There was a time in the past when we used to refer trekking in the hills as “Poor Man’s Holiday Trip” among our friends. It was true as the treks conducted by enthusiastic trekkers from different trekking clubs of Kolkata was primarily of shoe string budgeted Alpine style. Everyone used to carry their own luggage, tents, foods and cooking utensils, plan the route and do all activities by themselves from tent pitching to cooking. Some indulged in the luxury of one porter and maybe a guide, but not more than that.
Prior to independence of India, The British ‘Sahibs’ used to indulge themselves in several trekking and camping activities in the hills too. However, along with them went several porters carrying their luggage and all other accessories. Accompanied with them went their cooks and personal servants carrying their personal belonging.
In the recent times, there are many tour operators who conduct such kind of trekking expeditions where the trekkers only carry a small knapsack and walk. Sometimes they carry only their camera. From making the route plan to instructing the cook in the middle of a dense jungle to prepare pizza, the tour operators do it all. On demand, even single tent accommodation and one porter per trekker is provided too. Though there are spartan toilets available in the route and many trekkers are used to loo in the open, toilet tents are pitched on demand. Of course it comes with a price, but then there are several people who wants to enjoy trekking in this manner. Maybe they always had the wish to trek, but the thought of walking with a huge rucksack and eating two minutes noodles and tasteless soup for days have deterred them.
Sahib Style Trek Plan
After indulging in several treks, I was planning to go for the famous and popular Dzongri-Goechala Trek in Sikkim. For Alpine styled trek, this is considered to be a tough route. There is no ready provisions on the road and you have to camp in the wild in many places. Also it is compulsory to have a local guide and porter with you to get the permission for trekking inside the Kangchenjunga National Park. Hence I decided to enjoy the luxury of such a “Sahib Style” trek.
I had a talk with Indranil Kar of Ongoz Escapades who is a tour operator conducting such kind of trekking tours. Usually the trekking season of Dzongri-Goechala route is from April to Mid May and October to Late November. However, in recent times due to relatively less snowfall in the area, people have braved this route even during Christmas time.
The route involves trekking through steep gradients in dense forests infested with Pine, Rhododondren and Juniper trees and varieties of birds, vast meadows and snow filled moraine zone above tree line with astounding view of several snow clad peaks including Mt. Kangchenjunga – the third highest peak of the world.
After my first trek to the region in November 2009 with Indranil, I followed up with another trek in November 2011, primarily to photograph scenery which I missed out on earlier. This travelogue covers mainly the November 2011 trek with occasional flashback from the 2009 tour.
Reaching Yuksom – Starting point of the trek
After reaching New Jalpaiguri Station on a chilly November morning from Kolkata by the Darjeeling Mail, we started our journey in a pre-arranged car. Our Destination was Yuksom, the starting point of the trek.
We drove through the scenic Sevok Road with Teesta River flowing down the gorge. Passing by the Coronation Bridge (which always fascinates me, but unfortunately painted now in shocking yellow) on our right, we went on straight until we came to Teesta Bazar. We took a right turn over the Teesta Bridge, thus getting a good view of the Teesta River.
Soon afterwards we reached Jorethang. Jorethang is an important junction for people traveling in share jeep to Sikkim. It is where people break journey after driving from Siliguri. We had lunch of momos, noodles and chilli chicken. Soon we crossed the beautiful Akar Suspension Bridge at Jorethang and took a right turn towards West Sikkim.
We crossed Legship which has the scenic Kirateshwar Mahadev Mandir, Geyzing – the capital of West Sikkim followed by tourist’s favourite hill station of Pelling and finally reached our starting point of the trek – the village of Yuksom (1.785 mt) at around 6:30 in the afternoon.
After settling in our comfortable rooms at Hotel Pemathang, we went for our lunch at the popular joint of Gupta’s for dinner. Yuksom has plenty of hotels including a star hotel too. It was at Yuksom that the first capital of Sikkim was established in 1642 AD by Phuntsog Namgyal – the first Chogyal of Sikkim. The Chogyal established here the Dubdi Monastery in 1701.
Day 1: Yuksom to Sachen (5 hours)
We wake up in the morning to find the weather being dull. It was raining outside which was not a good sign. Last time we woke up to a Sunny morning and had a lovely view of Kabru South from hotel balcony. But this time the weather looked gloomy and we had to wait until the rain stopped.
The rain stopped around 8:45 and we immediately checked out from the hotel and went for a heavy breakfast at Gupta’s Joint. During 2009, the morning was sunny and we could get a clear view of both North & South Kabru.
After submitting the required identity proofs and filling up a form which declared us to be fit enough to do the trek, we got the necessary permission to go ahead with the trek. The 2011 earthquake had the route pretty damaged, which was not very encouraging. Some military person warned us to be extra careful this time. By now it was 10:30 and the sky had cleared up reasonably.
The route starts behind a small playground behind the bazaar. We walked northwards on a metal road for sometimes after bypassing the Kathok Lake on our right. We turned right, crossed a small water patch and walked straight. The road on the left takes to the Norbu Ghang Coronation Throne where the first king was crowned.
