Located at the southwestern coast of Mauritius, this mountain is held close to the heart of Mauritians because of the formidable tale attached to it.
Le Morne Brabant has been registered as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2008 because of this very story.
For those who are unaware, our ancestors were brought to Mauritius as slaves and indentured labourers from Africa, India and China. Centuries ago, some of the slaves evaded capture and hid in Le Morne Brabant for days. After the abolition of slavery, On February 01, 1835, some soldiers and police went in search of these slaves to inform them that they were free men and women. The slaves misinterpreted the arrival of the police and were terrified of the idea of being caught by their ruthless masters. They jumped from the top of the mountain, choosing to be dead and free rather than being alive and owned. As a tribute to them, a cross has been built on the public beach situated at the foot of the mountain.
Le Morne Brabant is only 555m above sea level and it takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to get to the summit. However, the steepness and loose gravels on the way up to, add a little spice to the difficulty level of the climb. For these reasons, the trail is closed during rainy days.
The views on the blue lagoon throughout the climb can only be described as picturesque. I climbed this mountain in summer when it was about 32°C. When we would get tired, the thought of how our ancestors went through this path barefoot, without food or even a single drop of water kept us going. I remember how other hikers got discouraged about halfway up and went back saying that the descent will be more challenging as it was about to rain. However, when hiking and travelling, it is more reliable to trust your instinct than following others.
We continued our way up and the satisfaction of reaching the top of the summit despite all the challenges we faced from the start of the journey, was fulfilling. Just like the slaves won over their masters, we won over our fears and doubt.
A true feeling of victory.
The cross is often a religious symbol but the one at the top of the summit is a sign of recognition for the choice of freedom made by the slaves. Though many would find it controversial and offending, I climbed the cross to express the respect I have for my ancestors. As I stood there with my hands stretched out, the winds blowing all around gave me a sense of freedom and joy. The freedom to be true to yourself, despite others trying to impose their thoughts and beliefs on you. The joy of reaching your final destination. Maybe that’s how my ancestors too, felt in that moment when they jumped.
Travel is simple yet so vast. He had seen a bit of the world and the worldly ways. He understood life is a cycle when you start somewhere you have to reach the end. But he always enjoyed the journey in between. It is always the journey that pulls him towards the unknown. He loves striking a conversation whenever he is travelling, he loves looking people at the airport, albeit it sounds strange but he loves it. He thinks there are so many people travelling for so many reasons. Aren’t we all travelling? We have been travelling since the inception he understood it now. He knows this cycle will never end. He travels for exposure, knowledge and experience. But the most important thing he travels for is wisdom and quietude. It is strange, he loves meeting people in his travels but he seeks solitude and prefers to be alone. Sipping incessant cups of chai with different people, sniffing and drinking freshly brewed coffee with some delicious cookies at a cafe, walking the narrow streets, smelling trees and plants while climbing the mountains, he loves it all. He lives to witness this world. Travel for him is not a choice, neither an option. It is a necessity. A need to evolve his soul and grow, a need to nurture his passion and the need to unite with the universe. He travels not just to observe or for recreation. He travels to live but not always for a living.
Sitting with three of my likeminded friends in a room in Palchan, a small village situated 11 km ahead of Manali, we were talking about places to explore nearby. We didn’t plan this trip, we just followed the tune of nature and synchronised our movement rhythmically, that is rather summing up sophisticatedly for an excuse by teenagers who have no clue about life.
That’s when we came across something called ’Dhundi’. Dhundi is the last village in Solang Valley and closest to the Beas river. It witnesses the intersection of the mighty Beas river with its first tributary originating from the Beas Kund and the Rohtang Pass respectively. It is also the first village from the south portal of the Rohtang tunnel, which is now called the ‘Atal Tunnel’.
