Over the years, Goechala has gained great acclaim as that trek that lets you meet the legendary Mt. Kanchenjunga face to face. But that is not the only reason this trek remains a favourite amongst both trekkers and trek leaders alike.
The trail of Goechala holds within itself a treasure trove of marvels. Every day, there is something new to look forward to. In this article, we list out the highlights of the Goechala trek on a day by day basis so that you don’t miss out on any of it.
Day 1: Base Camp of Yuksom
Yuksom is the base camp of the Goechala trek. It was once the capital of the state of Sikkim. Although relatively non-commercialised, Yuksom enjoys good net connectivity.
On the first day, we drive from Siliguri to Yuksom, covering a distance of 150 km by road.
Day 2: Three overhead suspension bridges
The trail initially runs through the outer fringes of the fields of Yuksom before deep-diving into the dense green jungles of the Rathong River Valley. You will notice that the flora in these jungles is different from what one is generally accustomed to on treks in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
In fact, did you know the Goechala trek is one of the few Himalayan treks where you can enjoy forest cover up to 12,000 ft? On most treks, the treeline ends at 10,000 ft.
During the summer season, the trails of these jungles are covered in stunning, red and pink rhododendron blooms. The fall season takes on a complete makeover. There are no blooms anymore. Instead, the forests are painted in various hues of green with bright colourful touches of fall everywhere.
The campsite for the day is Sachen (7,200 ft). It is a small clearing in the forest with a shelter right beside it and a hut directly below it. The Prek River runs farther down below. Due to the thick forest cover, the river will not be visible from Sachen. However, it can be heard faintly during quieter moments.
It takes about 4-5 hours to trek from Yuksom to Sachen. The trail is marked by three long suspension bridges running over vertiginous gorges through which the Prek River flows.
The first bridge Pha Khola is a two-hour trek from Yuksom. Marked by colourful prayer flags on either side and enveloped by the verdant forests of the Kanchenjunga National Park, the bridge pops into view quite suddenly and is a lovely sight to behold.
Half an hour from the Pha Khola lies the second highlight of the day, the Tshushay Khola waterfalls. You will notice how it is not one single waterfall but a stream of tiny waterfalls running down to join the Prek River in the valley below. The second bridge runs across the Tshushay Khola gorge.
From here, the trail ascends steadily. The third bridge is an hour and a half away. Marked by colourful prayer flags like the other two bridges, you will notice the distinct gain in the altitude here. The valley appears farther from here. The campsite of Sachen is only a 20-minute walk from the third bridge.
Day 3: The Monastery near Tshoka
There is a fourth bridge that runs across the Prek River near Sachen. After crossing this bridge, we take the trail that runs to our left. It is going to be a steady ascent to the campsite of Tshoka today. The forests are filled with oak trees and rhododendron blooms.
This is Bakhim. It is a campsite you encounter before Tshoka and known for its lovely views of the landscape around.
It takes 4-5 hours to reach the campsite of Tshoka (9,701 ft). Tshoka is a flat camping area that offers stunning unhindered views of the mountain ranges around it. On one side of the campsite lies a wooden trekkers’ hut with four rooms.
Farther away, a trail runs uphill out of the campsite. After resting for a bit, take a walk along this trail. It will lead you to a still pond. Colourful prayer flags criss-cross across the pond, the reflections of which are mirrored faithfully in the waters below. On the other side of the pond sits a quaint but sturdy monastery, the highlight of the day. A bridge that runs across the pond will take you here.
The monastery offers exquisite views of the snow-clad Kanchenjunga range and Mt. Pandim. After taking some time to enjoy the views here, head out of the monastery, cross the bridge and then climb higher up the trail. This offers an entirely new but equally astonishing perspective of the landscape with the pond below you, the colourful prayer flags running above it, the monastery sitting on the other end of the pond and the mighty Kanchenjunga range running behind the monastery.
Day 4: Toshoka to Dzongri via Phedang
The trail today hosts a number of little surprises.
The wooden pathways to Phedang:
We retrace the path we took the previous day to the top of the monastery. From here, we take the trail that runs to the right. It is a steep ascent and very soon, the campsite of Tshoka grows smaller in size below you as rhododendrons bloom in larger numbers around you.
After a strenuous climb of half an hour, the trail evens out to a gradual walk. The terrain here changes and is marked by wooden logs on the ground. The trail is flanked by rhododendron trees on either side. During summers, the rhododendron trees are covered in blooms striking a fiery contrast to the wooden, earthy shades of the ground below.
Sometimes, mist rolls in through the rhododendron trees adding a delightful mystical aura to the entire setting.
This picture was clicked in December. There are no rhododendron blooms on the trails during this time. But the month makes up for the lack of blooms with some of the clearest views of the Kanchenjunga range.
The views at Phedang (13,024 ft):
After some time, the logs of wood on the trail and the rhododendron trees begin to gradually disappear. Open skies and a barren meadow soon take over the landscape with some stunning views of the Kanchenjunga and Singalila ranges. This clearing is Phedang.
