Back in 2015, four of us were doing the Yuksom-Dzongri trek, one of the most popular trekking routes in Sikkim. But since we were keen on birding, and did not want to lots of people on the way, we did the trek off-season, in December. Our guide was Mr Suba, a soft-spoken local who was not part of the big trekking business. He and his 2-member team (which included Suba himself) and horses were our companions for the next 5 days. Suba’s associate was Buddha Singh, a jovial young man with the most contagious laughter. He was also our cook for the trek. Our plan for the next few days was to make do with the basics and manage with simple food. We thought we had not signed up for a typical “tea house” trek. All we wanted was to see as many birds as possible over the next few days. We had warned Suba that we were bird watchers and that we walk very slowly. He soon charted out our route. We were to camp at Sachen, followed by Tsoka, and Dzongri. Bakhim which was enroute to Sachen and Tshoka was our return halt; and Phedang, we did not halt, as there was a water problem there.
On our first day, we left Yuksom at around 8am, after a scrumptious breakfast of Tibetan bread and Yak cheese at the village itself, in a place called Gupta’s Restaurant. Suba said that with a slow pace, we should be able to reach our first camp Sachen by 1pm. He over-estimated our speed for we had reached Sachen at 3-30pm! Buddha Singh was waiting for us, so that he could serve us our late lunch. We were famished and we slouched at the cabin front. A small stream passed through the campsite and many chestnut crowned laughing thrushes and blue whistling thrushes were hanging out there. Five minutes later, this was laid out: Puri bhaiji, soup noodles, omlet and bread.
We had no idea that we were going to be getting food like this! Buddha Singh and Suba whipped up some of the most amazing dishes over the next few days- soups, pasta, daal made nettle leaves (local plant), roti sabji, noodles and what not.
The meals were filled with their hard work and love. I remember this one night at Bakhim on our return journey. There was only the light of a poorly lit lamp in the kitchen cum eating area. I saw Buddha Singh peering into the salad plate and arranging the cucumber and tomato pieces in a nice design. He spent 2 minutes meticulously placing each piece in a symmetric manner, after which he got the plate out to us. We were so touched by his gesture and were all praises for him and he blushed!
What was particularly sweet about Buddha Singh was that he was always smiling. Every wrinkle on his face was happy one. As we got to know him better, we would openly talk and joke about things and he would laugh. His laugh was a booming one and whether you found the joke funny or not, you are sure to laugh when you heard Buddha Singh; so contagious was his laugh. I truly miss his laugh and love filled meals !
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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.