Majestic Himalayas – There is no place on this earth that is so serene and yet so grand, so vivid and as beautiful as the Himalayan Mountain Ranges says Vinita Chhatwaani and which is what attracts Vinita to them year after year. An IT professional, passionate about mountaineering, she visits the Himalayas every year with her friends in order to explore and be one with the Creator. Couple of treks that she has embarked on in the Himalayas include Chandrataal to Baralacha La, Dzongri in Sikkim, Lamayuru to Alchi via Tar La in Ladakh, Kinnaur Kailash Parikrama via Charang Ghati in Himachal and Madhymaheshwar to Kalpeshwar in Uttaranchal to name a few. To help her explore and plan better she also did her Basic Mountaineering course from WHMI Manali in 2005.
Memoirs of the past …
Most of the treks done in last few years being to Himachal or Uttaranchal, the plan this year was to discover the beautiful Northeast Himalayas. We initially planned to venture to Zemu glacier in Sikkim but because of permissions issues the plan had to be cancelled. Since we were just three of us we decided to do the well-known Goechala trek. I had been to Dzongri 9 years back in 2004 which was my first Himalayan trek and had wonderful memories of the trek. Several things have changed in the years but one thing that is still unchanged is the splendour and the profuse forests along the Goechala trail.
Doing a well know trail has its own ups and downs. You get to meet several people on the way, the trails are well defined. Hikes are easy and convenient in many ways but in turn you lose the tranquillity of the surroundings. You miss to hear the birds call. The trails are messed up by the horses and yaks. In all Goechala is a wonderful trek, beautiful dense forest, waterfalls and magnificent views of Mt Khangchendzonga, Mt Pandim, Mt Tenzing , Mt Narsing, Kabru group of peaks and many more. It can be done by people of all age group and is definitely one of the best treks for first timers and solo travellers. You have potable water streams all throughout the trail. Well defined trails, well-marked campsites and huts provided by forest department. We met several trekkers from Pune, Nasik, West Bengal, Malaysia and Europe, some in their seventies and a few of them in their teens. All in all a wonderful trekking experience.
Day 1: 7th May 2013: Yuksom (1700 m) – Bhakim (2750m) – Tshoka (3000m) 6 – 7hrs, moderate
Today was our first day and I knew it was going to be a little hectic considering we had to get permits from the forest department and submit details at the police station and we had woken up a little late, at around 7:00 a.m, as we had reached Yuksom pretty late the previous night at 11:00 p.m. Thankfully our guide Pemtuk was very proactive and managed most of our stuff well and on time, including the medical certificate that needs to be submitted at the nearest police station. We had our bags packed and moved out to Gupta restaurant at around 9:00 a.m, had quick breakfast and proceeded to the local police station.
For Goechala trek one needs to provide complete details of the trekkers and porters along with the medical certificate at the Yuksom police station. After submitting the details one needs to obtain the permit from the forest department by paying in the national park fees. Knowing that our start would get delayed we sent one of the porters ahead to to book rooms for us. It was around 10:00 a.m when we finally started our trek for Tshoka. It is around 18 kms till Tshoka and takes around 6-7 hours. Most of them usually go up till Sachen or Bhakim on the first day.
The terrain to Tshoka has many ups and downs and involves crossing a series of bridges. It is around 6-7 kms to Sachen, where you have a forest hut. The trail till Sachen is well defined. 30 minutes into the hike and you come across a temporary shelter for the hikers to rest. Another 10 minutes and you reach the first bridge crossing which takes you to the gates of the Khangchendzonga National Park. After some gradual uphill and level headed walk you reach the second bridge in an hour. There are some crystal clear streams running through the lap of the Himalayas that you encounter on the way refreshing your body and soul. It was 1:00 p.m by the time we reached Sachen. From Sachen one needs to trek downhill and then uphill to reach Bhakim. It takes around 2 hours to reach Bhakim from here and another 1 – 1.5 hours from
Bhakim to Tshoka. From Bhakim to Tshoka is a gradual climb uphill. There are lots of shortcuts up to Tshoka, but one needs to be very careful in choosing them. We reached Tshoka at about 5.30 pm and it took us around 7 hours to complete the trek. Tshoka was once a village which has now been shifted since the whole area was declared a part of Khangchendzonga National Park. It now has basic amenities for trekkers including two toilets, places for camping and a couple of rooms with mattresses if you like to sleep inside and if you are fortunate to find them empty. We got lucky and could find one room with 3 beds for Rs 200. One can also get hot meals at the hotel run by the forest guard. After having soup and dinner we moved into our rooms to rest.
