Roopkund Trek 2010, Uttarakhand) which was followed by exploring the upper reaches (Ladakh Bike Trip, J&K), it was time to explore the eastern Himalayas. And going by what was on offer from our previous trek organizer (Indiahikes), only Goechala trek(Sikkim) fit the bill and GOECHALA TREK it was. This was exactly how we shortlisted our trek, no reviews, no difficulty level, no total duration etc was taken into consideration. Finally we were 10 guys after a lot of addition and deletion (SK, PPR, Vineeth, harsha, Manju, Harish, Nagi, Senthil, Adarsh and Myself). After we got enrolled for this trek subsequent curiosity exposed us to the 2 prime attractions of this trek , first was the full bloom of rhododendrons in the month of May and the other was the views of Kanchenjunga Mountain , the 3rd tallest in the world and India's tallest.
In order to save a leave we guys had decided to travel to Kolkata on an evening flight and take an overnight train to NJP. 6hrs in office and this topped with a team outing in BBQ meant I never bothered to work for the entire day. Caught a taxi from our office at around 2.30 pm and we were off to the airport, the beginning of our 13 day vacation. Flight was scheduled at 5.40 pm and everything was fine until I came to the security check. There the CISF soldier saw my Forclaz 500 Ventiv shoes (the best trekking shoe I ever had :) ) and then saw me and said "Aapka Jootha Katharnak Hai , Aur Aap bhi Khatarnak Ho" and he made me remove my shoes for more detailed check. And the funny part is of the 10 guys in our group 5 others were wearing the same model and none of them were made to remove :P.
Flight journey was boring , with SK seated next to me flirting with a girl seated next to him for the entire duration of the flight. Landed in Kolkata and directly took prepaid taxi's to Sealdah railway station. As we snaked through the streets of Kolkata, the first impression one gets is of decay of this once glorious city and the region around Sealdah looked like a dark underbelly of the city. Had our food in the station itself and got onboard the train. One observation I did in the station was people lining up and maintaining a queue to get to the general compartment of a train. Now where else in India would you see that....where people scramble to get the best seats. Boarded our train TO NJP (Padatik Express), which left Kolkata around 10.55 pm. Then came a couple of eunuch's who where very aggressive when compared to those in South India. But still in the end we were victorious :P.
Reached NJP station at around 9.45 am . By this time our taxi driver for the day was waiting for us. Our plan was to go till Gangtok and do some sighting in and around it. But unfortunately the day ended in a disappointment. All 10 of us were stuffed into a single sumo vehicle and as expected it was cramped. The taxi driver first took us to a shanty restaurant, which according to him was a great place to have food. The food was super bad and later we came to know that eatery was run by his parents hence his inclination and recommendation. Within 1.5 hrs of leaving NJP begin the hills, the mighty Himalayas and this double lane highway (NH 31A) is the lifeline of Sikkim since this state is devoid of any railway lines or airports. So all the goods are to be moved via this small highway.
As we were nearing Gangtok, some 15 km before it there was a huge traffic jam. After waiting for some couple of hours we came to know that this highway was intentionally blocked by the Sikkim-Manipal University students in order to make others listen to their demands. Eventhough we never came to know what their demands were, we were really pissed off at them for ruining our plans. Dejected we decided to return back to the nearest town ie Singtam and stay there for the night. We were put up in Hotel Shimma , which was pretty decent right in the heart of the town. Roamed around market during the night and had a great momos filled dinner before calling it a day.
With the plan of just reaching Yuksom, our base camp of the trek we started a bit late. We also had plans to check out a couple of Buddhist monasteries enroute. First we came across a monastery near the town of Rambok where we also had some lip-smacking momos. This monastery was small and we covered it in no time. The next monastery was Thasiding gompa and for this our driver stopped in the main road and made 6 of us to walk the last 3 kms. After walking uphill for 45 mins we reached the gompa and it was pretty huge. There were a lot of stuff to be explored and this is supposedly one of the oldest gompa's in Sikkim. Spent close to an hour exploring the place , with this place being adorned by a lot of prayer flags.