Walking straight we came to a check-post on our left. Besides it there is a huge map of the trek route on a sign board. The route is pretty well explained although not all the altitudes mentioned are accurate. Another signboard says does and don’t of the trek. Just besides the check-post there is a downhill metal road on the left which leads to the Helipad of Yuksom. We took the straight road where there is a small shop on the right, besides which there is a flight of stone stairs . This took us to a stone studded up hill road inside a settlement.
We turned left. This path finally leads to the main trekking route, where we leave behind human settlement and start walking on an extremely narrow jungle route with steep rocks on our right and a deep gorge to our left. The road was broken at many places –and huge boulders were hanging dangerously from the top. We walked silently here with a relatively fast pace.
One of our team mates was pretty nervous to get such a route at the beginning. I told him not to think and walk steadily keeping a watch on the path. The path was not dangerous last time, but this time the earthquake has done the damage.
The porters and Yaks passed through this path in a nonchalant fashion. Well, I should not have been surprised. It was their daily routine anyways and they earn their livings walking through these dangerous terrains.
At one point we viewed the Ratong Chu River flowing deep down in the gorge below. Within another 10 minutes we reached the Bridge over Pakhola stream – the first of the four bridges on the way. It was a typical suspension bridge which we have frequently seen at Sikkim. The Pakhola stream originates from a small waterfall descending from a height into the Rathong Chu River downstream.
In the year 2013, the area after First Bridge has been included inside Kangchenjunga National Park. A gate has been built just after the First Bridge where your papers would be checked inside a small office.
The route was steep and uphill from Pakhola. The jungle was getting thick now. Walking slowly through another earthquake damaged route with Rathong Chu visible deep down the Gorge on the left, we reached the second bridge within another an hour and quarter.
The stream here is known as Tshushay Khola. The water here does not fall from huge height but rolls down the hills to form a turquoise colored pool which further flows downstream. Like Pakhola, this stream meets Rathong chu somewhere down below. The other two streams further the trek route also takes the same route.
It is here that the sky went dark due to clouds and it looked as if rainfall was evident at any moment. However it did not started raining until we reached the third bridge after another one and half hour of walk. This was a rather small bridge with a very small stream gushing below locally known as Mintok Khola. I am not sure about the exact meaning of Khola, but in all probability it means stream and not river.
The river looked like small creek here and as we were filling our water bottles here, the rain came down gushing in. We immediately crossed the bridge which was a small brick structure and took shelter under some trees after putting on our rain gears. Mountain rainfall is extremely moody. Sometimes it does not stop for days and sometimes it stops within minutes. We were lucky that it rained heavily for only 30 minutes.
It went on drizzling but we proceeded to our first campsite – Sachen which is hardly 15 minute walk from there. On the way we were greeted by our guide Vikram and a porter, who were waiting for us with hot orange juice and biscuits. It was very refreshing and energetic.
Scahen has just a kitchen hut inside the jungle. It was delightful to see our tents being already pitched on an elevated surface on our right and a table and some chairs being placed on our left. The cutleries and napkins were placed on the table as if the place was an outdoor restaurant. Usually the table is set besides the kitchen. However since it was drizzling, the table was laid under a concrete resting place just besides the trekking route. There is small stone slab here which states that this structure was built on the memory of one Ratna Maya Pradhan who died in October 1994 at the age of 33.
We immediately put down our walking sticks and knapsacks and settled down to have hot lemon tea which followed with delicious lunch consisting of steamed garlic soup, momos, noodles and fruits. Garlic soup is a must in high altitude trek as it helps to fight and cure altitude sickness. Also we drank plenty of water on the route to prevent dehydration.
I have seen a young group of Bengali trekkers in 2009 fall sick after being stuck to the typical Maggie noodles & Knorr soup diet. Also some of them had dared to bathe in the open at Sachen and Tsoka, which later resulted in serious adverse effect.
Many people walk further and stay at Bakkhim’s forest rest house. However we were quite comfortable to camp in the open in the shades of huge trees under the starlit sky. The tents were comfortable and spacious. After a splendid dinner of Rumali Roti and Chicken Kasa, we were fast asleep as we settled inside the warm Down’s sleeping bags. We were bit worried as the weather had not cleared yet.
Update The Kitchen hut at Sachen has been repaired and is in a better shape now
Day 2: Sachen to Tsoka (4 hours)
We were greeted with warm sunshine and clear sky on the second day of the trek. We were provided with hot water for washing followed by tea in our tents. However while having breakfast, some trekkers on their way down informed us that the situation is not good at Phedang and Dzongri, where the snow is quite deep and weather has been in its worst in the last few days. There have been some landslides on the way.
Being optimist we continued our trek onward from Sachen with our platoon of yaks and porters leading the way. The jungle was getting dense now. Then there was a steep downhill descent until we came to the largest bridge on the way. This was the fourth bridge below which the Prek Chu river was gushing wildly through a steep gorge.