Our hotel was adjacent to the Palchan bridge and Dhundi was around 10-11 km ahead of us. So we decided to visit Dhundi next day and fell asleep all excited. The next day I woke up at 7 am and the temperature was -10 degrees Celsius and the sun hid behind the mountains, maybe a little angry with us for not getting up on time to see it’s first rays.
With that thought, I forcefully woke my friends up and we headed towards Solang Ski and Ropeway Centre. We were stopped by the Border Road Organisation’s ranger, who at first was very friendly but as soon as we told him about our destination, got a bit sceptical. We asked him the way to Dhundi to which he replied – Bhai Ji, you have already crossed Dhundi and there is no village named Dhundi ahead. But when it comes to travelling, we need to rely on our instincts, so we found an alternative route other than the metal road because before proper roads were made, the Himachali people used hidden trails in the mountains to travel.
We eventually were treading on a rock trail which was on the outer edge of the mountain but gradually curved into a narrow trail which led us to a pine forest. Suddenly we were amidst a thick blanket of snow and we had lost it. Each step we took made us feel heavy than the previous one because the snow got inside our shoes making them wet and heavy. We thought this is probably our last trek.
Our trail suddenly ended on what I think was an intersection of two adjoining mountains, it forced us to take a left to find us ourselves in the middle of a snug waterfall flowing over the trail we were supposed to take. We were stuck again. One of my friends went to look out for an alternate trail but came back disappointed.
There was only one way to cross and that was to jump on the other side. Luckily we found a tree to grab onto so we land safely. So I jumped first and barely caught it because my feet slipped, I quickly cleared away the snow from the landing spot for my friends to jump. We came back close to the highway and clearly saw the intersection of our trail and we all were pleased to see the road again but it was short-lived. We heard a rumbling sound and found ourselves looking at two big boulders tumbling down from the mountain bringing with them kind of a mini avalanche just a few hundred metres ahead of us. We never had an experience like this before feeling so helpless in front of nature. All we could do was to run for our life. We discussed taking the road back to Palchan.
But we didn’t come this close to go back without entering Dhundi.
After a kilometre, we saw a partially completed tunnel just next to a tunnel which was entirely destroyed by a landslide. After crossing the tunnel and covering another kilometre, we saw massive cranes, excavators and road rollers. We found the supervisor of these massive machines and asked him about the place. He told us we were near Dhundi. He asked us about how we got here, so we told him about the ranger and the trail we found.
He blatantly told us – you shouldn’t have taken the trail because this whole area is an avalanche and landslide prone area and in the winter months this place is unpredictable.
Tourist cars need prior permission before entering this area and that too on a very tight come and go schedule because there can be an avalanche anytime”. He was clearing the highway which was blocked by a landslide which struck 3 days before we visited. He also told us to return before it gets dark because temperature reaches as low as -20° Celsius in the evening itself.
I looked at my watch, the time was 1:30 pm and we still had 2 kilometres to cover so we increased our pace and reached the Dhundi bridge.
Being a snow-fed river in Solang Valley region, the Beas river was almost frozen and there wasn’t too much water so we decided to find the intersection point following the river and we were successful.
Two rivers with water as so clear that even the tiniest of the pebbles on the riverbed was visible to the naked eye. As soon as I reached the intersection, I removed my gloves, sat beside the Beas river, dipped my hands in the icy cold water and took a sip of the cleanest water that I ever drank in my entire life and probably the cleanest water in the entire Himachal Pradesh at that moment.
We were walking on snow that nobody had walked on for months. We were finding solid ground by poking a long stick in the fresh snow.
There were massive rocks in the then dried up Beas river which we used to sit and admire the beautiful scenery that Dhundi showed us. We found a perfectly elevated rock to sit and admire the view.
We were completely isolated. During sub zero temperature, the villagers of Dhundi go to a lower region and make a temporary settlement to be safe from avalanches and landslides. So it was just us, the endless mountains and the crystal clear Beas river flowing beneath us.
This was the most thrilling and the most frightening adventure of my life.
