“It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
Picture this: an alpine meadow dwarfing Tundikhel; pristine high montane forests forming a green ring around the meadow; waterfalls spread around almost a 360 degree arc; and unnamed snowy peaks providing canopy over the whole vista.
Mirkwood, you say? Too much of Tolkien? But, for once, imagination gives way to the physical.
The Saldim meadow arouses Stendhal Syndrome in absolutely all its visitors (people rarely come by here). Straddling the head of Lukchi-Saldim valleys, untouched cloud forests form a riot of green along the path to this magical amphitheatre.
Entirely uninhabited, the only signs of humans in Lukchi and Saldim valleys are a couple of dilapidated sheds used by herders from monsoon through to autumn.
It takes nearly two days of hiking along this pristine wilderness to enter the meadow. The walk through this primeval greenery is an ode to magical solitude; the forests constantly brought to life by the sight of cantering martens, brilliantly iridescent pheasants and the musical chirp of myriad birdlife. As also the fugitive glimpses of bears, pandas, serows – the concentration of which (if Barun Valley too is taken into account) are perhaps the highest in the entire Himalaya.
This giddy surrealism is heightened even more by Saldim meadow. Entering through a ‘tunnel’ of dwarf rhododendron forest, the meadow is first rather heard than seen. An enormous unnamed (attesting to the area’s wildness) waterfall, the meadow’s crown jewel, puts out a relentless roar that gives an unearthly resonance to the primal silence of the meadow.
Thundering down icy peaks that shoulder the northeast of the meadow, it brings the whole landscape to life. Gathering water from other smaller waterfalls, it bisects the meadow like a crystal ribbon as Saldim Khola, flowing firstly west and then south to join Lukchi coming from the northwest.
The sheer spread of the meadow sweeps visitors simply off their feet. A crumbling herders’ shed lying to the side of the meadow makes the heady isolation even more marked, even more acutely thrilling. The rings of greenery climbing up to icy peaks standing guard over the meadow give the whole vista a heavenly visage, a perfect symmetry to this natural tier.
The raw beauty and unadorned tapestry of the Saldim meadow moves one to a plane that can only be experienced, that cannot be adequately explained.
What does ‘Saldim’ - the Singsa’ name for the meadow - translate into? - ‘BEAUTIFUL PLAIN’. No word has ever rung truer.
Story & Photography: Badri Rai
(This story is PART IV, the final of a four-part-series. Please find the earlier parts in previous posts of Travel Talk.)