Goecha La is perhaps Sikkim’s biggest trek attraction. The wonderful trail is laid out such that it offers fantastic views of Kanchenjunga. That’s exactly what trekker Nagendra Kumar loved about the trek that he completed in April 2012. Read on for a detailed account of his trek.
An Amateur trekker’s diary
1. Introduction Goecha La, The southeast face of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain, is viewable from the pass, which is also a base camp for those aspiring to scale the mountain. 8 days of trek takes you to a roller- coaster ride of picturesque mountains, valley and pass and leaves behind nostalgic memories of the trek. I got the opportunity to trek with the help of my senior colleague who is in to some real trekking, it was his careful research and dedication that he could shortlist Indiahikes among numerous trekking organisers available online, luring the trekking enthusiasts like us. Since beginning we could realise that Indiahikes is the authentic one in the business, established for trekking enthusiast like us and not for minting money. Otherwise, who else would take you to such a lovely destination and 8 days trek in such a petty fees with 5 star arrangements en route at that altitude.
2. The trek to Goecha La starts in Yuksom, where the motor able road ends at an altitude of 1,770 metres. Yuksom a sleepy small and beautiful town located in West Sikkim and birth place of Indian Bollywood star Danny Denzongpa. Our journey started from NJP (New Jalpaigudi), which is located on a chicken neck of India and arguably the biggest city of north Bengal. It’s a gateway to north eastern part of India and well connected by rail/road/air from Kolkata, Delhi and other major cities. NJP is a railhead whereas, Siliguri is the main city. One can get cab/taxi/shared taxi/bus to Darjeeling, Gangtok and of course to Yuksom. NJP Railway station has a waiting room and few hotels/lodges also nearby with an approx. Tarrif of Rs.1ooo. Last minute gear/purchases if not equipped properly could be done at Cos Mos or City centre malls, which are quite nice.
3. We were picked up by shared Sumo/Trax organised by Indiahikes from NJP itself and we set course to Yuksom at around 10 am on April 28, 2012. After a drive of an hour or so the hill journey begins, soon we leave the road leading to Darjeeling/Gangtok and continue on left towards west of Sikkim. We reach Yuksom after approx 8-9 hours of drive via Jorthang and Legship. Do not miss picturesque views of hills and Rangit river, which almost followed through our route, seemed out of the world.
4.Eighteen of us reached Kabur Lodge, Yuksom around 1630h. The last member Imran reached Yuksom at 1.30 am early morning on 29 April12, after 30 plus hours of road journey from Kolkata after flip-flop of breakdown of bus etc. One can imagine how desperate he was to get there. The lodge was located around a kilometre and half, ahead of Yuksom town. Incidentally, Yuksom is the last town in west of Sikkim, I mean where road ends.
Briefing to conquer the world.
5.We were served a much desired hot cup of tea after half an hour. We enjoyed our tea from terrace of our lodge with a fantastic view of sunset in between the mountains. After an hour or so we all got together in dining hall for a briefing by our trek coordinator Brahma, the opportunity was utilised to formally know each other and included Gumma Rajnish, Vaibhav Lahane & Nagendra named as three musketeers,Bhushan Chitaley nick named as Horse for his stamina, Biraj Saikia better known as Dark lord, Dr. Simran Gupta the young lady, Prashant Purandare & Monica Purandare known as cute couple, Kumar Samarth Gupta & Saswati Dash better known as love birds & Chatter box another name for Saswati, Nilavra Ghosh the blue sac as we called because of his typical pronunciation of his name in bangla, Devraj the Golu, Soumya Bhattacharya Mr. Know all, Raktim & Manas the doc duo, Dayalan the silent man, Imran Ahmed the love bite, Sudeep the hunk , and Samar Nayak alias Lance Nayak Ram Sakal Yadav. Incidentally, we three of us were the only ones who were from armed forces and it was going to be interestingly for us. Ours was a healthy heterogeneous group comprising three ladies, four doctors, young eligible bachelors. 5 ½ Bengali (Simran a Punjabi married to a Bong) and rest of us all the parts of India, it was going to be fun.
Early morning tea at local shop in Yuksom
6.The night at Yuksom was pleasant and morning alarm was raised by chirping birds and rooster at 4.30 am. Most of us got up at 5 am by then it was bright day, After morning rituals we went for early morning stroll and had tea at local shop surprisingly which was open early morning for people like us. Any trekking expedition in Sikkim requires approval of govt. of Sikkim which included appearance of all of us at Yuksom police station and who can forget Constable Padam Singh Chetri, the only son of India who gave nice moral lecture on patriotism and national integrity. Our trek started at 10.30 am a bit late (courtesy Padam Singh Chetri).