From jumping over a waterfall in the edge of a mountain to witnessing an avalanche in front of my eyes. This adventure made me rethink our existence.
How easily our life could be taken from us.
We should live life to the fullest and do what our heart says because life could be unpredictable.
So travel as much as you can and as soon as you can.
Nature does not belong to us, we belong to nature. Have you ever wondered why people find happiness and solitude in travelling? Humans have been nomads since ancient times, and it has been our trait from time immemorial. Our natural instinct was always to roam, stay close to nature and adapt to our surroundings. It always brought peace to that instinct and self-satisfaction to the soul. Hikes and treks have become the new means of that part of seeking ourselves. No mineral water bottles. Drink from springs and streams, do not worry if it isn’t a renowned brand. Be a part of nature. It is okay to sweat, it is okay to get some bruises, it is alright to not bath for a few days, to try new stuff, to meet new people while travelling, to caress the dogs that lead your path. Be Kind. Let us be humble and grateful for all we are offered by the mother Earth. The whole purpose of travel is to become a better person and establish a bond with nature which is now somehow diluted due to all the modernization surrounding us. When in the lap of nature, let us try to be as sustainable as possible.
According to him, the Mountains are the best places on Earth to go for an adventure. He can be completely free and is able to do many activities in the Mountains. From nature walks, hiking, camping, trekking, rock climbing, mountain biking, paragliding and much more. He loves to indulge in one or more of these activities whenever he travels to the mountains because it fills his soul with simplicity, adventure and joy.
He Travels to the Mountains because he constantly wants to appreciate the beauty of nature, and he thinks that Mountains are the best creation of God. Trees, river, lakes, glaciers, birds and animals – he loves everything which makes these mountains worth admiring. He travels to the mountains because he just wants to sit on a cliff and be thankful to Mahadeva for the blessings and got a chance to live this life and witness his beautiful creation. He Travels to the Mountains because he wants to know himself, he is curious to know his strengths and weaknesses, the more time he spends in the mountains, the more he gets to know about himself.
We know it’s irritating not to be able to go for our adventures these days, but it’s alright, when the time is right we want you to wear how you feel about the world of outdoors. We have launched our apparel. Let us know which design excites you the most? Comment and tell us.
Over ice, I’m freezing Beautiful eyes, deceiving We may die this evening Coughing, wheezing, bleeding High, I’m an anxious soul Blood moons are my eyes, stay low Red and black, they glow Under attack, in my soul When it’s my time, I’ll know Never seen a hell so cold Yeah, we’ll make it out, I’ll know We’ll run right through the flames, let’s go.
It was as if almost all our lives could be played on a recorder and fast-forwarded to this moment.
Every onset and eventuality in the journey of life was nothing, but a step further towards it. As if the whole life is a mountain and this moment is the peak.
This moment of the first sight I experienced, the sight of Kanchendzonga.
As if all our lives are waves of a thoughtless storm and Kanchendzonga is the shore. Everything that has happened and un-happened, everyone I became and un–became, was one step closer towards this calling. As if all the paths I have ever walked upon were to reach the peak of this moment called Kanchendzonga.
These were my raw thoughts, overwhelmed by the first sight of this mountain. I gently closed my diary and capped my pen. Without reading any of it. It was not just a mountain for me, for those who have seen Kanchendzonga, would know it. For those who haven’t, may jolly well conclude that I am batshit crazy and that’s okay. In that moment, which loomed for hours unknown, the clear blue sky gave way to the crimson evening. The winds were in a cold hurry and so was I, It was getting dark.
We were in a group of 10, but I sneaked some time out to spend alone. My fellow trekkers led the way forward, while I decided to meditate in ‘woods and words’. Before leaving, Indranil, our trip leader, reiterated that I need to follow the single trailed–steep path, downhill.