Day 2: 8th May 2013: Tshoka(3000m) – Phedang (3600m) – Kokchurong (3700m) 6 – 7 hrs, easy – moderate
Most of the groups go to Dzongri from Tshoka, to get an awesome view of the snow clad peaks, but since we wanted to complete this trek in 6 days we skipped Dzongri. Going to Dzongri would ideally require an extra day for acclimatization as well. We instead decided to go to Kokchurong instead of Dzongri. There is a divergence from Phedang for Kokchurong. One can either go straight and reach Dzongri or take a right from Phedang and traverse the dense forest and reach Kokchurong.
The trail from Tshoka to Phedang passes through the Tshoka Monastery. Unlike the stone paved terrain en-route to Tshoka, majority of the hike today is through wooden log trails passing through the lush green forests and Rhododendrons. You can see a lot of Rhododendron blossoms in different hues of red, yellow, white, and pink all throughout the trail. Mist in the air gives an astonishing touch to the bountiful forest- bringing it to life. The trail is a gradual uphill and it takes around 2.5 – 3 hours to reach Phedang. You can see a lot of vibrant coloured birds. The weather was pleasant but the trail was a little slushy because of the rains last night. Tshoka to Kokchurong is around 17 kms and takes around 7 hours to reach.
The long trail from Phedang to Kokchurong is very narrow and traverses through muddy patches and several streams. The forest department has completed work on half of the trail so on the first few kms you will find wooden log trails. The trail alternates between gradual uphill and downhill at several places. One also comes across some snow patches along the waterfalls and a cave like structure midway, called Devrali by the locals. Because of the rains last night the trail was murky at a lot of places. It takes around 3 – 3.5 hours to reach Kokchurong from Phedang. Kokchurong is beautifully situated on the side of Rangit river with very nice views of Mt. Pandim, Mt. Tenzing and Mt. Narsing.
Day 3: 9th May 2013: Kokchurong(3700m) – Thangshing (3800m) – Lamuney (4100m) 3 – 4 hrs. Easy
We woke up in the morning to be greeted by an overwhelming view of Mt. Pandim seen from our window (forest hut at Kokchurong). The weather was clear unlike yesterday so all the cameras were out trying to capture the stunning picture-perfect location. Wooden log hut next to the river in a dense forest with snow caped peaks seen from the window, what else can one ask for. Today was going to be an easy hike up till Lamuney with gradual uphill at a few places en-route to Thangshing and thereafter a level headed walk till Lamuney. On crossing a few wooden bridges across the river, the final climb began with the walk along small boulders on the hill. The trail initially goes parallel to the river and then enters into the forest on the right leading straight into the plains at Thangshing. The forest around Kokchurong is dense and is a paradise for bird lovers. If you are lucky you can spot Blood Pheasant which is the state bird of Sikkim near the forest in Kokchurong. You can also see the Firetailed Sunbird, Whitecapped Water Redstart, Blackbird, Grey headed Warbler and White collared Blackbird and many more species.
We had a relaxed start at around 8:15 am. After experimenting with the camera and shooting our colourful aerial friends we reached Thangshing at around 9:15 – 9:30 am. The distance from Kokchurong to Thangshing is not too long, about 2-3 kms, and was steep in the beginning followed by almost level headed trail, but the land scape changes dramatically. In the beginning, it is alpine forest, midway it changes to small bushes with some bright flowers and at the end at Thangshing it is a meadow. Thangshing has huge grasslands and is covered by snow caped peaks on both sides, with a river cutting through the grassland. Thangshing also has a bigger forest hut and most of the groups coming from Dzongri halt at Thangshing.
After relaxing and clicking group photos we proceeded ahead for Lamuney which was visible from Thangshing. The trail goes through the broad valley following the river straight till Lamuney. In between you come across a few streams coming from the mountains on the right. The landscape is mostly barren with rock walls on the left and snow caped peaks on the right and in front of us. It takes around 1.5 – 2 hours to reach Lamuney. It was just 11:45 when we reached Lamuney and we had the whole day. Thankfully we reached first and got to stay in the Kitchen hut at Lamuney. We made some Bhel and tea. While I explored the area around to capture some breath-taking views the rest of them had a whale of time playing cards. Pemtuk and Shurting, our guide and porter, were amazing company and full of life. The Khangchendzonga range was covered with clouds and we were just praying for clear weather the next day. Thankfully the weather gods heard our prayers and we received some hail showers that cleared the weather a bit and more rains in the evening. We were also lucky to be visited by our terrestrial companions “Bharals” (The blue sheep). The whole herd clustered in the area around the hut.
