So, we had a week’s time to explore Nagaland. Since it was the month of December, we couldn’t have skipped the Hornbill Festival in any way, and after soaking in …
The Most Romantic Himalayan Trek : Journey To Goecha La
Goecha La, definitely, is unlike any other quintessential Himalayan Trek. A high mountain pass (approx 4940 mt or 16,207 ft) in Sikkim, is known to be ‘The Most Romantic Himayalan Trek’. It often serves as the base camp for the Mountaineers aiming to scale Mt. Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain.
I’ve always been intrigued by the mighty Himalayas, and kept running back to the hills whenever I felt like it – but honestly, I didn’t have the courage to set out for a high-altitude trek! When I agreed to go for Goecha La, I had no idea what I’ve signed up for. But the journey made me fall in love with the mountains – all over again! My adrenaline was at its peak when I boarded the flight for Bagdogra, not knowing what the next 10 days had in store for me!
Trekking through the Kanchenjunga National Park (which is marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), also known to be one of the greenest regions in the world, will be an experience in itself. Unlike the other Himalayan trek routes which have been over-exploited over the last few years, Goecha La still remains untouched by any affluence, and nature will unfold its beauty to those who are keen to take the challenge of traversing these trails.
Best Time To Go For Goecha La Trek:
The best time to trek would be during the months of March and April, when winter paves the way for spring and the temperature gets tolerable. Also, you’ll find the rhododendrons blooming, and the trails would be free of ice.
Otherwise, you can also choose to go during the months of September, October, and early November, before the onset of winter. Precisely, autumn and spring are the best times to go for this climb!
Detailed Itinerary & The Trek Route:
Like most of the people doing this trek, we also took a flight to Bagdogra and from there, we drove to Yuksom, which took nearly 7 hours – and Yuksom is one of the most beautiful villages in the lap of the mighty mountains. There’s nothing much to explore, but still, the place has a charm of its own. Before we set out for the 10 days of rigorous walk, we had a chilled out evening at Yuksom, visiting the Monastery and binged on delicious momos!
Day 1: Yuksom to Sachen
Walking through the Kanchenjunga National Park is an experience in itself. The lush greenery, the freshness in the air, the clouds playing around and kissing the peaks, the sunshine on and off – everything seemed way beyond perfect. It was raining on that day, and since it was my first trek, there were difficulties – but then, when you’re there amidst the Himalayas surrounding you on all sides, you can easily keep the difficulties aside, and aim to move ahead.
The walk from Yuksom to Sachen was for 6 hours (considering the fact that my speed was extremely slow!). If you are better at your speed, then you can do it in 5 hours! The campsite at Sachen was in the middle of the jungles, and the eerie silence didn’t fail to give me goosebumps.
Day 2: Sachen to Tshoka, via Bakhim
The second day was way more difficult than the first day, and our guide, Aakash, had already told us about it. The trail was at a slope of nearly 70-degrees, and the temperature was dropping rapidly. It was almost 8 hours walk that day.
There were rhododendrons and magnolia blooming throughout the trail – it seemed that nature was dressed up, just to welcome us. Sometimes, I was lost in thoughts, wondering how beautiful nature can be… I felt like someone has painted the landscape, and I was walking through it.
I’ve never seen so many colors in my life, and I felt that even the best painter might get amazed to see such a variety of shades.
Tshoka has a proper campsite, with toilets, and kitchen, and a hut. There’s a monastery as well, and a tiny lake, adding more beauty to the place. From my tent, I could see little flowers blooming, and it looked like a Van Gogh painting!
From the campsite, you’ll get a glimpse of Mt.Pandim and Mt.Kabru (well, yes! These are among the higher range peaks which our geography books never taught us about!).
Day 3: Tshoka to Dzongri, via Phedang
The trail here was properly done with wooden logs, making the walk a bit smoother till Phedang. From there, it starts getting steep, and we experienced heavy snowfall. It’s a 7-8 hours’ walk, though we took more time since it’s much difficult to walk in the snow.
By the time we reached Dzongri, it was absolutely covered with snow. To me, it seemed like a dream – white everywhere, with little colorful tents in a row. The night sky at Dzongri was the best that I’ve ever seen in my life… It seemed as if I can touch it, and get a star for myself! Everyone was extremely tired and so, we all went inside the tents to rest. Only until there was the snowstorm, which blew away our tent!
Oh! What an experience it was – scary and thrilling at the same time.
Day 4: Climb to Dzongri Peak; Rest day at Dzongri
The fourth day began at around 3.30 AM, when we started our trek towards the Dzongri peak, to soak ourselves in the first sunshine.
The temperature had dropped much below the freezing point, still, the enthusiasm to see the Kanchenjunga kept us going.
All my mates (including RD, who was rushing ahead to photograph the sunrise!) were quite ahead of me, and slowly the distance between me and them increased, as I realized that my body was giving up. It was getting difficult for me to breathe, as my nose was frozen, and all I could do was breathe through my mouth – but my guide constantly kept telling me not to breathe through the mouth.