Jolted by a sense of delay, I jumped to grab my belongings. My cold hands surrendered to the freeze quickly, while I still tried to fasten my backpack. One last look, before I hit the mysterious jungle. Mount Pandim (21,952 feet) and Kanchendzonga (28,169.29 Feet), overlooked the sun-kissed grass. Autumn colours made the wild fields look like a palette of reds and oranges, cheerily mixed with green. I finally picked up my backpack and tripod, when Indranil’s last words rang in my head – “Be careful. No matter what, do not venture inside the jungle. Stick to your trail until you reach a river, that’s our campsite.
I entered the Rhododendron jungle. Thick moss comfortably wrapped thin branches, illuminated by the fading sun. The wind stealthily whizzed through the branches, making the jungle alive, as though breathing. The loose rocks made the downhill steep–unladed path a careful affair. I was carrying my camera on the tripod head. In non-photographic language, it simply means that I did not have the luxury to fall. Thus, began my journey into the labyrinth.
As feet follow the trail, the mind follows another. Even before I realised it, I was in the middle of the “haunted” trails of Goechala.
Goechala is said to be so enchanting that wayfarers lose the sense of reality here. The trail earns a notorious name because many trekkers have lost their way here. In yesteryear, a guide followed a bird, blood pheasant, and lost his way in the jungle, while crossing the Phedang trail. What started as a little detour to click the picture of a bird, led him to the heart of the wilderness and he could not retrace his footsteps back to the trail. Only when a local search and rescue operation was launched, was he found in the jungle, completely hazed and clueless about his whereabouts.
Several other people have been lured and ventured into the forest. Some found and some never to be seen again. But my fate did not swing in between these possibilities. I was certain about the trail and rejected any urge to stop. Well, until I looked back. The entangled Rhododendron branches gleamed fluorescent. The green moss spread across the barren crimson sky. Now that’s a photographer’s problem, give us a frame like that and we can’t help but drool. A couple of shots to feed the photographer and bit of artistic angles to keep the writer happy and like a fool, we’d think every shot is a National Geographic entry.
I resumed my quest with a smile. As it started getting dark, winds became strong. As if someone is blowing them freely. This led me to believe that I am not alone. Suddenly the jungle was breathing heavier, as evening settled in. I still had a long way to reach Kockchurang.
Once upon a time, an old man walked the same path. This sleepy watchguard, who lives alone in the middle of nowhere, in a place called Thansing. Imagine a huge clearing of miles and miles of barren land. A lone man, igniting a bonfire, in a lonely cottage. Every-day. This is how Chacha has always lived. At least since the past 25 years that my people know him for. His human interaction is limited to the trek season of 4 to 5 months. Every year, when people meet him and he’d be there; just like the last year. Just like the trekker’s hut, the river and the mountains. The forest and the wild. Timeless. Simply maddening a tad more, with every passing season. So here’s Chacha’s story. The old man was helping a group of lost trekkers to cross the jungle. It was about to be dark and Chacha decided to return to his cottage in Thansing. They say, while hiking alone, he too could hear the jungle breathing. They say, he saw something unfathomable. And he ran, ran all the way to save his life. Rumours of a Yeti not only spread soon but are alive till date.
Weaving these thoughts, I didn’t even realise that I could see a giant figure at the far distance. Waving at me. It was Indranil. And I was home!
My home somehow pictured like this. There was an old trekker’s hut. A brook quietly made its way by the side. A quaint wooden bridge arched over the brook. The brook and the bridge, in eternal companionship, holding hands against the “haunted” trekker’s hut. I crossed the bridge and hugged my fellow trekkers like they were the only family I ever had! Now, that’s the thing about travel, it bonds you beyond blood and brotherhood.
Just a few steps after crossing the bridge is a cliff, perfectly edged. A muffled roar of the Prek–Chu river far below, touched its feet! I sat there for a while, thinking about how this place truly resembles Shangri–la.