Now officially we had done some sight seeing, the first after 3 days of just plain travelling. Finally at around 4.30 pm we reached Yuksom. And this was the first time in the entire trip when we brought out the warm clothes. Yuksom is infact a small town and the first capital of Sikkim almost 300 years ago. In our trek batch there were a total of 24 individuals, but we were the first group that arrived at the base camp. Met the Indiahikes trek leaders Amit Pandey and Preetham. Were served with hot onion pakodas and in such a weather setting felt awesome. Had an evening walk to Yuksom bazaar which was around 2kms from the base camp.Finally by nightfall all the 24 guys reached the base camp and by night fall there was an introduction session. First there were the "3 lamas" Ramesh , Rajan and Sandeep, the inseparable buddies in Madhuri and Kirtana, a true lover of Sikkim in Sanjay, the second most dominating group (apart from us :D) in Hemal, Shantala, Megha, Gandhi, Raghu and Dhiren, and the superfit Anirudh and Ram. Finally came back , did some repacking since tmrw was the D-Day for the trek.
20-May-2012 (Trek Day 1): Yuksom(1950m) -> Sanchem(2300m) (2.5hrs)
|Start of the Trek
But one thing that really irritated us out of senses where the damn insects. They are millions in number and they literally bite away any exposed skin. By the end of the trek my arms had so many bites that it resembled some sort of skin disease. Some others were worse hit due to constant scratching. Got acquainted with our local guide Pemtuk and got to know a lot of local stories from him over the entire period of the trek. About how Kanchenjunga is considered as a goddess for Sikkimese and climbers not given permission to climb from the Indian side so on. Probably the best guide we had in all of my treks. A very humble guy indeed. Anyway the trek for this particular day was just 2.5 hrs. It was over before it started and we had reached the camping ground for the day, which was Sanchem, the worst case scenario which we had to endure for the entire trek. This place was outright dirty, with humans and beasts (read mules, zho's) jostling for a small clearing in the forest. Hence as expected the entire place is plastered with dung and cherry on the cake being the irritating biting insects. This meant we spent the majority of the time inside the tents. But by nightfall the temperature dropped and the insects too went into hibernation. Had a very clear night to observe and admire the star filled moonless night.
21-May-2012 (Trek Day 2): Sanchem->Bankhim->Tsokha (2900m) (4.5hrs)
The day started with us searching for the perfect spot to complete our morning chores , followed by some stretching exercises since on this particular day we were to negotiate through decent climbs. Vineeth who is our mascot of silliness, sprained his ankle when he was roaming around the rough terrain in his bathroom slippers. Initially it looked like a minor setback, with Vineeth almost running along the first group for the entire duration of trek until Bankhim. The climb from Sanchem to Bankhim was pretty steep and we took our sweet time covering it. Even then we were the leading group. At Bankhim there is a restaurant kinda setting with some great views of the valley below. The first great view we witnessed for the trek. Decided to rest here a bit waiting for the others to catch up.
|A flower and wild strawberries in the background
By this time Vineeths ankle condition had deteriorated. He was not even able to stand up let alone trek. After a few painkillers, massages and crepe bandage we restarted the trek with Vineeth running again :P. Now we were entering the land of wild strawberries. There were lots and lots of them carpeted along the meadows, a pretty sight indeed with the red berries in full contrast with their green background. Finally we reached Tsokha at around 1.15 pm. This location was much better than Sanchem which some great views of the valley below. Also from here we were able to see the first snow peak : Mt.Pandim. Rest of the evening was spent inside the trekkers hut with all the trekkers singing songs - a sangeet kacheri in short :).
|Our Candlelit Dinner Table
22-May-2012 (Trek Day 3): Tsokha->Phethang->Dzongri (3950m) (5hrs)
Supposedly the toughest day of trekking sans the summit day on Day 6 as described by the guides. The day started quite early exactly at dawn (4.45 am :P) to catch the clear sky and great views of Mt. Pandim. As the sun was rising, these was a golden glow on the face of Mt. Pandim which was a real beauty. Usually in the morning the sky would be totally clear with not a single cloud in sight, but as the day progressed the entire trek path would be engulfed in mist. This was the norm for the next 6 days of the trek. We were happy that atleast in the mornings we were getting some awesome views. After absorbing the views we started the trek at around 8 am. Soon after Tsokha there is a steep climb and soon enough start the famed wooden pathways through the rhododendron forests. On this day we were to witness numerous types and colors of flowers. We found rhododendron flowers primarily in 5 colors (pink, yellow,red, violet and white) and these flowers adorn the entire path of the trek, a very pretty sight indeed.
