sonam went over to Tashi and began making fun of him. The driver came over to my side, chuckled and said, “He’s telling him about his girlfriend, the nurse”, and went over to join his buddies in the fun. Tashi protested valiantly and appeared to get a few shots in. It was a fairly vicious exchange but it never descended into physical violence as I feared it would.

Then, perhaps tiring of these exertions, they cranked up the music and began to dance. I, too, was made to shed my inhibitions and forced to join in. Now, my gut reaction to a dance floor is to run in the opposite direction but here, there was no escape. I couldn’t possibly go to my room and sleep when all this cacophony was going on right outside my door and I wouldn’t be allowed to sit in a corner quietly and watch. It was all Eminem and Black Eyed Peas and Snoop Dogg and Backstreet Boys, the sort of stuff I loathed from the bottom of my soul in 2010. So I flapped my arms and legs about as unimaginatively and listlessly as I could which had the effect of Sonam and the others bawling with laughter at my ridiculous moves.

As we were flailing about, some of us less inebriated folks could hear a faint rustle underneath the booming noise. Sonam put his finger to his lips and shut down the music. The faint rustle was now a very profound rustle and was emanating from a corner of the basement. A closer look revealed it to be a half-finished packet of chips which was being rapidly consumed by a rat the size of a kitten. The size did not intimidate Sonam as he crept up to the creature, lifted it by its tail and gleefully flung it outside a window.

The music started again and while Sonam and a few others went back to dancing to celebrate their victory over a puny animal, some of the others sat down because they were too drunk or tired. As I joined them and imbibed more barley wine, one of the more enterprising Nepali boys came over to my side to talk to me.

“Hi, my name is Dawa. You know Goecha La?”, he asked.

“I’ve heard of it, yes”, I said, cautiously.

“It’s not far from here. There are beautiful forests. Amazing views. Kanchenjunga. If you want, I take you. I take lot of foreigners.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing yet,” I said, “If I go, I’ll find you.”

“You come to Yuksom and not go to Goecha La, it’s a waste. Let’s go tomorrow.”

“I’m just too tired. I don’t think I’ll be doing anything tomorrow.”

“Okay, maybe day after?”

And here, he got a big whack on the head from none other than Sonam. He had seen Dawa conversing with his potential customer and this pissed him off no end. Sonam was so drunk that he couldn’t even stand steadily on his feet. He began slapping Dawa around and had to be restrained by the driver and two bigger boys. The two argued incessantly in Nepali, perhaps about who this prized moneybag belonged to.

After they calmed down, Sonam came over to me and said, “You go with me, okay? Not him. We talked first. We go tomorrow?”

“I’m not going anywhere tomorrow,” I said. “Good night.”

Then I went to my bed and dropped down like a sack of potatoes.


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