The suspension bridge dwindles as you walk over it. Since this is the longest one, walking on it keeping in mind the deep gorge below can gives you a bit of goosebumps. If you and the yaks are going together the dwindling increases. It may remind you adventure movies where the hero hangs from such a bridge over a ravine. Prek Chu is also referred to some persons as Prek Khola. However after a look downwards and viewing the ferocious way it was flowing down, I could not consider it as “Khola”. It was a full-fledged river.
I lost the lens cap of my camera walking uphill after crossing the bridge. I went back and thoroughly checked the trail in vain. As we came to Bakkhim, our guide Vikram surprised me displaying the lost cap in his hand. He said that he spotted the cap on the left side of trail downwards trapped in a branch. He did a small Tarzan cameo to retrieve it. It was an awesome act and I thanked him several times.
Apart from the straight route to Bakkhim from Sachen, there is a short cut through the forest. I had tried that last time and it was fun. However this time the rain had made that path slippery and it could be dangerous to walk uphill through slippery grass. The forest rest house has been damaged due to the earthquake and cracks were visible. Generally Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) keeps their team here for accommodation on way to their base camp, but I wondered if in the present scenario they have thought of an alternative arrangement. The cracked wall looked pretty dangerous.
We took a bit of rest here and sipped some chilled beer from the only shop on the vicinity. The owner was also the caretaker of Bakhim’s trekker hut. From Bakkhim if you a take a look at the valley, you can see several layers of mountains like a painting.
Walking uphill through the forest trail behind the rest house, we came to a turn in the road from where we saw three mountain peaks side by side – Pandim, Tien Chen Khang and Jopuno. It looked cinematic and we cheerfully puffed and panted to the Tsoka Trekker’s Hut.
Just in front of the Trekker’s hut there was a camping ground where our tents were already pitched. Tsoka is the last village in this route. There are few huts here and a small monastery besides a small water-body.
After a sumptuous lunch we sat down on chairs besides the tent. On my 2009 tour, I had observed a beautiful sunset from Tsoka which made the mountains and clouds glowing as if on fire. However this time, it was cloudy and we just got a momentary glimpse of Mt. Pandim.
In the night we were delighted to have pizzas and homemade cakes among other delicacies in the dinner. After sundown we went for a stroll in the village. It was extremely cold outside and after wearing several layers of warm clothes and pacing up and down, we felt better.
Update As mentioned earlier, since the area after First Bridge has been included inside Kanchendzonga National Park at present Tsoka is no more a village. The inhabitants have been reinstated to Yuksom. Only the caretakers of the lodges at Tsoka stay there. The houses are all there, but I am being told by recent visitors that without much people around Tsoka looks somewhat like Ghost Town
Day 3: Tsoka to Dzongri via Phedang and Deorali (8 hours)
We started by 08:00 after breakfast, after viewing golden sun rays reflecting on Mount Pandim. The weather was sunny today and we all were in good mood. Our porters were packing the sleeping bags and tents. We started at least 1 hour ahead of them. But they caught us on the road with all the rations and the yaks carrying our rucksacks, rations and tents in no time!
The entire trek to Goechala is strenuous and uphill. However, if you ask me I found the stretch from Tsoka to Phedang most tiring . The walk starts from the path besides the monastery and passes through rhododendron forests. The route is entirely uphill without any downhill breaks.
After walking up the first steep climb from Toska one gets a bit of breather as there is a stretch where you have to walk on wooden pathway which is somewhat of a relief. Here on your right we could see Jopuno off and on between the trees.
As an add-on this time there were many patches of snow and thick mud on the road. We understood that the thick snow must have melted at the higher altitude. From late April to beginning of June this area look extremely colorful, thanks to blooming of rhododendrons.
After a steady and extremely strenuous uphill climb of four hours with numerous breaks, we finally reached Phedang. At Phedang on a clear sky one can see only snow clad peaks from left to right on the horizon with Mt. Pandim in the extreme left. Though trekkers do this trek to see Mt. Kangchenjunga at its best, one can see Mt. Pandim more often. There was no snow at Phedang, but it was extremely muddy. Many people have lunch break at Phedang, but we just took half an hour break and decided to go on as we wanted to reach Dzongri before sundown.
The uphill path through rhododendrons jungle was more muddy and full of ice patches. At one point we decided to take some rest. We were almost near the top, but looking back the surrounding looked taken from fairytale. We sat down here for a moment just to admire.
After our little rest, we proceeded to the top. It looked almost we were there but still the top was not visible. My other team mates were asking me “How far ?”. Though I had climbed this once, still I was not sure how much more time it would take. Then suddenly I saw Indranil waving from the top. “You are in luck guys!” He Shouted “Just do not get over excited and start jumping when you reach here”.
We reached to the Deorali Top before 15:00 and were treated to a magnificent view. This is the first time in the trek you get the chance to view Mt. Kangchenjunga. This was my first bonus of the 2011 tour as I missed out this last time. Last time it was full of clouds when we reached the top. With numerous colorful prayer flags in the front we had a wide angle view of several peaks from right to left.
