The thermometer read 100 degrees Fahrenheit and I had an overnight bus journey in two hours. With a sore throat and a heavy head, I reached Delhi, from where I flew to Bagdogra airport in West Bengal. Trekking in North East India had been on my to-do list for a long time, and I didn’t want to miss out on the chance of trekking to Goechala. Counting on my innumerable prayers to get better by the start of the trek, I embarked on the road journey from NJP to Yuksom with the other fellow participants. The journey was adorned with a lot of waterfalls and lush green valley of the northeast. We reached Yuksom at 5:00 in the evening and checked into our hotel, following which we submitted the required photos and ID proofs that were necessary for taking permission, as we were about to camp inside Kanchenjunga National Park for the coming 8 days!
As soon as I opened my eyes the following morning, I peeped outside the window adjacent to my bed, only to find that it was raining. Not a good start of the trek but we must go on. The weather cleared for two hours, and we crossed many small bridges and waterfalls along the beautiful trail. The trail was a mixture of ascents and descents. By the time we reached Sachen campsite, it started down pouring. Our mules were running late due to certain unavoidable circumstances and we had to take shelter beneath a rain shed only until we were asked to vacate the place since another group wanted to use the place for cooking.
But as the saying goes that ‘everything happens, happens for good,’ and all the chaos lead us into best camping site with the view of a waterfall in the otherwise crowded Sachen. Right from the first day, I knew that I am trekking with a bunch of amazing people. Everybody understood the situation, and all hands came to help in the pouring rain and pitched the tents. There were no complaining faces but youthful ones who were enjoying the tea amidst the tipper tapper. But worst was yet to come. Our encounter with the leeches, the blood-sucking creatures, was an unexpected experience, and they attacked every one of us. Amidst all the chaos and the wilderness though, I was feeling much better. Mountains healed!
Next morning was no better when it came to the weather and we had to send back one of the participants and his brother due to health issues. The rest of us made our way through the wild forest amidst the heavy showers, foggy trails and walking slowly hugging our ponchos and rain jackets. It was warm, humid and raining, and we were barely taking any water breaks. I knew this was going to take a toll on us. We reached Tshoka campsite around 1:00 in the afternoon, had our lunch and pitched our tents. The thick layer of fog surrounded us and visibility was almost nil. I went to take a small walk around the campsite and stumbled upon a small bridge, following which I discovered that we were camping right next to the Tshoka Lake! Hidden behind the thick blanket of fog, it was another amazing campsite, but we were missing it all out due to the weather. Soon it started raining heavily and we were forced to squeeze inside our tents and hope for it to get any better.
After much tipper tapper the whole night, we woke up to a rather clear sky in the morning. A faint ray of sunlight beamed upon us, reviving the hope of getting clear weather. We used the opportunity and dried our clothes and the sleeping bags. No sooner did we start the climb, it started down pouring again. The climb till the Dzongri was the toughest one in this trek. We gained 1,000 meters in just 6 hours, and the trail was deprived of any water refill sources. By the time we reached Dzongri, my head was pounding and I puked everything out. I owe it to our trek leader Manjeet for successful completion of my trek, who handled the situation really well and gave the right medication and most importantly, entrusting in me that I can do it. Within hours, I was giggling again in my tent.
The rain and fog didn’t allow us to visit Dzongri viewpoint, and next day we straight away left for the Thansing campsite. By now we all had lost the hopes of getting clear weather, but surprisingly fourth day went fine. It was foggy but didn’t rain. We reached Thansing at 1:00 pm and booked the rooms in the trekker’s hut. Screw you rain! We were happy! We had a roof over our heads tonight!
We savoured chilly potatoes and noodles in our hut that had a backdrop of snow-covered mount Pandim and vast green ground. Finally, we all were able to sit together and had some fun time.
Day 5 was the easiest one on the trek. We woke up late and used the morning sunshine to dry our clothes. We reached our next campsite, Lumney at 12:00 pm. The bright sunny afternoon took a turn and turned into a bone chill windy evening. We had early dinner and called in the night at 7 pm.
I remember I was dreaming about the food when I was jolted back to the reality at 2:30 am. My tent mate was calling out my name- we had to get ready. With much hopes and efforts, I peeped outside my tent and saw nothing but the thick blanket of clouds covering the stars and the mountains. We all had our tea and joined the long trail of lanterns moving up ahead with the headlights on, hoping to see the sunrise at Kanchanjunga top. Our prayers were answered, and by the time we reached viewpoint 1, there was not even a single speck of cloud in the sky.
It was 5:00 in the morning, freezing cold and moon was casting its spell on the snow-covered mountain range. We still had half hour for the sunrise. The place had magical vibes, the prayer flags were fluttering in the chilly breeze and we all had the feeling of yet another accomplishment. We saw moonlight dissolving into the golden streaks of morning sun and soon the silver casting of the moon on snow got glistened with the gold dust of the morning sun. After all the rains, the fog, the damp trails, finally, we were seeing the sunrise at Kanchenjunga peak, the world’s third highest peak.
When the freeze became unbearable and we had clicked enough photos, we started descending back. Every turn took us by surprise, wondering that we really crossed this kind of trail in the dark.
Smriti Lake, that was just a cast of darkness a few hours before, showed the perfect reflection of the mountains at the daybreak. We reached Lumney at 8:00 am, had our breakfast, basked in the warmth of the Sun and then descended back to the Thansing where we checked into the cozy trekker’s hut.
The hardest part of the trek was over, and now all that was left was few kilometers of descent. The trail from Thansing to Tshoka enrooting Korchorung was by far one of the most beautiful paths that I have been to. We took a different trail from Korchorung and thereby bypassed Dzongri. The 10km long stretch that emerges out at Phetang goes through dense forest of Kanchenjunga National Park. This trail is also famous for bear spotting as well.
The trail goes through a pattern of descending down a hill, crossing a stream, ascending up another hill, followed by the same pattern over and again. We spotted enumerable varieties of wild mushrooms. The whole trail was decorated with the wild roses, the sunlight was filtering through the thick canopy of woods. It was a walk to remember. It was a long day, but the hot tea and simmering omelet from Tshoka cafe made up for all our tired souls.
We started at 6:00 in the morning on the last day of the trek. Not that the route was long, but Yuksom and its delicacies were waiting for us. We negotiated some steep ascents and descents. That’s the thing about Goechala, returning back does not mean that all you have to do is descent. Be prepared to go through some last hikes of the day. We reached Yuksom at 2:00 pm, checked into our rooms and made it well on time for the ‘trek-completion’ party. Rounds of food and beer, followed by late night snooker and that marked the end to my Goechala Trek.
When I look back at my trek to Goechala, all the experiences come back floating in my mind. I experienced almost everything in this trek, the bad weather, the bad health, the arduous trail but what is going to remain with me are the fond memories that I created with the wonderful souls that I met on this trek.
Have you ever been to Goechala Trek? If yes, how was your experience, let us know in the comments.