Being a Ph.D. scholar most part of my day is spent in front of PC or in a laboratory trying to do research work. Research involves doing something new which is not an easy task and eventually you get bored and frustrated and want to take some time off to do adventurous stuff. Altitude-wise, I had experience of going to Hemkund Sahib (4300 m) in summers back in 2008 but it was more of a pilgrimage rather than a trek so I wanted to attempt a proper trekking expedition. I visited Sikkim once before and saw places like Gangtok, Yumthang valley, Nathula Pass and was attracted by the beautiful Himalayan mountain range it possesses. A quick search on the internet showed that Goechala is an exciting place for trekking. Since New Jalpaiguri is very near to Guwahati, I got interested in exploring Goecha La in December, as it would be a moderately-hard doable trekking expedition in winter.
Before attempting this I was well informed that this one is a classic trek which would involve walking about 90-100 km over mountain trails with sharp ascends and descends starting all the way from Yuksom to Goecha La. I think for a first timer many would not advise attempting this trek. Although I am not into running or regular gymming, I play badminton daily for about two hours and regularly participate in tournaments which resulted into the improvement of my leg strength (both calf and thighs) as well as the stamina. Even though I was a novice I was mentally confident that I would complete the trek and reach the top.
Day 0: Arrival at Yuksom
My college friend Mukul and I arrived at Yuksom one day early so we could explore the new place. Yuksom is situated at an altitude of about 1800m. By road or train, there are various ways to reach Yuksom It is a peaceful place surrounded by mountains and people here mainly rely on tourism, lodging, restaurants, and taxi business for earning money. We stayed at the Goecha La valley hotel hosted by a friendly person named Bikram. One of our trekking group mate Sreedhar also arrived early and we three had a good time at Yuksom. First, we went to the Yuksom Kothak Wodsal monastery and Kathok lake.
A prayer hall at Yuksom
Wodsal Ling Monestary
We walked uphill for 1 hour at an altitude of 2000m till we reached Dubdi-Gompa the oldest monastery in Yuksom established in 1701 by the Chogyal of sikkim. At the time of visiting the monestary was in renovation. Overall it was a good day involving chatting, relaxing and and bit of walking that acted as a warm-up for the actual upcoming task for next day.
Day 1: Yuksom to Tshoka
This was going to be a challenging day. It is not easy going uphill 18 km on the first day of the trek. We had a heavy breakfast at Gupta Restaurant in the morning and started at 7:30 am after receiving basic information of the today's trekking path from our trek lead Rahul. The trek starts from Yuksom and goes into the forest trail. In half an hour we reached the first suspension bridge over Pha Khola stream a small tributary of the Rathong Chu river. Next we see a gate and officially enter into the Kanchenjunga National park area. We were strongly advised against littering the mountains. Whatever polythene/garbage we had, it was supposed to go into proper dustbins only.
Moving through the forest trail...
First suspension bridge over Pha Khola stream (a small tributary of the Rathong Chu river)
Entering into Kanchenjunga National park..
Soon we reached the second suspension bridge built over a small stream named Tshu-shay Khola. As we moved deep into the forest the ascent increased and the mountain views kept getting better. River Rathong Chu can be seen flowing through the green mountain valleys. Moving ahead we reached the third concrete bridge over Mintok Khola stream and we did a water refill. Arriving at Sachen (2750m), the half way mark, we all took some rest and enjoyed our packed lunch. Rahul advised us to drink water in small quantities at regular intervals. He also told us not to take lengthy breaks as it would break the walking rhythm and make our bodies cold. Soon, the fourth bridge came, this was the longest suspension bridge in comparison and Prek chu river can be seen flowing underneath it through the valley.
Second bridge over Tsu-shay Khola
Rathong Chu river flowing through the valley.
Third bridge over Mintok Khola
Sachen camp site.