|Sunrise On Mt.Pandim
Further we were to gain an altitude of close to 1000 mts to reach Dzongri and the entire climb is uphill almost till the end. Once the rhododendron forests begin the entire pathway is engulfed in mist and also there is lot of slush along the trek route. After a couple of hrs of trek we reached Phethang and this place is one of most beautiful camp sights around. The entire surroundings has meadows flanked by rhododendrons trees of all colors in all the four directions. Unfortunately we were not camping here. Resting here for some 20 mins it was the climb towards Dzongri. Now the route between Phethang and Dzongri was steep, pretty much tiring us out. Finally reached Dzongri at around 2 pm and from here onwards the temperature became very chilly. Soon enough one by one everyone started to trickle in and we had our lunch.
By then Sandeep had developed some breathing problem and was the last to arrive at the camp at around 6pm. There were signs of AMS and it was decided that he would stay put there the next day, and Amit and Preetham also decided to stay with him. Later I came to know that his condition had deteriorated and he was taken back. According to Amit and quite shocking to us, they were about to loose him , but thanks to a timely intervention by an army doc his condition improved. Hence from this day onwards till the end of the trek Pemtuk became our trek leader and did a real commendable job.
23-May-2012 (Trek Day 4): Dzongri-Dzongri Top (4050m)->Dzongri->Kockchurang->Thensing (3750m) (1.5+4.5hrs)
[View From Dzongri Top]
Day by day our wake up time was getting earlier in order to enjoy clear views. Got up at around 4am and it was time to trek up till Dzongri Top , where one gets a 240 degree view of snow capped peaks including the Mt.Kanchenjunga which we were hopping to see for the very first time. The climb to the Dzongri top is around 40 mins, but it is pretty steep. By the time I reached the top I was breathless partly bcoz it was steep and partly bcoz I didn want to miss the sunrise , hence ran the entire climb. The views from the Dzongri top is simply amazing. It is like a rice bowl surrounded by snow peaks in almost all the directions. There is Kumbakarna, Kabru South, Kabru North, Kabru Dome, Black Kabru, Kanchenjunga, Pandim, Jaipan and so many peaks. When the sun started to come out, one by one the tips of the numerous peaks where lit up in golden glow. A truly majestic sight indeed. The sensation of the sun rays warming our frozen bodies is truly an amazing experience. After spending considerable time in here we returned back to Dzongri. Packed our bags and started the trek towards our camping site for the day Thensing.
|Some weird looking Rainbow
Initial part of the trek was via bugyals but frankly speaking bugyals during Roopkund trek were much more breathtaking and beautiful. Slowly as the trek progressed we were yet again engulfed in mist and devoid of any views. After a flat gradient trek there was a steep descent to Kokchurong. A very beautiful place, dense mist filled forests, gurgling and wild Rathong Chu river and thick carpet of grass and flowers on the floor. Due to this setting the temperature was real low and we were frozen within no time. Next stop was Thensing and the initial part of the journey takes us along the banks of the river. Then there is a pretty decent climb all the way to Thensing. Reached the campsite at around 1.30 pm. As the trek was progressing the average temperature was going down exponentially day by day.
Thensing is a valley along the river Rathong Chu, having huge steep mountains on either sides. The valley is covered with meadows. Rest of the day was spent inside the tents playing cards, mafia etc since the outdoors seemed too cold for our liking.
|By the banks of Rathong Chu
24-May-2012 (Trek Day 5): Thensing->Lamuney (3950m)->Samiti Lake (4050m)->Lamuney (4hrs)
The initial part of the trek was the easiest we had anytime. We were to gain just a couple of hundred metre elevation and reach Lamuney, our final camping site before we attempt the Goechala pass. Lamuney was just across the valley and was infact very much visible from Thensing. Many of us walked in a leisurely pace so as to take as much time as possible. After reaching Lamuney, we dumped our bags and as preplaned started a small excursion to the serene Samiti lake at 4050 m so as to speed up the acclimatization process.
