Every time the train halted at the Dimapur Railway Station during my journeys, my soul would yearn for the distant hills that stood guard at the periphery of Dimapur, the largest city of Nagaland in India. Never did I ever imagine that I would eventually be climbing its highest mountain, the mighty Mount Saramati. Located at the India-Myanmar border, Saramati has an altitude of 3,826 m (12,553 ft).
MOUNT SARAMATI TREKKING EXPEDITION
DAY 1 – GUWAHATI TO KOHIMA
To represent Assam and be the first team from the state attempting to summit the peak enthralled me. With the team of Global Adventure Association, the expedition began. Fun and laughter involved us in the five-hour train journey from Guwahati to Dimapur. Leaving the only plains tract of hilly Nagaland – Dimapur, we headed to its capital city Kohima on the 4th of April, 2016. We reached our destination somewhere on the outskirts of Kohima surrounded by high hills and dense vegetation.
DAY 2- KOHIMA TO PUNGRO
The romanticism of the dawn, the clouds against the hills, the sun and its dispersion effect playing with the beauty of clouds, the sound of the roughness of water, the cheerful birdies flying up from their nest for the day filled that Kohima morning walk full of happiness. A perfect start to our Mount Saramati trek.
A 12-hour journey from Kohima to Pungro (Kiphire District), through the heart of the hills of Nagaland introduced us to its lush green terrace fields, jhum patches, maize cultivation and streams flowing beside those fields. Comparing the shapes of the clouds to fish and gorillas; jhum patches to the maps of countries like Australia and India. Stopping at check gates, visiting Jessami (Ukhrul Dist of Manipur), peeling of sugarcane with the incisors and canines, ‘pomegranate conversations’ and its mention in the Assamese Bihu folk songs are some of the moments that made the journey worth it. The lunch at Meluri town (Nagaland) with pork and boiled mustard greens was delicious.
We reached G.A Guest House, Pungro around 7 in the evening. Experiencing the day right from dawn to sunset is something I never did before. It was the icing on the cake when the jovial Extra Assistant Commissioner (EAC) of Pungro Mr. Chonpenthung Ezung visited us, briefing us about the village Thanamir and his trekking experience to Mount Saramati. The session was filled with deep inputs about trekking, laughter, and best wishes.
Gazing at the canvassed sky of twinkling stars and the lights of the villages shining brightly down the hills gave a thrill of being in space. The sensation of the chilled blow of wind, the galaxy of stars, a glimpse of lightning above the faraway hills, are the moments I shall treasure of that Pungro evening.
DAY 3 – PUNGRO TO THANAMIR APPLE VILLAGE
“Lose an hour in the morning, and you will be all day hunting for it.”~Richard Whately
It was 5 in the morning, I stood in the yard of Pungro Rest House and glanced over the fence. Beneath was the mesmerizing view of the blanket of clouds and the villages that could be seen through it. Amongst the clouds at the top of a distant hill was a church commanding its presence. Beside them were hills signifying its supremacy over each other.
The five-hour journey from Pungro to Thanamir provided some exquisite landscapes. The hills here, upright somewhat cylindrical resembled those at the beaches in Krabi, Thailand. Such was the excitement that with the sight of every gigantic hill, I would assume it to be Mount Saramati.
Thanamir is the base village of Mount Saramati. Known as the ‘apple village’, it falls under the Khongsa Tehsil of Kiphire District in Nagaland. It is inhabited by the Yimchunger Naga ethnic group. Back in the 1980s, the jawans of the Assam Rifles gifted four apples to the then village head. He planted them in his backyard, and later distributed grafts to the villagers. Apples are grown here on a large scale now.
To empower the apple farmers, an annual Apple Festival organized by the government. Pears are also grown in Thanamir. The fun and excitement of the village kids roared as we toured their village. They would follow us jumping and dancing along the way. The village headman played the huge log drum which functioned as an alarm during emergencies or wars. Their unique culture and the apple cultivation makes the Mount Saramati trek even more special.
DAY 4- THANAMIR TO BASE CAMP OF MOUNT SARAMATI
That silent morning as I opened my eyes and unravelled my sheets, a husky voice uttering tea ruled the gloomy wooden room. Bed tea with the window view of the sunkissed hills of Thanamir was a perfect combination.
As the clock hit 6:30 a.m, we headed towards the forest with two villagers as guides. The daunting trek to the base camp of Mount Saramati involved continuous ascend and descend of hills. To maintain that balance of training the mind to repeat the entire phenomenon was indeed challenging. However, the clouds that flew alongside fueled us to move forth.