Camp site at Tshoka
7.Day 1, Trek to Sachen. Our trek started with a bang and full josh with two hanging and one concrete bridges we reached our first destination Sachen at around 2 pm. The first one to reach were Dr. Saikia and Bhushan, followed by us trio. Some of us trickled in till 4.30 pm that included Saswati and Samarth. Saswati had a black out probably coz of lack of hydration. Dayalan lost his goggles en route which he had hanged on his T shirt. A sumptuous lunch was served by our cook Mr. Vijay and party. After lunch we all went to our tent which was also a first experience of being in arctic tent like this for people like me. No sooner we hit our tent one could hear different kinds of noise of snoring from various tent, which was an indication that all of us were tired with day’s workout. Evening tea call was given at 1700h most of us went down to have tea along with it were served hot Pakoras. Then began the round of antakshari which was aptly complimented by torrential rains joining the rhythm. The dinner was served at 7.30 pm once again a bow to cooking staff who could manage finger licking food for all of us which included piping hot soup, noodles, fried rice and stir fried veg. Hats off. It continued raining till
Early morning stretching
8.Day 2, Trek to Tshoka. Even after sleeping for ages we were wide awake by 5 am. Morning tea was served at camp site only; thereafter we did our stretching exercise, by the way packing our sleeping bags were nothing less than a stretching. After a tasty breakfast of Pan Cakes and rice pudding, we set course to our destination by 7.30 am. Today’s trek was a gradual climb for an hour then a steep descend until you reach a hanging bridge, thereafter it is a continuous climb for an hour and half and you reach Bakhim. Here one can relax a while with a hot cup of tea or noodles from a local shop and not to forget the Haunted trekkers hut which is close by regarding which locals dare not to speak. Bakhim to Tshoka is gradual climb for another hour and half and you reach Tshoka, which gives you a amazing first view of Phandim peak. Today also Dr. Saikia and Bhushan were first one to reach in 4 hours closely followed by we trio. By this time the fellow trekkers have named us three Musketeers since three of us (Rajnish, self & Vaibhav) used to be walking together with constant pace. Tshoka is one of the biggest location en route to Goecha La where one can buy some useful winter clothing/kitting. Tasty momos, noodles and tea is available one can also get beer but it is not advisable to have it once you are on climb since it dehydrates your body. Sumptuous lunch was served with soup and popcorn. It rained in afternoon for an hour which was followed by clear sky and panoramic view of peaks, Yuksom and Pelling city. In the evening our chef surprised all of us by preparing Birthday Cake for Samarth which was amazing. The cake cutting was followed by rounds of songs followed by dinner.
The snowfall at Tzongri
9.Day 3 Trek to Tzongri. We all got up at 4.30 am to experience our first sunrise at 9,600 feet. The sunrise was nothing great but the view of peaks after sunrise, especially Pandim was breath taking. We were given packed lunch today. Today’s trail was difficult as well as beautiful at the same time, as it had steep climb amid blooming jungle of Rhododendron, supposedly and surely one of the beautiful trails for trekking in the world. Upon reaching Phedang one gets a reward of breath taking view of meadow and Pandim peak smiling at us.
From Phedang to Tzongri it is another 2 to 2 ½ hours climb. As usual Doc and Bhushan reached ahead of us. During this trail Devraj blacked out in between, coz of AMS. He wasn’t taking the prescribed Diamox medicine; he was recovered by the sweeping act of Brahma and Amit, our trek coordinator. The moment we reached Tzongri snowfall started, the helpers somehow managed to pitch our tents amid snow fall. It was an amazing life time experience. Samar went crazy as he was dying to see the snowfall since beginning of the trek. Snowfall continued till 5 pm, it was 3 inches and gave a amazing view of the camp site and surrounding hills sow covered. By the evening the sky was clear and we all came out and got mesmerised with the view of snow covered mountains, trees and cliffs and captured it forever in our cameras.