From right to left we could see snow capped peaks. Peaks prominently visible from right to left were Mt. Jopuno, Tien Chen Khang, Mt. Pandim, Mt. Kangchenjunga, Mt. Kabru North, Mt. Kabru Dome, Mt. Kabru South, Black Kabru and Rahtong. Far left Koktang & Frey’s Peak was also visible, but not distinct as these peaks.
It was an indeed a site to get excited!
It is always advisable to sit down at the Deorali Top and take a rest of at least half an hour. We happily obliged clicking many photographs. It was a rare sight to see so many peaks at a time. Clouds were settling down fast and thus we started shooting as fast as possible to include maximum peaks in our shot.
The path on our left led to Dzongri. It was a path full of semi melted snow and abundant mud. On it’s both sides there were rows of small rhododendron and juniper trees with dried leaves. The smell of these leaves and dried flowers was quite pungent. It was advisable not to inhale this odour, as it can lead to severe headache. On my 2009 tour, one team member fell temporarily sick after inhaling this smell.
It took us another 1 hour to reach Dzongri through this downhill path. The snow clad mountains were getting out of sight as we were descending into the valley.
Dzongri is located in the middle of the valley and it has three trekker’s hut. One was closed. Interior of the huts were in spartan conditions.There is a relatively clean outdoor toilet at Dzongri. Our tent was already pitched and we entered the trekkers hut to find our table laid down and hot tea served along with a late lunch. Some pitch their tents just another 1.5 km ahead at Doering. There are no trekkers hut at Doering , only some old stone houses scattered over the area.
From Dzongri you do not get any view, but from Doering you get to see Pandim along with Tien Chen Khang and Jopuno on one side and Kabru South along with Black Kabru on the other.
Some of our team members were having awful strain in their legs. Immediately, one of the porters who were an expert in massaging attended to them. After a session of massaging they were feeling fine. There was a sudden drop in temperature and we wore a second pair of mittens on our hand to keep ourselves comfortable.
Update The Trekkers hut at Dzongri has been repaired and is in a better shape
Day 4: Dzongri to Thangsing via Kokchuran (7 hours) Dzongri Top
It was just about 04:00 in the morning when Indranil woke us. We had tea along with popcorns and biscuits. Popcorns are said to increase your oxygen intake capacity. In another 20 minutes we were ready to brave up to the place called Dzongri Top from where you are supposed to get a clear and distinct view of several peaks, provided the weather was clear. It was another uphill route infested with Rhododendron and Juniper trees.
The weather remained clear and at 05:44 the first morning sun rays on the mountains made them glow like gold.
From right to left the light fell on Mt. Pandim (6,691 mts), Mt. Kangchenjunga (8,586 mts), Mt. Kabru Dome (6600 mts), Mt. Kabru North (7338 mts), Mt. Kabru South ( 7317 mts), Mt. Rahtong (6679 mts), Mt. Koktang (6147 mts), Frey’s Peak (5830 mts). At the extreme left stands Mt. Khang alias Kangla Kang (5560 mts). Between Mt. Khang and Mt. Koktang, two other snow clad peaks were visible. The maps show these as unnamed peaks. However, Indranil said that they have local names which were mentioned to him by the famous Mountaineer Nawang Gombu in his HMI days. He pointed me the peaks and said the names to be Mt. Sangri (5288 mts) and Mt. Rinok (4965 mts). The Black Kabru alias Mt. Kabur (4810 mts) which is in the foreground just in front Kabru Group 0f peaks remained in the dark. Much snow does not fall on this peak. It is a scared peak too.
The peaks to the right of Mt. Pandim – Tien Chen Khang (6010 mts) and Jopuno (5936 mts) also were not having the sun rays on them. Sunlight on them falls much later as we have seen at Tsoka too. Mt. Narsing (5825 mts) is also supposed to be visible from Dzongri Top, but a thick layer of cloud kept it hidden in both of my trip. Some had said that Mt. Sinialchu (6687 mts), which is located near the Green Lake is also visible from Dzongri Top. However I never saw it and yet to see a photograph of this peak from Dzongri. Also there has been claims in many websites and blog about viewing Mt. Jannu (Kumbhakarna) of Nepal from Dzongri Top, which I gather is quite impossible.
Between Mt. Pandim and Mt. Kangchenjunga there was a huge gap. Beyond that a small part of a peak was visible. This is Mt. Simvo (6812 mts) which can be seen very clearly if you are lucky to reach the Goecha La.
The golden light stayed for around 10 minutes and then started to fade off. The mountains glowed in to a shinning white and soon light fell on all other peaks including the Black Kabru. On the Dzongri Top there are numerous prayer flags which make a nice foreground. We stood on the top clicking photographs for a period which seemed almost like an eternity, until Indranil reminded us that it was time to continue with our journey.
Usually people get their first view of Mt. Kangchenjunga from Darjeeling, Gangtok or Peling. Some are lucky to view it from New Jalpaiguri as well. However, I had my first view from Dzongri top on my 2009 tour. It felt equally thrilling two years later.
By now the place of full of trekkers. Some of the were late risers who had missed the sun rise had now come up. Everyone was smiling and looking happy.