Day 4: 10th May 2013: Lamuney – Samiti Lake (4500m) – Goechala View Point 1 (4800m) – Samiti Lake – Lamuney – Thangshing (3800m) – Kokchurong (3700m) 7 – 8 hrs. Moderate
Today was going to be a long day with an early start. Most of us could hardly sleep just waiting for the 2:00 am alarm to go off. As soon as the alarm rang all of us were instantly out of the bed. Wearing multiple layers of clothing and carrying things that were absolutely necessary, we prepared ourselves in the dark. We had quick tea / biscuits and started for Goechala with mixed views of reaching View point 1 or View point 3.
From what we had heard from our fellow trekkers, View Point 2 was below View Point 1 and had almost the same view as view point 1. So the major decider was View point 1 or 3, because the best views are seen from View point 3. We were supposed to take a call based on the time once we reach View Point 1. The group who camped a little ahead of Lamuney had already started 30 minutes before us and we could see the torch lights at a distance. The climb is gradual uphill till Samiti lake and is steep at most places after Samiti lake. Steep uphill combined with the cold weather made it obligatory to take a few quick stops to catch our breath. It took us 1 hour to reach Samiti Lake.
It would be sun rise soon so we started racing steadily towards view point 1. Two arrived at View point 1 a little before 5:00 am while I followed them a few minutes later. We were enthralled seeing the first sun ray kiss Khangchendzonga. All of us were ready with cameras to capture the moment. Once we took enough photos of the snow clad peaks around, we decided to take some group photos. Thegroup ahead had already proceeded to View point 2. Now was the important question further or back. With a glum heart the decision was made to proceed back from View Point 1 itself as it would take another 3 hours to View point 3 and that would make it difficult to reach Kokchurong.
The journey back included a stop-over at Samiti Lake. The weather gods were kind, as the weather was clear and hence we could manage some good photos on the way back. We could see the clouds had started to cover Khangchendzonga range. We reached Lamuney at around 7:15 am. After taking some rest, packing our bags and having hot breakfast we headed towards Kokchurong.
Before leaving we decided to celebrate the day by having hot Gulab Jamuns. On the way back we met a lot of groups who were on the way to Lamuney. Everybody was curious to know about the journey to View point 1. It took us around 1.5 hours to reach Thangshing and another hour and half to reach Kokchurong. It was just 1:30 PM in the afternoon and we had the full day with us. Some of us played cards and some of us took the opportunity to capture photographic memories. We finally retired to bed with memories of the eventual day of the climb to Goechala View point and the visit to Samiti – the mesmerizing lake.
Day 5: 11th May 2013: Kokchurong (3700m) – Phedang (3600m) – Tshoka(3000m) 5 – 6 hrs. Easy
Since the trek was as good as done, most of the people were already thinking about non-veg meal and a good night’s sleep at Yuksom. I was thinking about our next destination – Bhutan. With different thoughts we started our descent to Tshoka.
The route was the same as we had taken on the way up but this time we were more relaxed as we were used to the terrain and were clicking more photos of the stunning forest around. We started at around 8:00 am and were in Tshoka at around 1:00 pm with few minutes halt at Phedang.
Day 6: 12th May 2013: Tshoka (3000m) – Bhakim (2750m) – Yuksom (1700 m) 6 hrs. Easy
Today was the last day of the trek. Most of the trek involved going down apart from some uphill after crossing the river. We met several groups on our way back. All looking forward to seeing glimpses of the mighty Khangchendzonga. The last few days it had rained in Yuksom and hence most of them wanted to know about the weather uphill.
Well we didn’t have any positive news for them as we ourselves had received a lot of rains especially in the evenings, but the weather gods had shown some mercy on us and we got a clear glimpse of the snow white Himalayan ranges.
We started at around 8:00 am and were in Yuksom at around 1:15 pm. After refreshing ourselves we had our lunch at the Yak restaurant, once again cherishing our memories of the 6 day trek and thanking Pemtuk and Shurting for all their support and guidance.
Read more about the Goechala trek here.