A trek to Sandakphu
Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy Arts & Letters

By the time we were at the Dhaka airport ready to depart for Kolkata, we kind of knew this trip was going to be incredible. I was ready with my sketchbook, so were a singer/songwriter with her ukulele and an agency guru with crazy ideas in mind. We could hardly wait to set off. Other than our travelling route Kolkata-Shiliguri- Maniyabhanjan-Kalapokhri-Sandakphu, everything else was pretty much unplanned. 

Travelling for me has always been a gateway to the wilderness. Doesn’t matter if it is concrete jungle or the vastness of the sea – the aim is always towards the “great escape.” Basically to break away from my own mental captivity.

After landing in Kolkata, pushing ourselves through the crazy mid-day traffic we finally jumped inside the train heading towards Shiliguri and realised this was going to be a long train journey with people from diverse ethnic backgrounds not talking to one another. But as soon as Sovvota, my friend, took out her guitar and I started sketching a face or two, everything changed. By the time the train journey was over, everyone bonded over art and music so well that even I was having hard time saying goodbye to the people sitting or standing around. This is also something that fascinates me about travelling and life in general, even at moments when you are out there looking for the “great escape”, your heart still continues to make friends, struggles to let go and wander knowing none of this is permanent. 

We did trek for three days from Maniyabanjan to Sandakphu staying the nights at Tonglu and Kalapokhri. The trekking route was on the India-Nepal border and it was planned in such a tortuous way that sometimes we were in India going inside the Singalila National Park and sometimes even without knowing we were entering Nepal and exploring its unique geographical and architectural beauty.  

I realised when you decide to trek it is very different from when you compartmentalize yourself in the back of a vehicle and let someone else drive you to a destination. I learned trekking to unknown places propels you into taking authority and overcoming physical limitation, which adds meaning and deeper understanding to yourself and to your traveling as a whole. For example, at the end of our first day when we got to see the sunset from the top of Tonglu, it didn’t feel like unreal or a scene from a TV screen; it rather felt more like we earned it and this was “as good as it gets.”

The second night at Kalapokhri I learned another thing: there are many things that money cannot buy. No, I am not talking about happiness or the sunset; I am talking about things like hot water and blankets! The things that actually have monetary value. Because of insufficient supply, the host were dillydallying to provide us with those things without which it was difficult to get by at that point. These are the moments where I always believe in my art!  So I started sketching and interacting with our host. I looked at my other friend, MA Maruf, the agency guru, and immediately he knew what to do. Using his undisputed marketing skills, he started negotiating with our host with all that we have. The bargain was to sing a Nepali song, a portrait and a few puffs from my friend’s vaping device in return for hot water and blankets.  

The negotiation went well. There was also a complementary hot water bag for the night from the host, impressed as he was by my friend’s  ‘melodic’ voice, the host mentioned. We survived our last night.

Drawing is something I do to express myself and to communicate with others. It makes me calm when I tell my stories and draw others. The trip was coming to an end and so was my sketchbook. On our way back, we travelled through Darjeeling, rode a motorbike to Mirrik and laughed and enjoyed the moments. After living those moments to the fullest, we were ready to go back home.

The writer is staff cartoonist at Dhaka Tribune. The illustrations have been scanned from his Sketchbook

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