The downwards path was also fascinating. While ascending during darkness, you will never realize the beauty. The green mountains surrounding us seems to be silent spectators of our activity. If you are not looking at the snow-capped peaks, these green masses are no less in beauty bathed in sunlight. It was relieving to see no ice patch or mud at Dzongri Top, but we were perhaps rejoicing too soon.
There are four chortens (Tibetan version of Stupa) on a elevated ground between Dzongri Top and the Dzongri Meadows near to what is known as the ridge of Dablakhang. I have seen similar structure at Tsoka, but here they seem to be at no man’s land. It is here the Lamas from Pemayangtse Monastery come every year to offer prayer to Kangchenjunga from Sikkim. You cannot see them from Dzongri, neither from Dzongri Top. They can be seen only from Doering. I saw them while descending from Dzongri Top to Doering. I saw them on my first visit here and they looked like four small specks standing as if between the foot of Mt. Pandim and Mt. Tien Chen Khang. I had not realized their significance until I read the book “Sikkim: A Traveller’s Guide” by Sujoy Das and Arundhati Ray. Trekkers who stay at Dzongri one full day for acclimatization often climb up to the ridge in the afternoon.
By the time we get down from Dzongri Top the valley was full with sunlight and even Tien Chen Khang & Jopuno were shining brightly.
From Dzongri first it is steep uphill trek through Dzongri meadows. I felt it is a tad less steeper if you go from Doering
Trekkers walking uphill through Dzongri Meadows
The view was breathtaking. It was similar to Deorali Top as we could see almost all the peaks starting from Mt. Rahtong on the extreme left to Mt. Jopuno, shinning in pristine white onthe right. Only there were no colourful flags here like Deorali.
From here it was entirely downhill. The snow was plenty here and to our horror it seemed that it was melting here at a much rapid speed. The road was muddy and there were even thin layers of ice on the entire pathway.These are extremely slippery and we avoided to put a foot on it. Where it was unavoidable, we broke it with out stick to get a foothold.
Negotiating Snow and Mud near Dzongri Meadows
Evidently we came to a flat portion of the meadows where the ground was devoid of snow or mud which was a breather. Though we had not traveled much distance from Dzongri, we took a 10 minute break here. Lying down on the grass at the foot of Pandim, Kangchendzonga and other peaks for a moment the material world seemed meaningless. Thank God the area is outside any mobile network.
Going still down hill we came down into a valley . Usually this place has stream flowing all over. However it was frozen now.The snow was thick here and we were walking at a small pace.
Layers of Snow in the valley between Dzongri & Kokchuran. On the backdrop is Black kabru
From the end of the field it was again uphill. At this place we passed very close to Black Kabru alias Mt. Kabur on our left side. It usually does not snow on Mt. Kabur, but in this year there were some patches of snow on it as well. It may sound strange but this peak is of same height as that of Mt. Blanc peak of the Alps, which is also 4810 mts as well.
It was downhill again from here again through snow and mud infested path. At one point the snow cleared off. As my fellow trekkers were getting relieved a bit I had to inform them that this was just the starter. The actual difficult path is just nearby. We were about to encounter the steepest downhill climb in our way which led to Kokchuran. It was supposed to be much more snow infested. At the end of path a prayer flags was fluttering over some stones. That was the start of the descent.
Walking through this area, Indranil pointed out to a thin line down. “That is the Prek Chu River”. He said. “That place further down the river is Thangsing – our camp for tonight.”
The downhill climb was strenuous. There was thick layer of ice coupled with thin slippery ice in many places. At some places I literally sat down and half slided on my back. Last time there were loose pebbles , which made our descent difficult . This time is was not only difficult but pretty scary.
Finally after one hour, we came in front of the wooden hut of Kokchuran. We took a bit of rest here. The place looks like straight out of fairytales with several huge rocks infested with layers of moss on them, beautiful small shallow streams with multi coloured rockbed and the gushing Prek Chu River flowing with the mighty Pandim on the background. I had fallen in love with Kokchuran since my last visit and enquired whether we are having a stopover on our return journey. I felt good when I got the answer in the affirmative.
Trekkers Hut at Kokchuran
Just after Kokchuran Trekkers Hut there is a path full of huge rocks covered with moss which can be at times slippery. We walked carefully over them as Indranil led the way. There is no clear defined path here. Although you can hear the river , it will take some time to reach the Prek chu if you do not know the path and search the way.
We crossed the Prek Chu River through a small wooden bridge, which looked beautiful at such close quarter. It was less wide than what saw from the third bridge but still very ferocious.
After crossing the bridge we walked on a riverbed with Prekchu on our left. Later we entered a jungle on our right. The trek here was mainly through plain surface with occasional ups and downs. We had to cross a small stream and take a small uphill path to reach Thangsing just around 16:30
Wooden Bridge over Prek chu. At Kokchuran, Prek chu is less wide but still ferocious
The sun was still shining and our tents were pitched near a stone structure which was once a fully fledged trekkers hut. We got Pandim glowing in glory, basking in the setting sun. Tien Chen Khang was looking good too.