The fourth one.. very long bridge over Prek-Chu river
Prek- Chu river
Now the climb started to become more steep and we reached Bakhim at 1 pm. Tshoka was still about 3 km away and unfortunately me, Mukul and Ramchander ran out of drinking water at this stage. To make matters worse the water source near Bakhim was not working so climbing the last few kilometres without water became very difficult but somehow we managed to reach Tshoka at 3:15 pm. I quickly drank hot water and Maggi soup to recharge myself. Rahul advised us to change into thermals as soon as possible because our clothes were drenched with sweat and the body can catch cold soon if we keep on wearing those. The night was cold, foggy and suffocating for me as both of my nostrils got jammed. I applied some Balm on my nose and I was able to get some sleep only after 1 am.
Bakhim camp site.
Final climb from Bakhim to Tshoka...the clouds are coming in!
Ultimate view from Tshoka.
Monestary and lake at Tshoka camp site.
Day 2: Tshoka to Dzongri
The next day I woke up at 5:45 am. There was snow outside ! At about 4 am there was a mild snow fall and whatever fog was there that also got converted into snow. After the usual morning chores and the breakfast we all did surya namaskar and other warm up exercises. The climb from Tshoka to Phedang began around 7:45 am. We started walking on boulders first and soon reached the snow covered wooden path surrounded by rhododendron plants. After a moderate climb, reached Phedang (3700 m) at 11 am. It was cold here and the more time we stopped, the more colder it felt. I took half of my lunch here and quickly started moving towards Deorali Top.
Ultimate joy to walk upon snow covered wooden path..
Path with rhododendron plants... In monsoon these paths are infested with leeches !
Relaxing at Phedang
Steep climb from phedang to Deorali Top.
Frozen and slippery things in between.
How much more to go?
The Phedang to Deorali top climb is really quite steep and saps up lot of your energy. Although, I slept less in the night, I was moving at a quite fast pace over the ascents and feeling very good. This shows that in mountains your body takes time to adjust and even a 3 hour sleep might be sufficient to regain energy. I drank water in small quantities along with electrolyte solution which quickly rehydrates the body and avoids the altitude sickness that can occur above 3500 m. We were also told that while gaining altitude it is best to wear a woollen cap on head with ears half open, so that the body can adjust with the increasing heights. Deorali top (4100 m) is supposedly a very good view point but because of the cold and foggy weather we were not able to see any peaks here. The path from Deorali to dzongri is easy with moderate inclines and flat areas. Here again we saw lot of rhododendron plants, confers, oaks as well as frozen streams. I reached Dzongri (4050m) at 1:15 pm and by 2 pm most of the group members had arrived. Afternoon again there was a mild snowfall but after that sky became very clear ! a good sign for the trek ahead. Sipping ginger lemon tea and corn soup in the mountains was refreshing and delightful.
Dzongri camp site.
Day 3: Ascend to Dzongri Top and return to Dzongri camp
Next day 4:45am sharp, the group started for Dzongri Top. Mukul was having headache and Rahul our guide advised him to sleep, recover and go to Dzongri Top may be in afternoon. Since this was my first trek I did not bring my headlamps ! Very early in the morning it was dark and difficult to move, so I started walking behind group-mates who had head-lamps. It was a steep 1 hour climb and was quite cold and dark. Reached the top at 6 am and the sun was about to come. Here fast, cold wind was blowing and the temperature was somewhere between -5 and -10C in morning. Clicking pictures proved to be very difficult as whenever I took the gloves off the fingers started freezing. Also, the lithium-ion battery of my camera acted in a weird way in sub-zero temperatures and it kept getting off so it has to be kept inside polythene/warm jacket pockets.
Clear skies enabled us to get awesome views of different peaks from Dzongri Top. The orange colour due to sunlight falling on Kanchenjunga was an amazing sight. No matter how many pictures or videos you take watching with eyes gives the real thrill. We all came down leisurely taking photos of different mountain peaks. We reached back to the camp and enjoyed tasty pakodas and red tea. In afternoon we just lay flat on the grass enjoyed little nap under the sun. At night we drank tomato soup and ate plentiful dinner. Overall it was an amazing day, we enjoyed the morning climb, saw fantastic views and relaxed in afternoon which was very good for acclimatization.
