Comparing Goechala and Sandakphu-Phalut trek is like fitting together two pieces of a puzzle. Simply placing them side-by-side shows you the bigger picture.
Goechala is a high pass in the north-eastern Himalayas in Sikkim in the Kanchenjunga National park. From this high pass, you see get a brilliant view of the southeast face of Kanchenjunga. And the Sandakphu-Phalut trek lies in West Bengal, in the Singalila National Park.
While they both fall in the northeast part of the country, there is a world of difference between the two treks.
Study the photo below to get an idea of where the two treks are located.
Both are well-known treks in the North-East
There is a world of difference between the two treks
1. The biggest difference is their proximity to the mountain ranges
On the Goechala trek, you are right in the lap of the big mountains. The views are intimidating, as you see the Kanchenjunga family up close, as you see Mt Pandim rising from base to top.
Camping close to the base of Mt. Pandim (at Thansing) on the Goechala trek. Photo by Sourav Mukherjee
But on the Sandakphu-Phalut trek, you zoom out, and are able to see all the ranges that make the Sleeping Buddha. This includes the tallest mountains in the world.
Mt. Pandim as seen from near Thokum on the Sandakphu-Phalut trek. Photo by Tirth.
2. The feeling of seclusion
The trail to Geochala takes you far away from civilisation. The last village on this trek is Tsokha, inhabited by around 10 families that are believed to have migrated from Tibet along with Dalai Lama. But after Tsokha, there are no settlements. You are deep into nature, trekking towards the high mountains. Such journey gives a deep feeling of seclusion.
Trekking deep into the forest of Goechala. Photo by Niladri Sikder
But something entirely different happens on the Sandakphu-Phalut trail. The culture here is vibrant. You are constantly hopping the India-Nepal border, flirting with cultures of both lands. There is civilisation all around you in the form of tea-houses, homestays, villages. You even have a motorable road in close proximity.
When you trek towards Goechala, you do encounter remote villages like Tsokha Naturally, due to lack of civilisation on the trail, Goechala is not as steeped in culture as Sandakphu-Phalut is. Having said that, Goechala does take you to the remote
You get an intimate view of life on the borders of India and Nepal on the Sandakphu-Phalut trek. Photo by Aditya Bharighat
Goechala is easily more difficult than Sandakphu-Phalut trek. It requires more trekking experience, better fitness. This is important because the Goechala trek has stiff climbs. It climbs quickly and the section from Tsokha to Dzongri poses maximum challenges.
On the other hand, Sandakphu-Phalut has long days. On an average you walk for 10-12 km. You need endurance for it. But you do not encounter as many stiff climbs and difficult sections as you come across on Goechala trek.
Another big difference is the season in which these two treks happen.
There are two distinct seasons for the Goechala trek – April-May (Spring) and September-October (Autumn).
Witnessing this trek in only one season is like getting to know just a part of it. That’s because the trail is set in the Kanchenjunga National Park, which houses some vibrant varieties of flora amidst its mossy forest. And the forest changes colours in different seasons.
So, in different seasons, the entire colour palette of the trek changes. Even the way the trek lights up, changes with the seasons. While spring is known for its romantic, dreamy look, autumn is loved for its sharp views.
You'll find snow at the higher altitudes of the Goechala trek. Here's how Thansing looks in May. Photo by Anoop Desai.
On the other hand, the Sandakphu trek can be done for about 8 months of the year barring only the rainy months of May to August.
The trek shows you a new flavour every season, starting with the Rhododendrons and magnolias in the spring to crisp golden views of autumn and finally the mild snowy setting of winter. You can see the views, the landscapes, and the flora and fauna change from season to season. It is one of the Best Himalayan treks for Bird Watching.
Unless you specifically have a choice to experience something like the flowers or clear views of snow, Sandakphu is a great trek to do all 8 months of the year when it is open.
Through the monsoon season, from May to August the trek remains closed to visitors.
Although in the same region, the two treks are as different as chalk and cheese. Both treks offer a different perspective to the north-eastern Himalayas. So it really doesn't seem fair to choose one. But if you are just starting to trek in the Himalayas, it's wise to begin with Sandakphu-Phalut.