The Trekker’s hut was in a bad shape than 2009 specially after the earthquake and we were told that it was to be dismantled down the very next day. Work for a new trekkers hut was on the way. We were the last trekkers who had dinner in that dilapidated structure, where many people had stayed over the years.
Update The New Trekkers Hut at Thangsing is completely ready now with around 7 rooms .
Day 5: Thangsing to Lamune ( 1 hour)
In the morning, we started late as our next destination Lamune was just about 1.5 to 2 hours walk. After a late bed tea we had a leisurely breakfast.
In front of us the old trekkers hut was getting demolished and the base of the new was being made. With it many memories of many trekkers including ours were lost forever.
Weather god was still on our side as sun shone brightly on Pandim and on the horizon we could see a part of the Kanchendzonga Massif. There was a chilly wind blowing and we kept our head covered.
As we walked leisurely towards Lamune with Mt. Pandim, Mt. Tien Chen Khang and Mt. Jopuno on our right and the Prek Chu River flowing on our left, I noticed that vegetation was very scanty in this route. We have crossed the tree line as we entered Thangsing, and now there were only shrubberies and bushes on the ground.
Trekkers Hut of Thangsing getting demolished along with many memories
A portion of the Kangchenjunga massif is visible from Thangsing ( zoomed view)
Walking towards Lamune . Pandim on left, Tien Chen Khang and Jopuno on right.
On our left side stood barren mountains, devoid of any snow
The mountains around had no greeneries. The ones on our left besides Prek Chu also had no traces of ice on them. Above all in front of us glaring over the horizon was the South Face of the Giant Massif of Kangchenjunga. Due to brilliance of sunrays shining on it was difficult to distinguish the Forked peak in front of it.
In 2009, the day was fully cloudy and it even snowed in the afternoon. I enjoyed the snow fall then and I enjoyed the sun shine in 2011!
I was trudging behind everyone as always. I generally trek slowly, enjoying the nature, sometimes talking to myself and sometimes taking photographs. My fellow trekkers had stopped too just before Lamune, enjoying the view. In between one of the porter came from the camp with kettle and cups. “Tea is ready” He said with a smile “Drink now or it will get cold”.
Reaching Lamune , I immediately settled down on the banks of Prek chu river to shoot the prized catch of the river in slow shutter with Mt. Kangchenjunga in the background. I felt lucky to have Mt. Kangchenjunga in full view since morning.
Lamune was the base camp to go up the Goecha La alias Goecha Pass. Earlier people used to camp at Samiti Lake where there used to be a trekkers hut. But now since it has been prohibited by the authorities, everyone pitches their tents at Lamune.
Out of trekkers who go to Goecha La, maximum ventures upto the 1st view point near Chemathang plateau. Very Few goes upto the 2nd view point and only a handful up to the 3rd view point where you actually land at Goecha Pass. Our goal was to reach the 1st view point first. Then if we were fit enough and if the pathway condition and weather condition was suitable we could think of venturing into the 2nd. You need to start from Lamune by 03:00 to 03:30 to reach 1st view point in time to see the sunrise. From my experience at Dzongri and earlier trek, I knew that the 1st rays of sun fall on Kangchenjunga round about 5:44 at this time of the year.
At sunset we were more attracted towards Pandim than Kangchenjunga. From Lamune, the Forked Peak obstructs the view and thus one cannot enjoy the full glory of setting sun over Mt. Kangchenjunga. On the other hand Pandim looks closer as we were literally sitting near its feet enjoying the full impact of setting sun rays over it. As if it was trying to show its best, drawing comparison with Kangchenjunga, before we step to Goechala. One thing worth mentioning here is you cannot summit Kangchenjunga as well as Pandim from India. They fall under the list of sacred peaks.
Now clouds had covered the whole area. I was feeling a bit tensed about the prospect of a clear view next day. We had an early dinner, so that we could have some sleep before starting our final ascent. Our Cook made some special dish in dinner. Among other thing Carrot Halwa cheered up the most. The temperature was much below zero now. We immediately retired inside the comfort of our sleeping bags in our tents.
Update : A spacious Kitchen Hut has been built at Lamune now.
Day 6: Lamune to Goecha La First View point and back to Kokchuran (10 hours excluding food break)
At 02:00 Vikram woke me up with tea. I reached for my water bottle near the entry of the tent and found that it has frozen up. Coming outside of the tent I was spellbound. There were no clouds in the sky. It was a full moon night with millions of stars in the sky. Mt. Pandim was standing tall in front of us like our guardian angel. Far in the horizon we could see Mt. Kangchenjunga like a dream in the moonlight. On the ground there was a thin layer of snow.
The trek to Samiti lake was uphill at the start. Though it was moonlight all around, we all switched on our headlamps. We had to climb a steep inclination and then come down and walk on rocks with the frozen Samiti lake besides us.
During 2009 fresh snowfall had taken place during the night and walking on soft snow on the rock was bit tricky. The area is basically a moraine zone. Moraine is unconsolidated glacial debris mainly composed of soil and rocks. However Indranil and Vikram had helped us to cross the area. The area from Samiti Lake to 1st view point was totally covered with snow.