|Mist at Samiti
|View of our campsite @ Lamuney + The River to which I Fell
As with the previous day we were nestled up inside the tents for obvious reasons. The next day we were to attempt Goechala pass by getting up at 2am , an unearthly hour indeed. So for some more obvious reasons we had to do the morning chores in the evening itself. This meant we had to cross the river flowing by the campsite to get to the other side for some privacy. But while returning back unfortunately I fell directly into the ice cold river, trying to while cross by jumping over the slippery stones. The water was freezing like hell, and got a bad blow to my hip which pained for a couple of days. Within no time ran to my tent and changed my clothes. It looked like even God wanted me to take a bath after 6 days of deprivation :P. But as soon as I removed my clothes the body became very warm , with me wearing just a T-shirt for the next couple of hours. Some guys said it was the adrenaline rush thanks to the shock of falling into freezing water. Strange phenomenon indeed :). But my biggest worry was my shoe was completely wet and I didnt have any spares. Used the same wet shoe the next day while summiting. Even though it was very uncomfortable had no other choice.
25-May-2012 (Trek Day 6): Lamuney->Samiti Lake->View Point 1 (4450m) -> Goechala Pass(View Point 2) (4940m) ->Lamuney->Thensing (12hrs)
|View Pt 1
[View Pt 1]The big day finally arrived. We were supposed to leave the camp at 2am in the morning, but as the Indian standard time goes we left at only 2.45am. One more batch consisting of slow movers had left earlier at 1.45 am. All this weird unearthly timing was inorder to catch the sunrise (we had become big suckers for sunrises :P) at view point 1. The initial trek using torchlight and in freezing temperature was an great experience in itself. It was a clear night, with millions of stars in the night sky. Once in the while there would be a lightning in some distant clouds and this would instantly illuminate the snow covered and imposing Mt.Kanchenjunga right in that pitch darkness. An awesome sight to behold. Soon enough we reached Samiti lake and the trek route climbs the mountains flanking it.
After a steep climb of around 2hrs we finally reached the view point 1 just in time to view the sunrise. The entire mountain ranges were again illuminated by the morning sun. After spending some time at this place in near zero temp we decided to move further to view point 2 which is supposedly not as easy as view point 1 (which is comparatively easy). Of the 22 who attempted View Point 1 , 14 of us decided to move on to View Point 2. In our group Adarsh and Manju decided to return back. Manju was suffering from blocked nose/throat and decided not to push , which might have been dangerous in these conditions.
|The Guide: Pemtuk
|Goecha Lake from View Pt 2
|Finally Made it. Mt Kanchenjunga in Background
After view pt 1 there is a steep descent after which we enter a cold desert. Now the landscape very much resembled of what we had seen in Ladakh. Dry, cold and sandy. These sand-dunes were running nearly for a km after which starts the 700 m climb to View Point 2. Saw a herd of mountain goats , the only four legged wild animal we saw apart from a yak. The final climb to the View Pt 2 was steep and added to the fact that our altitude was close to 4600m making the oxygen deficiency much more relevant. The sun was also shining very bright. Me and harish were climbing up the final section almost 800m distance (not altitude) to the peak . At this time our guide Pemtuk came from behind and told us to hurry up else Mt. Kanchenjunga would be covered in mist. Now with this both me and harish started to run. Imagine running uphill at 4700+ m altitude. Anyway by the time we reached the view pt 2 the mist had just started to cover Mt. Kanchenjunga, but nevertheless we got some superb views. Mt. Kanchenjunga was never nearer. Made the entire hardship and effort totally worth it :).
|Topless At Goechala View Point 2 :)
[View Point 2]
From view point 2 apart from Kanchenjunga one can also enjoy the views of Goecha Peak and Goecha lake(another glacial lake) and Mt. Pandim to our rear. This was the only part of the trek where we came across snow and guys like Harish , Nagi and Senthil who were seeing it for the first time were into it within a flash. We were able to hear sounds of constant avalanches and these were so loud that it felt as if a bomb was going off. At this point SK and Vineeth had a bet of going topless if they reach the final destination and for this even me and harish joined in gladly. Going topless in subzero temp :P..... it was fun. But within seconds of taking the snaps we were back into our multi layered warm protectors. Spent close to an hour at the top absorbing the views and then it was time to return back.