Many refer to Goechala as the last Shangri–la. Khangchendzonga translates to five repositories of God’s treasure. It is a prevalent belief that this treasure is hidden in the mountains around Yuksom. These mountains are also said to hide the secret gateway to Shangri–la that will be revealed to the right person at the right time. I wonder if all these lost souls, find their secret gate to the other world and decide never to come back? If these people were the right people, present at the right time, to stumble upon the magical world? Here’s a small legend a little monk once narrated:
An old monk knew the way to the magical valley of Shangri–la. He even possessed a detailed map to reach the valley. However, he was the last bearer of this information. Tempted by this idea, powerful nincompoops of that era chased the old monk. All in vain! The monk reached Shangri–la valley and jumped off the cliff. Thereafter, nobody was able to find it. I shuddered at this possibility.
Breaking my stream of thoughts, I could hear a distant chatter. Indranil was sharing the tale of the haunted hut in Kockchurang.
Years ago, a German and a French man lived together in the hut. Eventually, the French man murdered the German and absconded. Ever since then, the hut is said to be haunted by the good Samaritan German ghost, who flashes a torch through the window past midnight, cutting through the darkness. It’s spooky how long ago, Indranil regardless spent a night there. Alone.
The Shangri–la within:
The saga is unending. These mysteries will continue for an aeon. That is what makes Goechala truly magical. I wish I could go back to myself in the moment when I first saw Kanchendzonga and tell myself that this moment was my Shangri–la! Maybe, we all carry our Shangri–la within, only to be revealed at the right time!
If it calls you, this itinerary is your way to Shangri–la:
Day 1: New Jalpaiguri railway station/Bagdogra Airport to Yuksom
Day 2: Yuksom local Acclimatization
Day 3: Yuksom (5800 feet) to Sachen (7250feet). 4 hours
My mind continuously travels and has an unimaginable speed of peeking into my past and quickly diving into my unknown realm of future, weaving my coveted dreams only to be distracted with a sudden sound and bang, I am in present. Yet, it continues my voluntary journey.
The moment I am back in the present, I consciously start planning my next visit, as most of the times, to lesser-known undisturbed territories that are full of nature’s magnificence. After the humdrum of city life soaking into the purity with no social abiding law gives a sense of liberty. A moment to be truly me appreciating God’s gifts.
It is there I get a sense of real belonging. My senses merge with nature’s five elements in complete union. The burbling of stream, the gentle swishing of leaves, the tall and short trees, the natural light, sitting under the various shades of the sky on a rock takes me into complete bliss. The walk encountered with few people in the same spirit ignites the rejuvenating spark.
In continuity and tirelessly, I am never bored with the flora and fauna; the wildlife, landscapes, scenery and the countryside; each location has ample to offer and teach. My yearning is the same. I come back as a humble and grounded person.
Neelam Jayneel is a life coach and a counsellor with a vast experience in hospitality, human resources, FMCG sector and writing. She loves to help people achieve their goals and to pave a way forward for humanity. she has the joy of spiritual awakening through regular meditation that has provided a sense of inner calm and looks forward to impact as many people’s life both professionally and personally.
I clambered in the vehicle with pure elation. Light pink and purple hue swayed across the sky as our safari gypsy speeds up to 90 kilometers an hour in the next ten seconds. I seized the seat handle slipping from my grasp and bearing the wind hitting me to the bone, I momentarily forgot it was April, the gateway month to the great Indian summer.
Swaddled in a blanket, over a roller-coaster road hemmed by lush green fields, opening into widely spaced trees in a few miles and small craggy peaks formed the recurring backdrop, only if you could open eyes to see.
Buffeted by strong winds that made a walloping sound forced us to shut our eyes. Soon, we yelled to hear each other and from time to time our blankets loosen open until we fought it back into place. We started the process and slowly the enthusiasm faded as the jeep nudged over uneven roads. Lost in the moment, I gripped onto hot tea flasks and turned a blind eye to how cold I felt.