To be thankful to the Supreme for our life is probably that last thing that comes to our mind – we give priorities to everything in the world, and much importance to this mortal body – but often fail to realize how precious each breath is! It’s then, that I realized how a person might be feeling on the death bed, trying to grasp another breath.
I paused to breathe after every 20 steps and kept sipping the chilled water. And undoubtedly, Gurung, my guide, was the constant source of motivation.
We were still at a distance from the peak when the first rays of dawn crossed the horizon. Gurung told me about the peaks in a row – Mt. Tinchenkhan, Mt. Kabru, North Kabru, South Kabru, Mt.Pandim, and the gorgeous Kanchenjunga – I saw the peaks turning golden one after another, as the sun rays glided down the snowy steeps!
What I saw is actually difficult to be put in words – one has to see it with his own eyes, to believe in the power of Nature.
Reaching the Dzongri peak (4171 m) felt like an achievement in itself. There I stood, amazed, surrounded by the snow-clad peaks on all sides – it took me some time to believe my eyes, and somewhere deep inside, I felt proud of myself, for the very fact that I did something I never imagined I could do!
After coming back to the Dzongri campsite, we had a day to relax and enjoy the snow. The campsite looked like something straight out of the pages of some fantasy novel – with snow all around, and our yaks and horses roaming here and there. In a line, stood our colorful tents, adding vibrancy to the entire landscape.
It was a much-needed break since our muscles also craved some relaxation. Sitting on the snow, soaking the warm sun rays, and binging on Maggi and yak meat was truly delightful. Well, yes – one should definitely try the local food while on the go, and missing out on this delicious yak meat cooked in typical Sikkimese style is totally undesirable!
We tried the local liquor as well, called Thongba, which is made from fermented millets, and served in a bamboo mug. The most amazing thing about thongba is that it never gets over! Yes, you read it right – keep adding lukewarm water to your mug, and enjoy your drink till you feel satisfied enough!
Day 5: Dzongri to Kokhchurang
The walk was comparatively easier, as most of the trail is through a valley, and the rest of it was downhill. After much snow at Dzongri, we got to see some green meadows, and the clouds played hide n’ seek with us, veiling and unveiling the mountains, which gave us constant company.
As we started walking downhill, I realized that it wasn’t as easy as I assumed it to be, because the snow had started melting, making the trail extremely slippery, and dangerous. The trail ran through the forest, which was a bit dense, and my friends were anticipating that a snow leopard might peek out from behind a tree – well, that didn’t really happen!
From quite a distance, I could hear the rhythm of a flowing river, but couldn’t see any. It was only when we stepped out of the forest and reached the Kokhchurang campsite, that I got to see Prekchu closely for the first time.
Kokhchurang campsite was exactly like those European countrysides that I’ve read about in books and imagined all my life – a little cottage next to a forest, with a river on one side and a wooden bridge, a patch of grassland where yaks and horses grazed, and the mountains at a distance, standing like a boundary wall to this little picture-perfect settlement.
The evening at Kokhchurang was one of the best times I’ve had in the entire trek – sitting by Prekchu, listening to its constant rhythm, observing the flow and the distant mountains, with my feet dipped in the freezing cold water – one of those moments which made me feel how I miss all these in the otherwise urban life.
Day 6: Kokhchurang to Lamuney via Thangsing
This was comparatively an easier walk, mostly through the jungle trails, and valley – and there are not many hurdles. The best part of this trail is that you’ll be accompanied by the Prekchu River throughout, and can gaze at Mt.Pandim and Mt.Tinchenkhan (if the clouds don’t cover them up)!
The narrow streams that were flowing into Prekchu crisscrossed our way every now and then, and although they had wooden bridges, I chose to cross the streams without using the bridges – it’s a bit of a risk, but totally worth taking (just make sure you don’t wet your shoes much!).
The forest trail had rocks covered with soft moss, and icicles hanging from them – these were the corners where the sun rays failed to reach. As the forest trail ends, and you are about to reach Thangsing, there’s a patch of grassland – a somewhat mystical place – which had the fragrance of wet grass soaked in the dew drops, infused with the smell of wet earth absorbing the mild sun rays – and as I sat there with RD soaking in the beauty of nature, it felt like time was taking a pause!
A few minutes’ rest and we started walking again – we met a few others who were coming back that day, after doing Goecha La – and they were all telling us about how their experience was.
We reached Lamuney by the afternoon – which was our last campsite. The tents were put right next to the river, and we could clearly see the mountains on the other side.
The day ended by 7 in the evening, and everyone had an extreme adrenaline rush, as our guide instructed us that we have to start our journey for Goecha La at 2 AM!
Day 7: Lamuney to Goecha La, and back to Thangsing
The temperature was well below freezing point when we started for our ultimate destination – it was dark, with the stars shining brightly on us. Because of the chilly wind, it was quite difficult to breathe – however, the excitement kept us going.