|The Return Path
While descending, for most of the journey, I was walking all alone till view point 1 and it was a great experience walking through the cold desert. Met with PPR who had come almost till the peak , but had to return back just 20 mins from it after suffering from breathing problem again to throat infection. He was not feeling good so 2 of us along with Vineeth decided for a slow and relaxed return. We reached Samiti lake and spent some time near it. Finally we descended back to Lamuney at around 1pm taking close to 10 hrs for the entire trek. Was really proud of our team since majority of us completed the trek without an ounce of diamox ;). Also this was the batch with highest no of view pt 2 summiters (12) when compared to the earlier Indiahikes batches (3,2 respectively :P.)
|The Desert Area
26-May-2012 (Trek Day 7): Thensing->Kockchurang->Phethang->Tsokha (6hrs)
A long day indeed for many. Day started with PPR not feeling well. So decided to put his bag on a yak. Now we were retracing our path all the way to Kokchurang and I cant get enough of this place. Since I still had some battery backup (had got 5 sets of camera battery backup :P) was shooting anything that moved or which didnt move. We reached Kokchurang and it was ever so beautiful. But who could have guessed that this place has a shady past according to the locals. More details on this later.
|The Haunted House
After reaching Kokchurang we took a different path to Phethang bypassing the Dzongri route. This route was narrow and steep and hence all the yaks and mule take the Kokchurang -Dzongri- Phethang route. The entire path was full of ups and down and at innumerable places there were landslides along the way. Initially along the Kokchurang - Phethang route I was going with the group, but soon enough Me, Sk and Adarsh decided to pump it up a bit and we started running along the route. But soon enough was tired and decided to trek in a relaxed fashion. With SK and Adarsh ahead and out of sight, I was all alone. I was intentionally going very slow so that some trekker could meet up with me. But the entire duration of the 3 hr trek I couldnt meet a single soul. This path was a bit eerie too, with mist everywhere , super dense forest and very narrow pathway.
After reaching Tsokha his condition improved a bit. After nightfall our guide Pemtuk came and told the local folklore about the Kokchurang trekker-hut being haunted by a ghost, whom many locals supposedly had seen and felt. So when PPR blacked out Pemtuk was damn sure that he was possessed by some ghost. Also he told abt some german who died near the hut, whose body was never recovered, but just his trekking stick and bottle. So on he went with a number of stories of majorly bengalis and german's who had died in and around that spot. For heavens sake I trekked all alone for 3 hrs in that region :P. What if the ghost had possessed me ????? :P.
|My hand post the bites :P
27-May-2012 (Trek Day 8): Tsokha->Sanchem->Yuksom (4.5hrs)
|A Piggyback Ride In Progress
|Trek Finally Completed
|Pemtuk Saab ;)
|Group Snap - Trekkers + Support Staff
28-May-2012 - Yuksom -> NJP
Reached NJP station at around 5pm with plenty of time for our 9pm train. We decided to hitch a ride to the Siliguri market which is around 15 mins and Rs 10 away in a shared auto. Roamed around the market, did some Tea and T-shirts shopping. One point of observation is that Bong females are much more beautiful than I thought them to be. I found a lot of head-turners while roaming around in the market ;). We went back to the station and caught the train back to Kolkata.
Finally a memorable trek came to an end and so is my travelogue, of course with an interesting quote graffited by some unknown person on trekker-hut's wall in Tsokha
"If you are not living on the edge, you are taking too much space"
hmmm....surely some food for thought :).
Trek Details --->
Total Trek Distance--> 83kms
Difficulty Level --->Moderate (for fit trekkers)
Total Cost Per Head -->24k (including trek charges, flight, train, taxi fares, shopping etc.)
Indiahikes website ---> http://www.goechala.com/home.html
Trek Route ------> (Courtesy Wikipedia) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goecha_La)
Pics Link --->