Panoramic view en route to Thansing
10.Day 4, Trek to Thansing. The day began little early at 4 am with most of us leaving the camp to trek to Dzongri top for sunrise and early morning view of Kala top, Pandim peak, Kanchanjunga and other peaks, we skipped the trek to catch up with our sleep and secondly we were to follow the more or less same direction/route to , hence we couldn’t have missed much. After the breakfast our trek begin at 8 am to . Once we crossed the hill adjacent to Dzongri top, we experienced we have reached in a different world altogether. We were at 10,000 feet approx and mountains appeared to be of our heights. It temporarily instilled a feeling of mightiness in me before we moved further and encountered another climb and a never ending steep descend, I came down to mother earth and realised how trivial we are in front of the gigantic mountains, gushing stream and mighty sky. The steep descend tested the strength of our thigh muscles and took us to Kokchurang which was in a valley sort. Trekkers hut surrounded by tall pine trees and fresh water stream nearby was a scene of bollywood flick from eighties. After a rest for a while, once again we moved ahead and crossed to wooden bridges, stones and climbed further for an hour and half to reach Thansing. Once again doc and Bhushan reached ahead of us. Thansing was located in a valley with amazing view of snow covered mountains on one side and barren ones on the other side. The other side gave you the telescopic view of Pandim peak. It was windy by the time we reached; actually it was Gail with chill factor penetrating the bones. After quick lunch all of us confided to our tent and came out only in the evening by that time the gail had subsided but the temp was 2 degrees. The tour coordinator was contemplating to hit the Goecha la in the night itself so that we are there by early morning, but later on, he decided that we will move further to Lamuney and camp there before going to Goecha la.
View from Lamuney
11.Day 5, Trek to Lamuney.Lamuney was just 4 k.m. from Thansing, hence we started late around 9.30 am. Dr Raktim and Dr Manas decided to camp at Thansing only as they wanted to take rest and enjoy the scenic beauty for some more time. Hence, rest of us moved further to Lamuney and reached there in 2 ½ hrs. The moment we reached Lamuney it started snowing heavily. Our porters were still on the way and there was no shelter, few of us had umbrellas. We all cuddled up in three umbrellas to save ourselves from the heavy snow. Meanwhile, Brahma arrived and cheered us up to visit Samiti Lake. I wasn’t feeling great and had mild fever therefore, I decided not to climb Samiti and rather take some rest, Devraj and Nilavra also followed my suite. By the time our tents were pitched. While, we took some rest in tent our friends were hiking to Samiti amid snowfall. The entire team came back by 4 pm to Lamuney, I was told the the view of Samiti was breath taking with blue water surrounded by fresh snow. The heavy snowfall continued compelling us to confide in the tent but, Brahma, Amit and Pemtuk served us tea and lunch in our tents only which was so touching, even the used plates were picked up by them. I was moved by the concern shown by the Indiahikes team at that altitude under difficult conditions serving with love and affection piping hot tasty food. Hats off!
Kokchurang after the snowfall
12.Day 6, Trek to Goecha la & back to Kokchurang. We were supposed to leave to Goecha la in the wee hour, but snowfall continued till late night delaying the movement; however the team set course at 4 am. Since I had fever in night, without taking a chance; I decided to take rest, and my colleagues also decided to give me company and decided to be together. I was moved by their concern, as they were so close to the destination and fit to climb, yet they decided to give me company. We all came out from our tents at 7 am as we could see the bright sunlight on snow covered mountain ahead of us. The view was breathtaking, amazing, fantabulous and what not. We captured the beauty in our camera from all possible angles with all sorts of poses. Later on, we realised that Saswati and Samarth have also dropped out. So, all five of us had some lovely time together with hot tea and breakfast in sub minus temperature. The team came back by 10 am after touching Goecha La point 1 via Samiti Lake, except Bhushan and Sudip who decided to touch point 2, poor Pemtuk accompanied them. The journey back to Yuksom commenced same day at around 11.30 am, we were supposed to halt at Kokchurang the entire team reached by 4 pm, it had started snowing by then. Later on we thought that we took wise decision of not to climbing Goecha La as it gave us time to recoup and enjoy the beauty in solitude which others couldn’t, for them it was a long day. In Kokchurang we were accommodated in trekker’s hut which was by far cosy then the tents. All nineteen of us were divided in three rooms, lunch and dinner was served there only. The evening was spent gossiping and leg pulling Devraj who offered to cook chicken dish for all of us upon reaching Yuksom. The entire recipe was discussed in detail with each and every ingredient required for cooking few of us even named it as ‘Chicken Golu Masala’ as Devraj was given nickname of ‘Golu’ by fellow trekkers. This was one of the memorable evening for all of us as after Sanchen this was the only place where we all could gather under one roof and had a gala time, otherwise we were fighting the extremities of nature on rest of the days. For Imran Ahmed the night was more memorable coz of the Mice who bit him on his lips or rather smooched him, he was seen consulting doc in the morning for anti-rabies vaccine till someone joked that you don’t require anti-rabies for love bites.
