The evening breeze sent shivers down my spine as we huddled up for one last group photo before heading to the hotel. My mouth felt like an icebox and my neck felt numb, but after 10 hours of treacherous trekking, we were finally there: an absolute gem of a place, Lachung. One of the two major towns in Northern Sikkim, it’s a place that makes you wonder, wide-eyed if this what hauntingly beautiful truly means. It is situated just below the famed Yumthang valley, and I could see why this cold, desolate town had reeled in tourists over the years.
We spent the evening exploring parts of the town, and saw places that could’ve easily be a setting for another cheesy Bollywood song, where the actors would run around skimpily clothed. “Damn, those movies are full of bullshit”, I thought to myself, shivering again, as the cold seemed to strike my bones even under four layers of clothing. But boy, did the view more than make up for it. Where else could you see an almost vertical hill that exactly resembled ‘The wall’ from the Game of Thrones, or a herd of wild horses, flying past as we walked by.
We put up in small hotel, a place that looked like it was barely put together, but felt like it would never fall apart. The man incharge was a short and strong guy, with face that beamed warmth and worry at same time. We never really learned his name, so we just called him ‘Aku’ which roughly translates to uncle. The dinner was ready and the conversation fulfilling; with a glass of the finest homemade wine, chhaang, we found the right time to take it up with Aku.
At this point, I think I should let you know that as soon as we had decided about going on this trip, each one of us had a common thought on our minds— The Yeti. Although, most of our fraternity has dismissed them as mere monsters of the myth, we were surprised at the number of people who had claimed to have seen them in this region. And that’s the thing about mystery and answers at a beautiful place, they always have a smell so strong that they are bound to make even the smartest look.
“So Aku, on our way up, we heard a lot about Yetis. Do you believe in them?”, I asked, trying my best to look tipsy and carefree. Colour drained from his face and the warm smile disappeared.
He looked around and mumbled as if my words would make a Yeti jump right out of the snow. “They live. We live. We don’t call them. They don’t call us”, he said softly while raking the fire. He sat back in his place, and hurried back to his glowing self again,
“There is a beautiful monastery close by. You should visit.”
The fact that his people chose to avoid the question revealed a lot more than any sort of answer could have. They had the stories, they had the connections, the natives revered the monster, called it the God of Hunt, but seeing how uncomfortable it made Aku, we decided to drop the topic. A few drinks later, Aku took our leave and muttered something about our room keys being on the counter at the reception. This left the six of us, heads light and full of stories, and nothing but time. After a little chatter, we too decided to collect the keys, walk towards our rooms and take the party inside.
“You know they are not always white, the Yeti, they can be anything between brown and grey”, Shalini said while collecting her things.The rooms were basically small cottages and were about a five minute walk from the reception area. There was ghastly fog in between, and we were, involuntarily, a little loud for the silent night, but who cared.
“I have heard they are surprisingly friendly and help the locals”, Pallavi claimed, making rings in the fog.The trees and bushes rustled around us, it was getting colder and, we could now hear the wind whistle softly, and pick pace. The moon shone big and it’s light turned the snow into heaps of silver dust .
“Nah! These are very intelligent beings, they kill as often as they befriend”, Kunal spoke as he gulped the last bit of wine from the bottle, and burped right after. Or was it the wood. I thought I heard some wood crack, I spun around and saw through the fog that our fire was out. The wood and amber had probably been scattered by the strong wind. Or maybe it was all just the chhaang.
“I still think they are mythical man! You can’t just stay hidden in a forest for thousands of years”, Adarsh shouted through the wind. I could tell he was trying to brave and foolish, but then being 6’4 and imposingly built, he could be. That’s when some fifty meters away from our cottage, where the tall trees were, a terrifying scream tore through silence. It was shrill, it was loud and it was close. We stopped dead…
“What was that?! Does someone need help, we shou…”
Adarsh froze in mid sentence and stared at the trees, his face whitened. It was the largest thing I had ever seen leap that far. It flew right across the length of the moon, the trees creaking under it’s weight. Suddenly, there was another scream, this time from the other side, behind us where our fire had been. We felt something was charging towards us through fog, thumping, screaming, ready to hunt.
“Sahib!”, Aku waved frantically and signalled us to run to the cottages. I yanked Adarsh’s arm and pulled him all through the snow. Adrenaline gushing through my body. He shouted something about the keys in his bag, but I was too scared to care. Panting and swearing, we reached the cottage and realised that Adarsh’s bag, with the cottage keys in it, had fallen out of his hand right where we had stopped. Aku seemed genuinely concerned, and tried to tell us that it had probably been some wild animal. Although none of us could say for sure what had chased us, I was pretty certain that whatever was in those trees, was no normal animal. The night was silent again and only the wind whistled, but none of us dared to step back into the snow. Aku helped us into our cottages with a spare set of keys, and we managed to sleep through the shiver.
We went back to the spot the next morning, hoping to find nothing but the bag. Well we did manage to find it; it was high up on a branch, mauled and almost in shreds. Poor thing. In that moment, I was secretly thankful, and utterly unsure about what I believed…
“It was a wild animal, man. Myths don’t come alive. Let’s go!”
Sketch By: Savni Pai Panandiker