Day 4: Dzongri to Thansing via Kokchuran
Next day at 7:30am we started for Kokchuran. The best part of today's trek was that we will be going through Dzongri meadows and clear skies gave sensational views of all the major peaks. Initially the path was fun to walk on, with some frozen streams, easy climbs and flat portions giving wide angle view of the valley and the mountains. As we neared Kokchuran, we encountered a dangerous and steep descent. Next half an hour we negoatiated a very long, tiring and slippery descent into the oklathang valley which was very hard on the knees and once or twice almost everyone slipped here. Here I realized that descents can be more troublesome than ascents if we have loose slippery boulders on the path. We reached Kokchuran at 10:30am and had an early lunch. It was important to rest here and give some relaxation to the body after tiring descent. Kokchuran is a beautiful place right into the heart of the valley, with tall mountains on either sides and prek chu river flowing in between. We refilled our water bottles and started for Thansing.
Group at Dzongri meadows.
Watch your step!
Long and crazy descent into the okhlathang valley starts here...
Resting our knees...after reaching Kokchuran
The path was enjoyable with mild ascents. As we moved forward the Prek chu river narrowed down and it was frozen at many places. Reached Thansing at 1:30pm and the view was amazing with Mt Pandim always on the right side and black mountains on the left. In front we could see Mt. Kanchenjunga along with the Forked peak. It felt very cold here after sunset because we were right in the valley and cold air form the glaciers/snow mountains ahead were coming straight in our faces! As soon as we reached there we did some cool down exercises and enjoyed hot tea. After a plentiful dinner we were cozying in our sleeping bags and went to sleep early because next day we have to start for Goecha La early in the morning !
Prek chu river and the valley
Day 5: Goecha La !!
We start from Thansing early at 4:30 am with our headlamps on towards Lamuney. One of my friends was feeling headache so he decided to stay at the camp. Moving in dark was not easy as we had to cross numerous water streams along the way. One of the team-mates got his leg stuck between the stones while crossing the stream and suffered sprain so he also returned back to the camp. After walking in the cold night for about an hour we reached Lamuney camp and moving ahead we could see clearly the Forked peak and Kanchenjunga behind it. Gradually the ascent became more steep and we had to take several water/ORS breaks in between to regain strength.
View from Lamuney
Morning Sunlight over Kanchenjunga!
At about 4400m altitude deep in to the valley we finally saw the beautiful Samiti lake which was almost frozen. The final climb from Samiti lake to Goecha La was tough as since it was steep and we were tiring quickly because of the altitude. Here I feel more than the physical, mental strength is required to keep a steady climb without taking too much breaks. Reached Goecha La point at 8am and saw sensational views of Kanchenhjunga, Kabru complex and Pandim. My watch's alitmeter read 4700m here. It was quite cold but fortunately at the top it was less windy and sun was shining very brightly providing us with necessary warmth and clear views of the peaks. After spending half an hour at the top we made the descent and reached back to Thansing at 1 pm. Although, we were exhausted and tired there was a feeling of accomplishment and achievement that made us all very happy.
We, the valley and samiti lake
Frozen samiti lake.
Day 6: Thansingh to Tshoka
Early morning after breakfast we start from Thansing and move towards Kokchuran on a fairly easy path and descent. We relaxed a bit at Kokchuran and this time took a different route to Phedang via the forest crossing many frozen streams and landslide prone areas. Although the path through the forest was long, it was less steep and walk-able. After moving over frozen streams walking through dense forest was a refreshing experience. We had our lunch and snacks at Phedang and enjoyed a small nap in the sunny weather. Phedang to Tshoka was mostly downhill and was easy to walk. We all had our soup and dinner at Tshoka and enjoyed a good night's sleep.
Day 7: Tshoka to Yuksom
After the long trek to Goecha La, the trekkers were exhausted but at the same time happy and excited to go back and safely reach Yuksom. Starting at 8 am from Tshoka we quickly descended and while moving down I started wondering how I was able to climb through these paths !! Most of us reached Yuksom by 12 noon and the trek was complete!
The trek gave us some breathtaking views of mountains ranges, peaks, valleys and rivers along-with a test of physical and mental strength. It gave the much needed change from our daily mechanical lives and most importantly taught group dynamics and teamwork !!