13.Day 7, Trekking back to Tshoka.After the breakfast we all set course to Tshoka at around 0700h, the days trek was long approx 15 km bypassing Dzongri. The trek for today was difficult after the snowfall, the snow had started melting and the path became slippery. It was a gradual climb of 3 hours or so and crossing 3-4 mountains till the time we reach Phedang, thereafter it was a steep descend for 2 hours or so. It had started drizzling making the descend more difficult for us. It took good 5-5 ½ hrs to reach Tshoka for doc, Bhushan and us for rest it was 7-8 hrs trek. After reaching Tshoka, we chilled are throat with ‘Hit and Densberg’ beer from local brewery of Yuksom owned by Danny. Every sip of beer gave us sense of achievement and pride that we have earned it. Rest of the lot reached Tshoka by 1700h. Most of us were tired that day and slept early without much of activity in the evening.
14.Day 8, Trekking back to Yuksom.Today’s trek was also long as we had to cover the double distance. After breakfast the first lot of trekker left the camp by 0730h, we reached Bakhim in 1h 10 minutes record time by taking short cuts. Without taking a break we continued descend towards third hanging bridge and reached there in 2 hrs. Thereafter it was a steep climb for half an hour or so, after that the trek was more or less gradual descend. Our lunch was planned near third bridge after Sachen, but we reached the destination by 10.30 am and we weren’t feeling hungry therefore we continued without wasting our time there or may be sense of completion was setting in us. We reached Yuksom around 12.30 pm as usual doc and Bhushan were there to welcome us, they reached about ½ an hour before us. We took a cold shower under the sun, a shower after 8 days of sweating was worth it and gave me tremendous satisfaction. Immediately after the shower, we hit the shop behind Kabur lodge and ordered ‘Khichdi’ for us meanwhile we pampered ourselves with chilled beer. The ‘Khichdi’ was awesome. Nothing else could have satisfied our hunger better than ‘Khichdi’. After the delicious ‘Khichdi’ we ordered ‘Thumpa’ local wine delicacy made from fermented maize, ideal for tired trekker like us, oh! It was heaven. All the trekkers arrived by 4.30 pm and in the evening on the insistence of everybody Brahma organised a party, the highlights were Beer and Old monk for drinkers and soft drink for ladies & easy goers. Devraj was suppose to cook chicken for us but none of us were in a mood to test his culinary skills, he was sidelined by Brahma to do some petty stuff while chef Vijay prepared some real delicious food including chicken for us. Later on, it was revealed that Devraj’s skill were utilised for garlic peeling and onion chopping. We ate, drank, laughed, taunted each other, to make the evening memorable forever. Then Brahma gave a vote of thanks from Indiahikes to all fellow trekkers and distributed certificates to all of us. It was a nostalgic moment for all of us, to top it all Brahma presented a cake on successful culmination of our trek prepared by our star chef Mr Vijay. I was the lucky one to get the golden opportunity to cut the cake coz despite being ill I completed the trek and the team spirit shown by colleague. It was such a touching moment which instilled a sense of achievement in all of us, I heartfelt gratitude to Indiahikes for giving 8 adventurous memorable days in our life which we will cherish forever.
Important tips for successful trekking
I want to share some of the tips for high altitude survival which I found to be quite useful during trek:
Start working out at least a month in advance specially cardio and if you can practice with a haversack with 7-8 kg nothing like it.
Familarise yourself with trekking route by asking others/ guide know your body limit and maintain your pace accordingly. There are no extra point/reward for reaching first to destination.
As far as possible keep your backpack as light as possible. Don’t carry unnecessary stuff which increases weight of your back pack. If required don’t hesitate and feel ashamed to ask for porter in advance to carry your backpack, remember you are going there to enjoy the nature, there are enough mules to carry your extra load rather than being one.
Eat light and at frequent intervals rather than stuffing yourself, carry mixed dry fruits in your pocket to give instant energy.
Compartmentalise things by keeping stuffs in jute bags and mark it for your convenience. Loose stuff could be kept in zip pouches e.g. personal kit, extra batteries, medicines etc.
Anti bacterial powder is must to maintain personal hygiene. I used to literally take bath with it before and after completing days trek. It prevents you from stink and protects you from germs.
Carry baby wipes rather than carrying huge roll of toilet papers for morning rituals I found it to be more convenient in using and carrying.
Don’t hesitate to start Diamox in advance as advised to avoid embarrassment and inconvenience at later stage. Remember AMS can hit anyone no matter you belong to Gama family or family of Superman.
While using sleeping bags provided in a trek, never enter in sleeping bag and zip up, it is inconvenient and claustrophobic rather lie down flat on your back and use the sleeping bag like a quilt, it gives you enough room to turn on sides and easy to get out while going out for loo in middle of night.
Stretching may sound stupid, but If you do our stretching in the beginning and end of the days trek it will help you in climbing, relax your muscle and relieve you from days fatigue.
Keep drinking water/fluid in small quantity throughout the day coz in high altitude with little physical activity one gets dehydrated very fast.
By Nagendra Kumar, 28th April 2012 – Goecha la Trek