It appears suddenly without any forewarning and is a stark contrast to the cooler and darker forest cover you had been trekking in sometime back. A wooden hut and some benches sit here as a stream gushes by near the clearing.
Sunset on the way to Dzongri:
You reach Phedang around noon time. The campsite of Dzongri is still a good five hours trek away and involves strenuous sections of ascent. After Phedang, the treeline gradually disappears. Today, we will be climbing well above the treetops.
It is one of the most demanding days of the Goechala trek.
While the terrain is moderately difficult, what makes it challenging is the forced altitude gain of over 1000 M between Tshoka and Dzongri. Most trekkers feel the effects of the altitude at Dzongri. Ensure you are properly hydrated during the day and after reaching the campsite.
Later in the evening, take some time out to catch the sunset at Dzongri. Goechala is infamous for its molten sunrises. But the sunsets here can be equally breathtaking.
The picture below is one that was clicked on the way to Dzongri. If you are still trekking to Dzongri around sunset time, make sure you pause for a bit and look at the horizon behind you which is where the sunset happens.
Note: Dzongri is quite a windy campsite, especially in December. So please make sure you are adequately layered for the night.
Day 5: Dzongri to Thansing
Sunrise at Dzongri Top:
The day begins at 4 AM with an ascent to Dzongri Top from where you get treated to unparalleled views of the Singalila and Kanchenjunga ranges. It takes about an hour to reach the Dzongri top.
What makes this climb spectacular is the alpenglow one gets treated to at the top. On a day with clear weather, the Kanchenjunga and Singalila ranges turn into a dazzling gold under the early morning rays of the sun.
So profound is this view that Dzongri top is often considered a summit in itself. There are many trekkers who trek up to Dzongri Top and then turn back to Yuksom.
The campsite of Thansing:
The campsite of Thansing (3,800 M) is located at a lower altitude when compared to Dzongri (3, 950 M). So it is visible from Dzongri Top.
Today’s trek is not as strenuous as it was yesterday. The trail gently ascends and descends at most places. It is an easy hike of 4-5 hours to Thansing.
Look out for the Prek River on your way. This is the only day on the trek when we get to see the Prek river from up close. The trail is marked by a couple of short bridge crossings across the river.
The landscape is almost fairytale-like.
There are trees on either side of the trail with their moss-covered branches spreading out to form a faint canopy over you. The sound of the river gushing to the valley below broken by the chirping of a bird here and there only adds to the mystical essence of the place.
A four hours’ hike will finally bring you to the campsite of Thansing, a large meadow punctuated by a wooden forest hut in the centre. During fall, the vegetation in this area turns a myriad of autumn shades. The highlight though is the imposing figure of Mt. Pandim basking away under the sunlight. Thansing is located right at the foot of Mt. Pandim, making it one of the most delightful camping experiences on the Goechala trek.
In the evenings, the mist sometimes rolls over Mt. Pandim, a spectacular view to watch with a cup of chai.
Note: Thansing gets really cold and windy in the evenings, especially in the month of December. So, please ensure you layer well to keep yourself warm.
Based on the group’s acclimatisation, the trek leader will either decide to proceed to the next campsite, Lamuney, (which is an easy two hours hike away) or stay back at Thansing.
Day 7: The Summit Day
Day 7 marks the culmination of the Goechala Trek, the day which takes you as close as possible to the third highest mountain range in the world.
If we are trekking from Thansing, we will begin our trek at 1 AM. If we are already at Lamuney, we will be beginning the trek at 3 AM.
The early start ensures that we are there at ViewPoint 1 in time to watch the morning rays of the sun paint the Kanchenjunga range golden, a bewitching sight we promise will remain etched in your memory for a long time.
Since we aim to reach View Point One by sunrise, a major portion of your ascent to the summit will happen in the dark. So please ensure you carry your head torch with you.
Although we will be passing Samiti Lake, we won’t be stopping there on the way to ViewPoint 1. The view of the lake is much better once the sun is fully high in the sky, so we will be making a stop on our way back to Thansing.
From Thansing, the trail is mostly undulating up to Lamuney. This is followed by a moderate ascent to Samiti after which it ascends steeply all the way up to ViewPoint 1.
It takes about 4 hours to reach ViewPoint 1 from Thansing, allowing us to arrive well in time to watch the Kanchenjunga Range bask away gloriously in the early morning rays of the sun! The feeling that one experiences at the summit of the Goechala Trek are one that words can’t do justice to.
There is something other-worldly about the combination of the thrill of reaching the summit while being treated to a hauntingly dazzling view of the third highest mountain range in the world. This is what makes completing the Goechala trek a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Day 8 & 9:
Over the next two days, we will be retracing our path back to Yuksom. The descents can be steep in some sections. So, do use a pole where necessary and watch out for the pressure on your knees and toes.
Lacing your shoes differently and adopting the right descending techniques can alleviate some of this pressure.
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