In the darkness, we crossed the Samiti Lake, and by the time I reached the Goecha La viewpoint one, it was 6.30 AM. A topsy-turvy path led to the point, from where I saw Kanchenjunga, standing right there in front of me – pristine, glittery, and more gorgeous than one can ever imagine!
The 7days’ hardships felt worthy after that one glimpse – and I felt the satisfaction and happiness of my being. My guide was so happy that I did it, for he was a constant source of courage when I almost gave up on the way.
We stayed there for around 15-20 mins and started our walk back towards the camp.
To pause by the Samiti Lake was a must – and I wondered why I never knew about this place earlier. We hear so much about Pangong in Ladakh, maybe because Bollywood has popularized the place, but Samiti Lake was no less than that. The crystal clear blue water, with a thin sheet of ice, reflected the mountains that surrounded it. I and my guide sat there and had our breakfast, enjoying the eerie silence, which was broken at times by the call of the Himalayan Monals.
We reached the Lamuney campsite at around 9.30 AM, and a few of my friends were already back. I was wondering what those who were making it to the second viewpoint would be witnessing a more picturesque view. Needless to say, RD did make it till there!
Everyone returned at around 1 PM, and they narrated how dangerous and beautiful it was beyond the first viewpoint. I was glad that they could make it, for not many can reach up to that level.
After lunch, we set out for Thangsing, where we were halting for that night. We managed to get a room in the trekker’s hut there.
Day 8: Thangsing to Tshoka, via Kokhchurang and Phedang
Returning has always a string of sorrow attached to it, and it seemed that even Nature was bidding us a sad goodbye. As I walked back, the same trails looked a bit different – the grassland where I sat had lost its fragrance – the icicles had melted – sun rays successfully seeped in, soaking the dewdrops and making the moss lose its luster.
Even Prekchu sounded different – I felt that the sound of the flowing river when I climbed uphill, was more joyful than the one I listened to while coming downhill – I wondered if Prekchu would miss me the way I would do!
The walk from Kokhchurang to Phedang is entirely through the forest, where you’ll come across several waterfalls, and we filled our bottles and drank the sweet fresh Himalayan water – bliss! I walked slower than I usually did, for I wanted to spend more time there, somehow the thought of coming back to the city haunted me – I wished I could stay there longer.
By the time we reached Tshoka, it was evening, and we had quite a long day. The guides gave us a farewell treat that night – with yak meat, and chicken, and cake! Such a bunch of adorable people they were.
Day 9: Tshoka to Yuksom, via Sachen
There was a mixed emotion – the paradox of life, probably – the joy of returning home, and the sorrow of leaving Nature behind.
I walked alone that day, as everyone else was way ahead of me – I, as usual, took more time, to absorb all that I could, and made lame excuses to delay. My guide was curious to know whether I would ever come back for another trek there or not and was eager to know how my otherwise usual life would be, once I head back home. I was replying to him, quite unconsciously, as I wanted to avoid those thoughts!
After reaching Yuksom, the first thing that I did was taking a bath – it was after 9 days that I got to take a bath!
And we decided to celebrate our achievement of finally finishing the Goecha La Trek, that evening! Good food and alcohol were all that we needed, after the 10 days of Maggi and boiled eggs!
The next morning, we left Yuksom for Bagdogra, to catch our respective flights back home.
This journey added a lot to my life – it’s one of the most amazing chapters that I would never get bored of revisiting. It made me realize that life is what happens to you when you least expect it. I met some amazing people, who added some vibrant colors to my story. And I saw Nature – at its best!
Cost & Means To Do The Trek:
The best way to do Goecha La Trek is to go with an established organization. Today, various trekking companies like India Hikes, Bikat Adventures, Trek The Himalayas, Thrillophilia, etc., are organizing for this. (It would cost you around 18,000 INR approx – from Yuksom to Yuksom. I guess there would be additional charges for getting a porter.)
However, if you have a decent group (of about 5/6 persons) then you can also hire a local guide from Yuksom (which is very easily available) and go for it. It will be extremely cost-effective, and they’ll arrange for your porters, food, tents and everything else required. My friends with whom I did this trek had arranged it with some local people, and they were too good. (This would cost around 15,000 INR – from Yuksom to Yuksom.)
The local guides know the trail well; they are extremely motivated and would encourage you to make it to the end, even if you feel low!
I surely owe this journey to my guide, Gurung, who helped me whenever I was out of breath; ensured that I was well hydrated always; carried my camera whenever I felt tired and above all, encouraged me saying, “Dilli jaake sabko batana ki kya dekhke aye ho!” (Tell everyone what you’ve seen, once you go back to Delhi!)
To everyone out there, reading this – break the shackles of your monotonous life, have the courage to set out of the comfort zone. For once, breathe – and feel the importance of your breath. For once, let go of the fears that are stopping you to do what your heart calls for! For once, go out there and embrace the bigger world.
I can bet that you won’t regret 🙂