Surprisingly there was no snow this time. Not one bit of it. This was some sort of anti climax as we have seen so much of snow on the way. Still we walked carefully besides the lake and soon we came in front of a wide uphill pathway covered with snow with a moraine zone beneath it. Basically it was glacial debris of soil and rock below and snow above it.
We drank some water and took 10 minutes rest. The climb was tiring enough. There was an icy cold wind blowing and despite wearing several layers of suitable warm clothes and two gloves in each hand, I was still feeling cold. Two of our team mates were gasping, who were asked to take it slow. When we came to top of the ridge it was 05:10. The sky was getting brighter now and we proceeded towards the first view point walking on a path which was quite narrow. On my left there was a deep ravine. At the edge of the ravine was the Onglakhang Glacier. Besides the Glacier the huge walls of the mountain range stood like a huge Amphitheatre spread up to the horizon.
We reached the First View Point in another 15 minutes. Some of our team members sat down on rocks, while others got busy to take out their photography gadgets. Just on our back was the mighty Pandim. The Chemathang Plateau was vast and spread up to the horizon on our right, and it was covered with fresh snow. Vikram and a porter went a bit further to check out the track condition. They came back and reported that the path looked pretty dangerous after the fresh snow. Indranil & myself were thinking to risk it but our other team members were pretty exhausted. We decided not to push it further. I was unfortunate last time regarding proceeding to second viewpoint too. That time some trekkers had died in an expedition to Tien Chen Khang which resulted in restriction in the area.
Meanwhile I was looking around the place. From Dzongri I could view most of these peaks, but standing over the 1st view point the feeling was completely different. There was still a faint trace of moonlight which gave the mountains a pale glow. No Wonder Douglas Freshfield quoted Walter Scott’s feeling of Melrose Abbet to describe the scenario around Onglakhang -“Go visit it by the pale moonlight”.
This was an extreme close up Panoramic view and for the first time visitors it looks like an impossible sight. From left to right, I could see Mt. Kabru South, Mt. Kabru North, Mt. Kabru Dome, Forked Peak and finally the South Face of the mighty Mt. Kanchendzonga. All looked so close.
Just where the Chemathang Plateau hits the horizon there is a V shaped ridge, which is the position of 2nd view point. The Massif of Kanchendzonga stands high in front of that ridge looking into you face to face, totally unobstructed. One need to traverse the huge Goecha lake to reach there. The lake is unfortunately not visible from the first view point. As you enter this area on your left there is an unattractive small peak known as the Goecha Peak. It is almost invisible from first view point, until someone pinpoints it to you.
If you are fit and capable enough to turn right and walk further through to the third view point at the Goecha La, you can see Mt. Kangchenjunga standing like a huge white giant straight in your front on a clear day. On you right you can see Mt. Simvo peeping behind a mountain. Below the pass lies the Talung Glacier and after that is the Tongshyong Glacier. You cannot see Mt. Talung from Goecha La. You need to go down to the Talung Glacier to get a glimpse of it on your left in the distant horizon. For that you need to be a skilled mountaineer with knowledge of technical details, required mountaineering gear with a very fit body.
Standing on the first view point, I saw the golden sun rays fall on the Mt. Kangchenjunga dot on 05:44 and then spread out to other peaks starting with the forked peak and ending on Mt. Kabru (South). Dazed and mesmerized, many of our team mates forgot to shoot any photographs for first view moments. The magic of standing at Goecha la first view point is that the entire mountain range looks so unbelievably close. Though it was my second encounter, it just felt as thrilling as the first time.
Though people treks to Goecha La to see the magnificent Mt. Kangchendzonga from Close range, I find Forked peak to be the most unique shaped. Its curved shaped structure makes the peak unique and is mistaken as Goecha Peak and even as Talung. The Kabru peaks looks pretty spread out here, very different from what you see from Dzongri Top.
We stood for another hour or so viewing this great spectacle of nature. Then we slowly started coming down. It was relatively easier this time as there was no ice. Last time our team had a tough time getting down, negotiating through rock and ice, slipping now and then.
Soon we were at Smiti lake when we spotted some Thars (Wild Goats) grazing on a small hillock. Samiti Lake looked amazingly beautiful in sunlight with snow clad mountains on the backdrop.
Thars grazing on a small grassland near Samiti Lake
Walking past the Samiti Lake I spotted this time a small cave on the side of Lake. I had not noticed it last time. It is located just between the beginning of Samiti Lake and the abandoned Trekkers hut.
After breakfast we walked back to Kokchuran via Thansing. Some take a different route from here. They move to Lam Pokhri, a lake rarely visited by trekkers. From there they either return to Yoksum or move on to Tashiding via Chamrey, Kasturi Udal and Labdang.
The weather was getting bad now and fog was settling down as we walked through that scenic jungle. The moss infested rocks and age old trees made the place look like a different world. By the time when we reached the trekkers hut, it was drizzling a bit too. Kokchuran is a mystic place which sees very less sunlight and usually gets covered under fog very soon. The jungle with moss covered stone and small streams around makes you nostalgic.
