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Beginning to trek in a foreign country 'Bhutan'

This time, in the group of 17, I hardly knew anyone closely from beforehand. In fact, I came to know that I was one of the trek leaders just two days before we were to leave, during our briefing and goods distribution meeting. My co-leader Amol and I had been on just one trek, that too incomplete. It was to the Pin-Parvati pass. Some rough experiences in this one made us suitable for leaders. Our doctor Rohit was a trek older than us, however. Anyway, let us begin with the story.

It begins with the penultimate briefing from the club members who gave us our responsibilities. Being my first time, I had little clue about how to run everything smoothly. But I wasn't so scared. Maybe because I never thought that it could be such big a deal. They say ignorance is bliss. So, soon after we made a WhatsApp group where our train tickets were shared. When we checked the status, the website greeted us with the first bad news. Of 17 we had only 4 seats confirmed. On inquiring the coordinator about a possible solution, we were assured of the magical conversion of the waitlisted tickets to confirmed ones, once the chart was prepared. We sidelined the issue with a small amount of apprehension.

We could do that because, naturally it was really the smallest concern then. The bigger issue will now be unfolded. Being trek leader I had the duty of communicating with the coordinators, the trek agent and all other relevant people. Amol was in charge of finances. Hence a large load was already off my back. But little did I know who I would have to deal with. After appointment, I was put in contact with Guman, who we eventually came to call Goo-man because of the impression he left on all of us. Almost about a week ago, our group had started raising concerns about the requirement of Passports as we were travelling to Bhutan. Coordinator Rahul asked agent Gooman and informed us that we won't need it. Now, when it was just two days prior to our journey, we were given the same answer. Many of us did not have our own passports with us and would have to get it couriered in case necessary. We had also been told that we need not carry sleeping bags and mats. On the last day however, Gooman dropped the Fat-Boy and Little-Man by announcing that we need to carry all of the above. I was furious. I remember taking all my wrath out on Rahul, blaming him for the delinquencies and later apologizing for the same. It was almost next to impossible to get everybody's passport to Pheuntsholing (border) via courier in just two days. Moreover, we were to reach on a Sunday when all postal services are closed. Nevertheless, we all gave it our best, when the only question in our minds was, why this mis-communication?

Trek mates Pranisha, Shreya, Amit and Srinath were in a different soup altogether. Their guide had restrained them from going and they opted for travelling late. Finally, after slogging for hours and pulling all-nighters in the lab, they got permission on Friday morning. We were supposed to start in the afternoon that day. Magically indeed our seats got confirmed and we started off. Meanwhile, several of us got our passports/Voter-IDs speed posted from different parts of the country including Hyderabad, Raipur, Kolkata and others to a specific address near the Bhutan-India border in Jaigaon. As the impossibility of some documents reaching by Sunday afternoon became apparent, we had started tracking the packages via. their IDs from Friday itself.

Gooman was an absolute delight (sarcastic ofcourse). He said that if everybody was not ready with their IDs by Sunday morning then he would just cancel the trek and take all our money. I lost my cool with him several times which made him even more devilish. Saransh helped me cool down and did much of the talking himself. Thankfully we had not made complete payment and he supposedly had already spent more than what we had given him in making arrangements. However, his deadline seemed pretty serious. Anyway, since deliveries would be closed on Sunday, we somehow had to get all IDs by Saturday itself.

On Saturday we were still in the train. Our strategy was to track and find closest approach. Whenever the ID of an individual came closest to the train route, he would get down and pick it up from the warehouse before it could be forwarded for delivery. Srinath had to go forward to Guwahati. Details coming up. Gooman got uproarious that everyone won't be there by Sunday morning. He said that the immigration office would be closed by afternoon and we will be screwed. When we reached Jaigaon, we walked up to the office and found that he was lying. Just because things weren't on our side, he tried to make use of the opportunity and offered to bring Srinath back from Guwahati to Jaigaon for 10k. It couldn't be called an offer. Negotiation is not his forte so we had to think of other ways, one of which was taking a Ola cab and the other was to board a train to Alipurduar. Just to make things short, I'll just mention that, Amit and Srinath had the most dramatic immigration ever. Especially, Srinath crossed the border around 5pm when the gates were about to close and the sun was about to set. So, quite a scene there. After entering Bhutan we all exchanged hugs with one another and celebrated that we could hold off the Goo-devil till that time. Here is what I jotted down when we were finally in the bus headed for Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan.