A rock wall that is approximately 50 feet steep was the biggest challenge of the Mount Saramati trek. To have climbed that with no ropes or climbing gear boosted our self-confidence. The self-awareness of grasping the right grips of the rock holds was the key.
Marching through the narrow dark uneven path, our team of 16 split into two groups. The ones ahead carried the food materials and the latter followed. Though I was with the first group, my legs couldn’t match their speed. Exhausted for having walked more than 7 hours, I bid them goodbye.
In a forest, away from everyone, hiking the rest of the trail solo was interesting. As I embarked on my solitary trek, I embraced the warmth of mother nature by kissing the bark of a tree. Amidst the forest nearing a top of a hill, every time I saw the glary sky through the spaces of the groves, an imaginary picturesque ‘base camp’ would come to my mind. Surprisingly that would prove to be just another hilltop. Reaching an edge I took a nap for 10 minutes. As my eyes opened, two clouds approached each other and beside them were the majestic range of towering Patkai hills. Gazing upon them and enjoying the phenomena uninterrupted was soothing.
Coming back to reality, I found my bottles empty and no sweets to keep my mouth wet. Eating the purple coloured berries from the dark-edged rock surfaces saved me from dry mouth and other illnesses. Drinking the cold water of the stream after 10 hours of hiking was pure happiness. Uncertain whether I was following the right track, it was solely instinct that helped me reach the base camp.
DAY 5 – THE SUMMIT & THE UNRELENTING NIGHT TREK
Defying the darkness, we ascended the giant hill beside the base camp for 2 hours to be finally blessed by the orange hues of the sun. The flora with strong roots worked as a trekking stick to support our steps in most of the edged slopes. Walking by the cliffs and slopes, a slight change of the body angle would have led to a broken body or even death – the thrill and risk of the Mount Saramati trek. The aroma of flowers welcomed us as we neared the peak. Summiting the peak at 9:30 a.m, the happiness of being the first team and the youngest lad from Assam to summit Mount Saramati felt empowering.
Mount Saramati bid us farewell with drizzle. We arrived at the base camp by 2 p.m, only to realize the scarcity of food. An unrelenting night trek awaited us. Everyone hoped to descend that 50 feet rock before nightfall. Our feet ached; the soles felt as if they were being pricked by a needle. For the number of times I fell in those lumpy roads, folks named me “Gravity”. I still cherish the moment when after having climbed the hill, I saw the glittering stars and the chain of hills it illumined. It was my dream to view such night scenes.
The rain by midnight aggravated our situation. We slipped and slid along the muddy trail. Our minds were baffled when we couldn’t recognize the cut marks of the trees that guided the trail. Hiking for another 3 hours, we decided to camp in the forest.
I distinctly remember that particular moment of tying a rope into a branch of a tree with drenched clothes to fix the plastic sheet thus to shun the rain. I literally felt like I was as in a dream and the moment I wake up, I would be in Thanamir Village. Sleeping around 3 a.m. on that narrow edged path in a lateral position was, in fact, the weirdest sleep I have ever had.
DAY 6 – TO THE THANAMIR VILLAGE
An hour of sleep rejuvenated us. It was 4 a.m, misty morning and drizzle. The guide made us ascend and descend two hills the opposite way – a funny and an infuriating episode. The jubilation of recognizing the bark I kissed cured my aching body. Seeing the village from a hilltop gave us a sense of relief. We reached Thanamir by 7 in the morning, successfully completing the expedition. Fearing that my sole would bleed, I hesitated to take off my socks. The sole was as rugged as the hills of Mount Saramati.
What followed next is hard to recall as I slept the whole journey from Thanamir to Pungro. Though we had plans to celebrate our successful summit of Mount Saramati by dancing Bihu, soothing ourselves through sleep tended to be solace for everyone.
DAY 7 – PUNGRO TO GUWAHATI
The rain continued as it bid goodbye to us. We left Pungro early through the thick fog and heavy rain. It was another 16-hour to Dimapur. Stopping by Kohima, the city revealed its enchanting beauty. That journey through the busy traffic at night, the driver deciding to take a shortcut to Dimapur while we enjoyed the mesmerizing views of the bustling Kohima’s night sky and finally reaching the Railway station by 11 p.m was amazing. Surprisingly, we missed the train and had to board another at 3 a.m. The Mount Saramati trekking expedition concluded the next day in Guwahati with the Founder and General Secretary of GAA, Mr. Bikram Boro greeting us with sweets and love.
To perceive the strength within, we ought to put us in circumstances that test our limits. The Mount Saramati trek transformed me into a more vibrant human being. Experiences empower the soul.
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