Listening to the wailing wind and murmur of branches we bent behind a mountain and continued on a wooded trail until the car stopped for a short haul and we saw before us the forest gate inked ‘Ranthambore Tiger Reserve’.
A gentle wind caresses our face, “ oh, the monster has passed” said our travel companion, an Australian who had flown 7,000 miles out in the Indian wilderness to spot a tiger with his wife.
I collect myself, letting my body relax and my husband getting ready veiling under the dusk mask.
My eyes popped out seeing the bazooka, NIKKOR 200–500mm f/5.6E ED VR that my Australian friend unfastened from his camera backpack.
It’s 7 in the morning and I felt a perfect stillness in the forest, a sort that you get nowhere else, but in the woods after a snowfall or in a desert after a devastating sandstorm.
We barely caught sight of the tiger limping hurriedly into the deep bushes, everything from back and in five seconds. Albeit we missed the encounter. The spot bombarded with stories from other guides of the epic duel between two tigers over territorial supremacy.
The forest trails would follow fortress gates and many historic ruins reminding you of the hunting grounds of Rajput royals of India.
Our driver Ravi started bending sideways while controlling the steering. Struck by the same impulse, we peered over the side of the vehicle to see a remarkably big pug mark next to three tiny pug marks in the dry road.
We laboured a few miles up a mountain. I can never forget passing through a narrow trail bordering right by a deep drop and on left spiky twigs sprouting out from the ridge. We scooted under the tunnel of bushes fearing of mishap and imagining a tiger can easily cloak under the golden foliage.
No trees fell nor felines, all that fell on us was the lung filling smell of chlorophyll while pushing through low branches. We reached the spot; a rectangular stretch of rocky upland bounded by an escarpment in the front and a forest in the back. Those iconic oranges and black stripes mysteriously move from the thickets. We were way behind, there were dozens of more jeeps before us who got lucky securing vantage points. Even our cameras failed to capture the tigress and her cubs. We all held our breath and waited.
Gauging the scenario, holding the camera tight telling oneself that the tigress was out there, most likely eyeballing everybody from the bush. Adventure is not over. After an hour, we finally made peace with reality, it was not our day.
In dampened spirits, we returned for the gates. I stood for a second catching my breath to see something come into sight. My eyes widen as the thing comes closer. Our driver announced ‘ tiger, tiger sitting here’. My eyes open wide, I couldn’t believe it! It’s a tiger, a huge sized seating on an eye-level ridge distanced by 70 meters from us. The bazooka suddenly turned nonfunctional at such a close distance. He throws his legs over the rock base and moves his body gracefully forward. He gave me time to adjust my lens and I saw a jaw stretching move through the viewfinder. All those moves of a tiger we grew up seeing in National Geographic.
The heart-thudding stare of the tiger couldn’t make me move, next to me the water hole was the true mirror. There was no one except us. It felt magical, indescribable and within I felt ‘This moment is mine’. Only I followed his gaze to find a procession of jeeps standing behind us. The tiger gets up soundlessly and bounds ahead gallantly into the forest.
On our way back, Ravi overstated the entire event by saying “ he could smell the tiger”. Though I couldn’t agree to his concocted stories. It truly took a while for my heart to return to its usual pace but even much longer for the grin to fade off. I thanked my lucky stars for granting me the moment and my best tiger click. They say you stand a better chance of spotting a tiger if you’re in a gypsy against a canter, near the lake, in the morning against an evening safari or during the summers when animals come near watering holes.
These are some of the telltales of our Indian jungles, but I say, you see it only if you’re destined to see it.
Satarupa Mitra Datta is a travel writer and has worked extensively in television channels (both in fiction and non-fiction genre). She has been instrumental in writing compelling scripts for travel shows in India. She aims for travel writing that communicates a strong sense of place, character and discovery. She designs her own trips and itineraries relying on local guides and community non-profits as well as individuals who conduct heritage walks or gifted chefs taking on a food tour, giving travelers the opportunity to engage in cultural exchange.