Srinath went through a lot of hassle. It started from, the DTDC returning his passport to his home, his parents sending the same from Hyderabad to Guwahati, the flight about to carry it having a fuel leak, the next flight taking the passport to Cochin without information, culminating with it's final arrival at Guwahati under the proactive incessant pestering of Srinath at the airport in person, despite having fever. Initially everything went against him. I would be devastated had I been in his place. Every time he answered my calls with a cheerful "Yes bro" which made me amaze at the calm he was keeping. It felt so great to finally see him and Amit cross the border that sometimes it seems unreal. Amit, is one unbelievably selfless person. He accompanied Srinath on his trip to Guwahati, went back to Siliguri to get Shreya's passport, sparing Amol and Shreya the trouble of traveling for 8 hours to say the least. Without sleep, food or support, these two guys fought their way through inclement conditions to deliver the impossible. Hats off to them.

Nirbhay and Vishwadeep went though something similar but on a slightly smaller scale. On the way to receive Vishwadeep's voter ID from New Jalpaiguri they made contact with Manik, a BlueDart guy whose help got Amit, Shreya's passport today. The effort that these people put in held the trip together.

"Now that we are together (not completely though, we'll be tomorrow) it feels like heaven. I know these messages will be arriving late. Now it's 6:08 by Indian time, and 6:38 by Bhutanese. The atmosphere has never been so blissful. Pink Floyd, Lata Mangeshkar are playing. A small note of thanks, to all my fellow trekkers aka friends, for being the sweetest. Someone said "Heros are born at the hour of need". We have had few heroes with us. In no particular order, Amit, Srinath, Vishwadeep, Nirbhay have proved their mettle. Saying thank you would be demeaning all the gigantic efforts they have made. Saransh using his "pyaar bhari" approach made reasonable progress in dealing with our telephonic demon, who seemed pretty cool face to face.

Amol has been a constant support with his group of Chachas including Doctor RB and Manoj, managing everyone's food, waking up at odd hours of the night and occasionally getting everyone excited about bathing in the Torsa. Paras and I had a small trip to the DTDC office in Jaigaon, expressing dissatisfaction about how things were at that time, so much that we went past our hotel on the way back. Zishan and Raj helped us with the makeshift plan of Srinath's Ola return (possibly free of cost) to Jaigaon. Nevertheless, Rahul's suggestion to board a train worked out well. Doctor Bansal rendered medical help with utmost expertise. But now I'm sure, he has become a master of prescribing Avomine as a mountain wonder drug. Radhika's greatest bit was the capability to be happy and cool at all times, no complaints no demands. In moments of great tumult, she seemed the calmest. Shreya and Pranisha, were constant the contact points for Srinath and Amit. A large part of the good news about things working out were delivered to our group by them. Haribansh, could have done better had he bagged the DSLR from Neeraj. None the less, he was a comrade in our difficult times, vehemently voicing vociferous vindictive support. Some of you will get this. Manoj bhai made sure I got good sleep as most of the time we shared beds. Sharing and caring, giving and taking (kicks) has become natural now. No puns and misinterpretations please.

Now we are listening to the history of Bhutan from our sweet bus driver. I am amazed at the effort the common people expend to make our stay and travel entertaining. Pema is a wonderful person. He said that he is truly happy in Bhutan. He has voluntarily taken up being a Cultural Tourist and is paid by the government to welcome guests and introduce them their culture. In general Bhutan is a nature loving country, dead against plastics. Amit and Srinath had to forsake theirs while crossing the border. Honking is a rarity. Education and medical facilities are free."

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