Walking through the beautiful forest from Thangsing To Kokchuran
The drizzling and the fog made the surroundings look like oil painting . I had a good photo session amidst fog. We were getting so used to sleep in tents, staying even inside the spartan forest lodge of Kokchuran seemed different. The cook did not fail to surprise us. He offered us Apple tart, Cheese Roll and delicious pizzas among other delicacies in the dinner. Indranil thrilled us with the story of a ghost who knocks during night in this trekkers hut. Like last time, I stayed awake for sometime in the night to get a glimpse of this ghost. Unfortunately, he was not interested to make an appearance.
Day 7: Kokchuran to Tsoka via Phedang (8 hours)
The weather did not cleared even next morning. Starting from Kokchuran we bypassed Dzongri and walked round the hill through a dense jungle covered with ample half melted snow and mud on the path. At 12:30 noon, the fog made it looked like evening. After 5 hours of rigorous walk we finally reached Phedang. Unlike the other day, it was totally immersed in fog. My Gaiters were covered with thick layer of mud.
We trudged in downhill to Tsoka in another two hours. The downhill trek seemed equally tough as the uphill. Plus rain had made the place slippery.
Tsoka was looking gloomy. But I was overjoyed to see Indranil waiting for me with chilled beer. Sitting down and sipping beer after the long stretch was heavenly. Here we lodged in descent rooms of the new tourist lodge, where we slept in proper bed with blankets after sleeping in sleeping bags over a week. Last time we stayed at the dormitory at Bakkhim, but since it was damaged due to earthquake we did not opt for it this time.
Our rooms at Tsoka. Finally we get to sleep on a bed with blankets
In the night there was a big party with all of us dancing with the porters and guides to celebrate the success of the trek to Goecha La. Like previous tour, the cook made a cake today and we tipped all of them generously.
Day 8: Tsoka to Yuksom (8 hours)
The weather was better next day. We took a heavy breakfast and took the short cut from Bakkhim. It did not seemed to have rained here that much as the grass was not that wet. Since we were making good time we skipped lunch break and headed straight to Yuksom. During the last trek we had lunch sitting near the Pakhola Bridge which was an unique experience.
We reached Yuksom next day at 16:00 in the afternoon. The concrete constructions reminded us that we were back to material world. After an emotional farewell to the Porters, Cook and Yak Man and Vikram, we settled in our rooms and had our first bath after 8 days! Sitting on the balcony of the hotel, I was already planning for a return trip and trek at least up to the 2nd view point and possible up to the Goecha La itself.
And Why not ? Didn’t Douglas Freshfield wrote “The Guicha La, is in truth, forany one but a coolie,a short and easy walk from Alukthang (Onglakhang)” ?
How to Go
Yuksom can be reached by a 9 hour drive from New Jalpaiguri Station via Jorethang and Pelling. Several trains go from Sealdah and Howrah to New Jalpaiguri. From Yuksom it is totally on foot.
Where to Stay and Eat
There are plenty of hotels at Yuksom including the Tashigang Hotel owned by the film star Danny Denzongpa and the star hotel Yuksum Residency. Gupta’s restaurant serves all kind of food. On the trek route one has to stay mostly in tented accommodation. Some places have Spartan accommodation. However there have been brand new accommodation facilities developed at Tsoka and more recently in 2013 at Thansing. At Lamune a cooking hut has been built up too. Pre booking is not possible unless you arrange with your tour operator much in advance.
Guide, Porter & Cook Rate (June 2013) In case you want to arrange to trek on your own here are the rates
- Guide/Cook – Rs 650 per day ( With food)
- Porter/Yak Man – Rs 350 per day (With food)
- Yak – Rs 350 per day These are tentative rates which vary a bit from season to season. Getting a good cook depends on your luck if you arrange the trek on your own.
- Eat good food in this trek to replenish your energy. Garlic Soup is essential along with high protein intake. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- Make a list of essentials things, consulting your tour operator. Chose an experienced tour operator. I went with Indranil Kar of Ongoz Escapades (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com )
- Wear warm clothes in several layers. Hollowfill or Feather Jackets is essential. Avoid cotton clothes.
- Choose sleeping bags which can cope sub zero temperature. Use high ankle trekking shoes with good grip. Have at least one pair of gaiters for walking through thick snow and mud. Two pairs of gloves are recommended. Cover your head while walking as the chilly wind can give you a headache.
- Carry enough wet tissue papers as at many of the camping sites you may have to go to loo in the open. Even if you have toilet tents facilities, this is absolute essential.
- Walk with small steps and take breaks in the middle. Remember you are not in a race. It is very important to acclimatize in high altitude treks to prevent Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
- It is advisable not to consume excessive alcohol to cope with the cold. It could kill you.
1. Paye Paye Pahare (Bengali) by Pradip De Sarkar
2. Maps of Sikkim Himalaya by “People’s Association for Himalaya Area Research”
3. Round Kangchenjunga by Douglas W Freshfield
4. The Himalayan Club Journal (Kolkata Section) – 50th Anniversary of first ascent of Kangchenjunga
5. Trekking Holidays in India by Outlook Traveller