Surely the Gods Live Here: An Incredible Journey to the Himalayas and Sikkim
Nora D.S. Robins is co-ordinator of Internal Collections at the
University of Calgary Libraries.
Surely the Gods Live Here is the absorbing account, in diary form, of a 75-mile trek through Sikkim by David Lank, artist, ornithologist, photographer, author, hiker, and investment counsellor.
The book begins with some background information about the trip (two years in the planning) and recounts Lank’s often hilarious, always frustrating efforts to cope with Indian bureaucracy. Departing Montreal on October 3, 1980, Lank and his two companions, Gillian McConnell and Madeline Wilson, arrived in Darjeeling four days later, having touched down in London, Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta, and Bogdogra. The brief stops in India offered an excellent opportunity to see the “all pervading sight and stench of unrelenting, endless, hopeless, massive poverty” of that country. After meeting the other ten members of the party, they journeyed to Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital, where they picked up their six Sherpa guides and 30 porters and set out for the valley of the 20,000 foot Pandim, the mountain most sacred to the Sikkimese.
The tourist brochure had advertised a Grade B-2 trek (below 15,000 feet and moderate) passing by gorgeous valleys of flowers, cool mountain rivulets, and forests of chirping binds. The trek was in fact quite strenuous, crossing several floral and faunal zones from tropical valleys to external snow and through one of the world’s greatest cloud forests. They passed through vast rhododendron forests and climbed jungle trails lined with hundreds of species of orchids, butterflies, birds, and insect life (including leeches). What the brochure neglected to mention was the rain and snow squalls, trails strewn with boulders, clouds, mud and slush. The sun played hide and seek throughout the trip. The trek went from 800 feet to over 12,000 feet and from 95°F to 25°F in just over two days — and that was the easiest portion. Little wonder that several of the party suffered from blisters, headaches, sinus attacks, and acute mountain sickness. While most of them eventually trekked to over 16,000 feet, Lank and his two companions finally realized, at 15,000 feet, that their bodies would not permit them to proceed any farther. After twelve days of trekking through valleys, along ridges, and over mountain passes (and taking over 1,000 slides), they returned to Gangtok having experienced first-hand both the pain and the pleasure of hiking in the Himalayas.
The trip was a naturalist’s delight, and Lank tells of his bird sightings with unrestrained enthusiasm: dronger, sunbird, scarlet minivet, Lammergiers (or lamb vulture), and the nine-colored pheasant were but a few of the birds observed by this keen ornithologist.
The author has a compassionate eye for the people of Sikkim, the Tibetan refugees, and the children. The spiritual and emotional climax of the entire trip was tea with Tenzing Norguay and his wife.
The diary is illustrated with excellent pen and ink sketches by the author. Told with verve and wry humor, it should appeal not only to hikers and bird lovers but also to the general reader.